ESA Technology Explained


NVIDIA is leading the industry on the adoption of a new royalty-free controlling and monitoring technology called ESA or Enthusiast System Architecture. The idea is to provide a standardize way to do the communications between devices and the motherboard, via USB bus.

Here are some examples of things that could be read and controlled via ESA:

  • Cooling devices: water temperature, speed control, water level indicator.
  • Cases: temperatures, fan speed control, lightning control.
  • Power supplies: voltages, currents, temperature, efficiency.

ESAFigure 1: Where ESA fits in.

You may be thinking that nowadays we have already these things enabled. No, we don’t. For example, the power supply monitoring that is available today is done by a sensor chip on the motherboard – which isn’t 100% accurate, by the way – and not by the power supply itself. The idea is to make the power supply to report its internal conditions, which in theory is much more accurate than using an external sensor on the motherboard. Also nowadays there is no way to know the value of the power supply internal temperature or efficiency.

The same goes for the other examples we gave above. Even though we can know the CPU temperature, we don’t have a way to know the water temperature, the water level and the flow speed of a water cooling device. And talk about case lightning. This is a field that we today have no control through software. And wouldn’t it be cool if we could spread some thermal sensors in strategic spots of our case to see how we could improve the thermal management of our computer (for example, moving the position of the current fans, changing their speed, adding more fans and even moving cables around to see their impact on internal airflow and thus temperature)?

Like we mentioned ESA is an open-source project, meaning that any manufacturer can adopt it without paying anything to NVIDIA or any other company. The catch is the software used to monitor and control ESA devices. So far NVIDIA is the only manufacturer that wrote a program to control and read the status of all kinds of ESA devices, and this program is embedded to the nForce control panel.

In Figure 2, you can see the nForce control panel. Pay attention how it has three additional icons for monitoring and controlling, since this screenshot was taken on a PC with ESA devices connected: Power Supply, Chassis (which is another name for case) and Water Cooler.

ESAFigure 2: nForce control panel, where you can control and monitor ESA devices.

Of course in order to use ESA features you need to have ESA-compatible devices, which basically provide a USB output to be connected to any USB header on the motherboard. Internally this USB output is connected to the device sensors through the appropriate interfacing circuitry. A short list of manufacturers that had already declared that they will launch ESA-compatible products is listed on the footer of Figure 1.

You will also need software to read and control ESA devices. Each ESA device may come with its own software, capable of only reading the status of that particular device. Like we said, so far NVIDIA is the only one providing a program capable of reading the status of any ESA device, available for motherboards based on their chipsets. Of course since ESA is an open standard based on USB bus in the future we will probably find programs from other developers that can do the same thing.

On next page we will show you an ESA-based water cooling system from CoolIT.

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Author: Gabriel Torres

Gabriel Torres is a Brazilian best-selling ICT expert, with 24 books published. He started his online career in 1996, when he launched Clube do Hardware, which is one of the oldest and largest websites about technology in Brazil. He created Hardware Secrets in 1999 to expand his knowledge outside his home country.

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