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These days almost everyone is sporting some kind of 5.25" bay adapter; from the performance enthusiast's fan controllers to the amateur photographer's "5-in-1" card reader and even the audio/video nut's control panel. Even if you're none of the above most computers these days include some sort of 5.25" adapter and the majority at least has USB/Firewire connectors on the front of their computers. And who can blame them? With the ever increasing amounts of consumer peripherals and uses for computers (media center, etc.) it only makes sense to have the inputs and outputs you need where you need them.
But what about the computer user that wants it all? Today we're going to be looking at the VIZO Master Panel II which aims to do a little bit of everything and hopefully does them well.
• USB2.0 internal card reader 4 memory slots are active, which allows you to copy data between the different memory cards at the same time
• Support SD High Capacity ( SDHC )
• Dual fan speed control knobs (4V -12 V)
• Multi I/O transfer function (USB*2/ 1394 / eSATA/ RCA / audio*3)
• Dimensions: 148(W) x 42(H) x 70(D) mm (5.25" Bay)
• Card reader Interface: USB2.0
• Power Mode: USB power / DC 12V, 5V
• Memory card slot:
4 slots for: Compact Flash Type I/II, Micro Driver, Memory Stick(Duo*), Memory Stick Pro(Duo*), Smart Media, SD, mini SD*, Multi Media card, RS-MMC*, microSD*
*: need card adapter
• Fan Control: 2*3pin fan RPM control knobs (4V-12V)
• Weight: 90g
Vizo's Product Page
Price $35.98 @ Sundialmicro
(Click images to increase size)
Upon opening the standard shipping parcel I was immediately greeted with a wonderful yet equally ridiculous product package. One of the first things you notice on the front is a large and detailed picture of the device itself showing everything you essentially need to know without actually having to read the box, which makes for extremely effective marketing. The entire box is designed in a colorful yellow / white / gray color scheme that is in some ways a little too subtle.
Now, look at the above right picture and read the top text out loud. Incase you needed validation, it really does say "NO NEED TO GO THE BACK...DO IT IN THE FRONT!!" with not just one but two exclamation points . I'm not sure if this was intentional or not, but if I saw this product in a store I'd pick it up just to have the box as a novelty item. I guess VIZO is just extremely enthusiastic about the new Master Panel.
Enter the Package:
Now that you've gotten past the awesomely cheesy slogan, I think it's time we crack this box open. Upon opening the package I come to find that VIZO did an amazing job of securing the product; they encapsulated the panel and the necessary items inside of a two piece plastic container similar to that of which new processors are encased. Inside of here VIZO had included the panel, cables, zip ties, screws, silica (we love our cables to stay fresh), a small installation cd (for Windows 98, thanks for remembering VIZO), and finally an accurate yet useless manual. But, let's cover the included items before we get into the installation details
Oh god, the cables! But, don't blame VIZO, if you expect to be able to do almost everything you're going to be stuck with a hefty amount of cables, which thankfully can be used or not (depending on your needs). Inside you the little plastic pouch you will find: fan cables, mic/headphone/line cables (attaches to your sound card), RCA cable (attaches to your video card, great for media centers), USB/Firewire headers (thankfully directly attach to your motherboard), SATA cable (attaches to whatever you'd like ), and finally zip ties, screws, and a PCI slot with an opening (for all of those external connectors).
I'm very glad they decided to include the zip ties; as if you chose to use all the available connectors you're going to need them. However, I'm surprised they omitted one thing, a small screwdriver. Hopefully in the next revision a miniature screwdriver will be bundled along with the other various amenities.
(Song by Maylene and the Sons of Disaster)
VIZO definitely made the right choice when it comes to the design of the actual panel. They chose a textured matte black color that almost perfectly matches the standard color used on most 5.25" drives (with the exception of my dual layer drives, damn you Sony). On top of those devilishly good looks you're presented with a plethora of inputs, outputs, and controls. What I'd like to see in the next revision is the layout moved to incorporate more fan controllers, like on the picture below (yeah I know, it's quite literally a photo-"chop"). But otherwise, it's VIZO has created a relatively effective design that manages to look appealing while still being function.
The ports themselves are fed to their similar components but different ways. The USB, Firewire, eSata, and Card adapters all (thankfully) connect directly to your motherboard headers, which may cause a bit of confusion for some beginners. I'd suggest checking out your motherboard's manual or googling your motherboard for its manual (if you're OEM or you threw that hindrance in the trash). But, even with all the frustration for some users be thankful these directly connect to the motherboard, it allows for full speeds with no slowdown. The RCA jack connects directly to your graphics card (which is expected), but I would have liked to see the three audio ports connect directly to the soundcard's header, not the ports on the outside. This makes switching inputs a hell only equal to organizing all of these cables.
Installation and Performance:
If you decide to use all of the ports avaliable to you when installing this device, you're going to make your life much easier and your computer much cleaner if you follow these steps:
1) Find your motherboard manual
2) Make sure your screwdriver is the right size
3) Disconnect all molex connectors and motherboard connectors (IDE, Sata, etc.)
4) Free up the lowest 5.25" bay on your computer
5) Remove the back panel from your case, and route your cables around and under your motherboard before you attach them to your device
6) Avoid using the audio cables; having to stretch these across your motherboard and out your case is going to look tacky unless you have a smaller ATX or Micro-ATX computer case
I recommend these things because, from my experience, installing cable heavy bay adapters quickly and sloppily results in a very messy computer. Once you get all of that sorted out, the installation is amazingly easy - that is if you have a regular mounting system. If you're like me and have tool-less 5.25" bays in your main computer, you're out of luck. There's absolutely no way around this except...using the included zipties (thank you VIZO) to try to rig the Master Panel in. Or, you could stick the inside of the bay to the device with some adhesive pads or tape and hope it stays in. I hope VIZO fixes this in the next revision.
Because everything in this device serves as a pass through we found no decrease in performance for anything. We did however find that in some instances using the card readers on the device was nearly twice as fast as those on most cameras. So, if you're uploading pictures constantly, this might be a very big plus for you.
I am absolutely impressed with VIZO's Master Panel II and I'm even more excited for the Master Panel III; with a few small changes that I mentioned their next panel could be absolutely stellar. But, if you're not willing to wait I won't blame you. Their current product is spectacular, especially considering that most adapters featuring merely a card reader go for $15. Anyone with a smaller case or a media center should purchase this product to enhance their media capabilities. This gives a user the opportunity to plug a firewire camera in, and then quickly show the video or images over a television. And if the fans are too loud? Just turn them down, all in one place! But, I would like to see VIZO take a look at the few flaws I pointed out.
Very easy to use
Performance for media cards is increased over camera readers
Price could be lowered a bit
Avaliability is an issue
A screwdriver would be nice
Audio cables should connect directly
Tool-less computer users are left in the dark, maybe a full bracket extension would solve this?
I'd like to thank Louise from VIZO for putting up with me, giving me all the time I needed, and providing me with this awesome sample. You guys are a fantastic company and I hope you keep up the good work!