Cooler Master is a familiar name for enthusiasts looking for third-party cooling solutions. The company’s stylish and innovative products also have a hard-earnt reputation for being of high quality, standing up to the abuse meted out to them by overclockers and modders like us .
While Cooler Master is mostly known for its CPU thermal solutions, the CoolDrive 4 is aimed at a critical component that runs hot, but doesn’t usually get much heat relief: your hard drive.
If you think hard drive cooling is a silly thing, think again: today’s fast-spinning IDE drives run hot and as we all know, heat isn’t good for component longevity. The WD Raptor 10,000rpm drives run so hot that you can’t touch them, for instance. That’s your data getting cooked, basically.
The CoolDrive 4 is the successor to the the CoolDrive 3 which we reviewed earlier.
We liked the CoolDrive a lot, but reckon the new one is a big improvement. The CoolDrive4 does more than just hard drive cooling and comes with an integrated temperature monitoring and control system for four different components. All can be monitored on a backlit LCD and if you think this sounds familiar, you’re right: the CoolDrive 4 is actually a marriage between Cooler Master’s new Aerogate II and the old CoolDrive 3. Combining the two is a great idea as it eliminates the need for a separate function panel and hard drive cooler taking up precious case frontage space.
Included in the CoolDrive 4 package are the hard drive enclosure with the control panel in front, a 4-pin molex connector, 3 x 3-pin labeled power connectors, 4 unlabelled thermal sensors, a bag of screws and a multi-language manual.
The entire enclosure is made of aluminium making it very light. It easily fits to any free 5 1/2″ bay in your computer chassis. Users with aluminium chassis especially will find that the CoolDrive 4 goes nicely with their cases. Both IDE and SCSI drives can be cooled by the CoolDrive4.
As expected, the front panel houses the control center of the unit. On the left, you have the 40mm fan that cools the hard drive; in the middle, the LCD screen where you can view the fan speeds and the component temperatures; and on the right are the dials with the component setting buttons around it. The panel is covered by an acrylic face that screws to the PCB inside and keeps everything in place.
The 40mm fan provides around 9 CFM of airflow. At 29 dBA, it is whisper quiet but it can be silenced further as you can lower the speed via the unit’s built-in voltage controller. Unlike the CoolDrive 3 though which has a removable fan filter for easy cleaning, this fan doesn’t have a fan filter at all. Its got a mesh that serves more as a grill rather than a filter. Cleaning the fan and ridding it of dust would mean dismounting the unit, unscrewing the HD base, removing the acrylic face, taking the PCB out , then cleaning the fan. That’s a long and tedious process for cleaning just a fan.
Settings for the CoolDrive 4 are entered with a dial surrounded by six buttons for selecting the components to monitor and control. The buttons are marked HD, VGA, CPU, and CASE, and there is also a handy Centigrade to Fahrenheit conversion available at the touch of a button. Another set of buttons let you change the backlight colour for the settings dial — no, seriously, you can choose between seven different colours for the dial and also turn it off completely. Note that the LCD’s backlight remains blue and doesn’t change with the dial’s colour. It would have been extra nice to have the ability to change the backlight colour too, but that would no doubt be very hard to do as there are no multiple colour cold cathode tubes for LCDs available.
After attaching each cable to the different headers, we set about connecting each one to the corresponding fan to be monitored and controlled. This turned out to be a a bit tricky as none of the fans had 3-pin connectors. The VGA fan uses a 2-pin power connector (most if not all video cards do) while the CPU fan uses a 4-pin molex connector. All my CASE fans use a 4-pin molex connector as well. The cpu fan was easy as I was only using a 3-pin to 4-pin adaptor, but the VGA and CASE fans were problematic. I modified the CASE molex connector but was reluctant to do the same for the connector on my video card. Although its easy to buy a 3-pin CASE fan and a 2-pin to 3-pin adaptor, I believe that accesories like CoolDrive 4 should work out of the box whatever your rig is. It would have been nice if Cooler Master included some of the adaptors with the kit for greater compatibility and less installation frustration.
The sensors headers, like the fan headers, are also given designations SEN 1,2,3,4. SEN 1 is for FAN 1, SEN 2 for FAN 2 and so on. Unfortunately, two problems with the sensors were discovered during the installation. First, the lack of labelling for each sensor, meaning you have to do it yourself. Second, the lack of thermal tape to attach them to the components. Again, out of the box, this should have all been provided regardless of who the product is targetted for. This just makes the installation unnecessarily tedious as you have to label each sensor or temporarily mark them and also sort out some thermal tape — neither the box nor the manual indicate that there are bits and pieces that you need to organise separately in order to complete the installation.
With all the connections hooked up to the CoolDrive 4, we proceeded by installing the test hard drive to the unit. Installing the HD to the base unit was easy but mating it to the enclosure was a bit tight. This was due to all the wires inside the enclosure that occupied some of the space. It also looked really messy, something sure to put off most enthusiasts. The first picture below is how the wires looked like inside the enclosure with just the fan headers attached. With the sensors and all the other wires connected, it looked like spaghetti junction. To make the installation look tidier, I used some cable ties and a spare cable braiding which I happened to have lying around, to contain all those wires and to make it manageable. Again, CoolerMaster should have included this gear in the kit.
Finally we were ready to mount the CoolDrive 4 to our chassis. We chose to use the topmost 5 1/2 bay of our Cooler Master case for easy access. Inserting the enclosure, we found it difficult to move the unit in and out of the bay. The problem was not apparent initially as there was nothing below the CoolDrive 4 bay. We intentionally left that bay free. But still, we were having problems. When we finally yanked the unit out, we saw what was causing it. The unit’s 40mm fan power connector wires were protruding outside the enclosure. Parts of the wires got skinned during the process, so this is an annoying design flaw. If there was an optical drive directly below the unit, the mounting/dismounting process would have been more difficult. What we did was to free the fan’s wire from its original position and pushed it inside the enclosure where it won’t pose as an obstruction.
If you want your system to be noticed by having a cool (pun intended) hard drive cooler with the abililty to monitor other components and control their corresponding fans, then the CoolDrive 4 does all that. The CoolDrive 4 works as advertised in that it cools your hard drive and at the same time provide component temperature monitoring and a fan control system. Not only that the CooDrive 4 looks great with the bright LCD and interchangeable dial colour schemes — a case modders delight basically. Furthermore, the CoolDrive 4 comes at a good price, retailing for a mere US$40-50.
That said, the CoolDrive 4 has a number of bad points as well. Installation is likely to be a nightmare for everyone, thanks to the design flaws we discovered that made everything rather disappointing. We had to improvise and modify things to make the installation complete. This is a sharp contrast to our past experience with other Cooler Master products where installation was uneventful. In other words, our OOBE was not a happy one.
If the design flaws were corrected and the currently missing necessary items included in the kit, the CoolDrive 4 would have been highly recommmended to everyone. However, until Cooler Master fixes the problems with the CoolDrive4, it simply has too many imperfections to be worth the trouble, even if it is cheap. Most enthusiast would rather pay more for a well designed and complete accessory than have a cheaper but troublesome alternative. We really didn’t expect this from a top-notch company like Cooler Master.