Midnight Lightshow – An Introduction to Case Lighting

Greetings everybody! NZXT has recently its HUE+ LED kit, and with that occasion, I also reckoned I should write a blog post about something people don’t tend to write about much: case lighting. The bling-bling. The nothing-to-care-about-since-it-doesn’t-affect-performance-in-any-way. However, this has always been an important topic for enthusiastic builders or people who really want their PCs to be pretty, or just want a nice lightshow when they work at night. There are many ways to light up your case, from the simple to the incredibly delicate. Let’s start with the simplest one.

Uni-color LED strips


NZXT Sleeved LED Kit

At the first level, we have the single-color LED strips, which are… just simple  LED strips with a PWM connector to connect to your motherboard a 3-pin port (where you’d normally plug in your CPU cooler’s fan / case fans). These, obviously enough, just light up your case in one single once you’ve turned on your computer, and that’s pretty much it. Pictured above is a Sleeved LED Kit from NZXT. This one is already pretty advanced, since it has sleeved cables and an actual… case-expansion-slot controller that can turn it on/off and adjust its brightness level. Most LED kits of this kind only have simple wires and no controllers at all, and you can easily buy one made in China for like, less than a dollar. Below is a white NZXT Sleeved LED Kit in action, image courtesy pccasegear.com. Doesn’t look half bad, I must say:

Sleeved LED Kit with Case

Uncontrolled RGB LED Strips


Next, we have the automatic RGB LED strips. These strips can bright up your case with multiple colors, but they transition automatically and you can’t really do anything about them. Needless to say, these are pretty cheap, and thus I wasn’t able to find any good pictures or videos of them, because they are normally sold only in cheap made-in-China DIY markets. Another note is that, these strips are often not true RGB (in the sense that they can light up in all 16,777,216 colors of the 8-bit RGB spectrum), but instead only have a few colors to cycle through.

Cold Cathode Tubes


Cold_Cathodes

Image courtesy… Wikipedia. Yup, so apparently this type of lighting has been around for a loooooong time. Anyway, cold cathode tubes, like those pictured above, also only light up your case with one color, and are harder to set up than LED kits, requiring a wider space (but they still use the same 3-pin connector). However, they shine much brighter than LEDs do, and give a more evenly spread out light. They also don’t fall off their place and thus don’t need fix-ups, so they are more common for hardcore builders.

Hardware-Controlled RGB LED Kits


Video courtesy Clint Sutton, Youtube.

Aaaaahhh… now we’ve finally got to the colorful! These kits, most notably the original NZXT HUE LED Kit, are some of the fancier case lighting solutions. As you can see about, these kits cover the full 8-bit RGB spectrum, has multiple lighting modes (common modes include always-on, flashing, breathing (gradually fading on/off), multi-color switching, multi-color flashing, and multi-color breathing (gradually transition from one color to another, this is the most interesting lighting mode to me and really shows off the true power of a properly controlled RGB LED kit)), and you can customize them however you like, like modifying their brightness, color, lighting modes, etc. on a separate controller, which may look like this:

NZXT HUE Controller

Yep, that’s an image of the controller of the aforementioned HUE LED kit, taken from tech-labs.ru. This controller is installed on a 5.25-inch drive bay (a.k.a. optical drive bay or CD-drive bay). Needless to say, these kits are harder to set up, requiring not only a 3-pin connector but also a drive bay of sorts, as well as some other connector for power (in the HUE’s case, it’s a SATA Power connector, the one normally used to power your hard drives). However, they open up a LOT of new possibilities, and as a last note, their LEDs may also come from superflex form, which is less cumbersome and more durable than normal LED strips.

However, not all hardware-controlled RGB LED kits are as premium as the HUE, there are also some made-in-China kits with again, a limited selection of colors (though often more than their uncontrolled siblings), and a simple remote controller with less lighting modes and configuration options. One such kit is sold in my area, at… less than 6 bucks.

Software-Controlled RGB LED Kits


NZXT HUE+ Review

Here it is, the top tier! Software-Controlled RGB LED Kits are even harder to set up since they also require a… you know, software, but they have the most features. I only know of two such kits: the Corsair Link RGB LED Lighting Kit and the recently released NZXT HUE+ kit, so I’m gonna go over them individually.

Corsair Link Commander MiniFirst, the Corsair Link kit. Pictured above is its controller, the Corsair Link Commander Mini. This little commander is not merely used for the lighting kit alone, but also used for others of Corsair’s fans, CPU coolers, RAM kits, as well as some RAM coolers such as the Dominator Airflow Platinum. This controller is not conformed to any special form factor, and should just be put anywhere in your case if you have a large enough one. To use the controller (and its components’ special Link features, which include RGB LED lighting), you’ll also need the Corsair Link Dashboard software.

The lighting tab of the Corsair Link Dashboard software, image courtesy tech-critter.com
The lighting tab of the Corsair Link Dashboard software, image courtesy tech-critter.com

Using this system, you’ll have 3 modes of lighting:

  • Normal: One constant color (the color can be customized)
  • Cycling: Continuously flash through different colors (the choice of colors can be customized)
  • Temperature: The color will change based on the CPU’s, GPU’s, or motherboard’s temperature (the choice of colors can be customized)

…And that’s pretty much it. There are not as many modes as the regular HUE kit, but the interesting thing here is the temperature mode, which wouldn’t be possible with hardware-controlled kits (perhaps possible only through very complicated DIY setups, but I’m not gonna talk about those here). This easily elevates the LED kit’s purpose from just decoration to system monitoring assistant, an actual use that many builders will love.

Next, let’s go to the newest and most expensive one, the crème de la crème, the NZXT HUE+ kit!

NZXT HUE+ ControllerPictured above is the HUE+’s controller, which ditched the 5.25″ form factor and instead went with the much more compact 2.5-inch form factor (a.k.a. SSD form factor, though it’s actually thicker than a 2.5-inch SSD drive). Thus, it can be put anywhere inside your case, but most suitably on a hard drive bay. It also ditched the SATA Power connector in favor of a 5V MOLEX (4-pin) connector, and you must also use a USB-to-micro-USB cable to connect it to its program, the CAM software.

The software's HUE+ tab.
The software’s HUE+ tab.

The kit has not only its old lighting modes (fixed, breathing and fading), but also a LOT more. Most importantly, unlike any other lighting kit so far, it can also light the LEDs up in multiple colors at a time, where as the other kits, even the HUE and the Corsair Link kits, can only light all the LEDs up in one color at a time. Here are all the lighting modes of the new HUE+ kit:

  • Fixed: One constant color
  • Breathing: The color gradually fade on and off. The mode can be in uni-color or multi-color (it’ll change color every time it “breathes”, and, different from the original HUE, the color choices this time can be customized, including their number and order)
  • Pulse: Similar to “breathing” but more abrupt (the color brights up more suddenly then fades out slowly)
  • Fading: The color changes from one to another gradually. Of course, the color choices can be customized.
  • Marquee: The primary color “runs” from one place to another while the other LEDs are set to another color.
  • Covering Marquee: The primary color “runs” around the LED strip while the other LEDs are set to a different color, with the primary color painting the LEDs it has run over with its color. The color choices, number and order can be customized.
  • Spectrum Wave: The LEDs change colors wildly, while each LED is lit with a different color at any given time.
  • Alternating: Each other LED is lit with one color while the other LEDs are lit with another.
  • CPU/GPU Temperature: The LEDs’ color changes based on your CPU/GPU’s temperature.
  • FPS: The LEDs’ color changes based on your game’s FPS.
  • Audio: The LEDs’ color changes to the beat of your music (…or to the spectrum of any sound that’s coming from your PC)
  • Custom: Customize EACH LED and their lighting schemes manually.

… Holy sheet, NZXT!!!

And as if that’s not awesome enough, the kit now also comes with magnetic strips to better install it on… most cases in the world, instead of just adhesive like the original HUE. Adhesives just can’t be that strong and stable.

Ok, to top it off, here’s a tutorial video for this particular kit from Awesomesauce Network, on YouTube:

Component LEDs


However, separate lighting kits are not the only way to light up your case. LEDs on other components can really help with glorifying your rig too, and there’s nothing more satisfying than looking at a carefully designed PC with matching components. For example, there are LED case fans:

CoolerMaster JetFlo

LEDs on your CPU cooler…

Kraken X61 LED

On your graphics card

GTX 980 Kingpin

On your motherboard

The LED on the Gigabyte G1.Sniper B7 (including the backlight). Apparently, Gigabyte is the only motherboards brand manufacturing these LED motherboards these days. Oh well, not that I complain.
The LED on the Gigabyte G1.Sniper B7 (including the backlight). Apparently, Gigabyte is the only motherboards brand manufacturing these LED motherboards these days. Oh well, not that I complain. Image courtesy vr-zone.com

On your RAM

Anyone remember these lightning sticks?
Anyone remember these lightning sticks?

And, heck, on your RAM’s FANS!!!

The Corsair Dominator Airflow Platinum, with RGB LEDs that can be controlled by the aforementioned Corsair Link system.
The Corsair Dominator Airflow Platinum, with RGB LEDs that can be controlled by the aforementioned Corsair Link system.

So as you can see, there are many ways to light up a system to add just a bit more beauty to it. I really hope to be able to see more artistically built PCs in the future, and I especially look forward to building one myself. Again, thank you very much for reading and supporting this blog, and I hope that with this information, you’ll be able to make your cases prettier! See you next time! ^^

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