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Beginner's guide to RGB lighting your PC

RGB lighting your rig isn’t as simple as throwing a light strip into the case. Almost every component you choose for your PC has a part to play.



Case

If you’re RGB lighting your PC, consideration #1 is having a great frame to show off that lighting. Tinted enough to cut down on RGB glare and provide a smooth distribution of lighting around the interior of the case. Very open and spacious, which is nice for custom builds (especially if you go down the route of a custom water cooling solution).

Here are the main considerations for picking a case to light up with LEDs:

  • Case color: Theme your lights to match the exterior of the case. Black is easy to match with anything, while a red case like the NZXT Phantom 410 might look best with white lighting instead of more red. A white case interior will better reflect your RGB lighting, so consider that if you want brighter lighting.

  • Side panel Window: A full glass panel like the In-Win 805’s is ideal. Glass requires more care than plastic, but makes for a classier final product. Make sure you like the shape of the window in the case you pick and plan how you light the interior accordingly. A tinted glass or plastic panel will cut down on the glare from the lighting and provide a smoother, though darker, interior.

  • PSU shroud: Smart lighting means hiding the components you don’t want people to see. Cases with a shroud for the power supply helps keep cables and the boxy power supply out of sight.

  • Cable management space: Like with the PSU shroud, having other places around the case to cram or tie off cables is a big benefit. Look for cases with space along the top rail where you can stash excess cable length, and you obviously want the bulk of your cables tied off completely out of sight around the back.

LED strips

While other components will all be helping accent your case, LED strips are going to be doing most of the hard work. You have a ton of options here. Do you want RGB strips that you can change with the press of a button on a remote? Do you run colored lighting or pure white for illumination? How do you attach them to your case?


Extension kits can add more to the mix, and you can do a ton of customization with this kit. You can create extensive custom lighting effects, and since the RGBs are individually addressable, that gives you the option to have rainbow effects and other fanciness. If you don't mind the higher price, this will give you tons of control over how you light your case—or your entire desk, if you want to.

Motherboard

In the recent trend to make sure absolutely every PC component is outfitted with RGB LEDs, the major motherboard vendors have kitted out their boards with lighting. With MSI the color is configurable with MSI’s software. It’s a minor lighting element compared to an LED strip, but it does help to illuminate the small details of the motherboard surface. And motherboards are cool!

MSI, Asus, and Gigabyte have all embraced the LED lighting craze, so your options here are good. If you’re building an expensive system, you can even get a motherboard with an LED power header for plugging those RGB LED strips directly into the motherboard. That’s a great way to unify everything around a single color scheme.


The newest motherboards for Intel's Kaby Lake CPUs are embracing the motherboard lighting trend, and recently motherboard makers have been changing their design language and color schemes a bit to freshen things up. It's a great time to pick up a new board that fits the look you want. Black is still the standard, but you now can choose colors like silver (or titanium, as they call it).

RAM

You can add some RGB flash to your RAM, too. Avexir and Geil are two of the go-to brands for RGB-lit memory sticks. Remember that color coordination is important. Pick a color scheme and RAM that fits it.

The flashiest of the bunch are Avexir’s Raiden sticks, which have a flickering fluorescent-esque tube mounted on top. The more subdued Core sticks are lower profile and offer a nice, subtle glow.

CPU coolers and fans

Yep, your cooler can join in the RGB party, too.

Plenty of cooler companies make coolers outfitted with LEDs (Cooler Master, for example) but with single-color LEDs. Remember if you buy one of those, you’ll need to plan your color scheme around it.


Prefer air cooling? There are RGB air coolers, too. Most CPU air coolers don’t have lighting built-in or are paired with a single-color LED fan.


LED fans are a cheap addition that can add a lot more light to your case, and they come in plenty of colors. We threw a simple red LED fan into our case, but you can also buy RGB LED models if you want to be able to customize them. That’s much more expensive than single-color LEDs, though. Figure out the color scheme of your case first.

Graphics card

If you don’t plan carefully, a graphics card can be an obstacle to overcome. Nvidia’s reference card designs, for example, have lime green LEDs that do not pair well with a blue or red color scheme. Keep in mind the color of the LED on the GPU you own or plan to buy, and make sure your color scheme will work in harmony with it.


In the latest generation of graphics cards, with Nvidia’s GTX 1070 and 1080, several GPU models come outfitted with RGB LEDs.

Keep in mind other GPUs outfitted with LED logos won’t necessarily give you that sort of control. The Asus Matrix 980 Ti in our example rig is a hell of a graphics card, but its LED display changes colors based on the GPU load, cycling through blue, yellow, green, and red. No color scheme you concoct for your PC will pair well with all of those colors, so it’s the kind of minor imperfection you’ll have to live with or plan around.

Conclusion

If you’re diving into RGB lighting for the first time, look online for inspiration. See what colors work well together. Aim for something simple to start, pair a red or blue with white and you really can’t go wrong.


Later on, you can get into the complicated stuff. Play around with case modding with custom painting. You can paint LEDs with glass paint to adjust their color. Outfit a shielded motherboard with custom LEDs. Match the colors of a closed-loop water cooling setup with your LEDs.


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