System News: The PC case lights up – Atomic – Cases


Mark Williams looks at how PC lighting has become fancy.

The PC pimping scene has been alive for well over a decade, possibly even two; it really began to kick off when case manufacturers started putting windows into the side of their case offerings (after seeing modders cut gaping holes out of their prized cases and shoving Perspex into them) to show off the insides of the computer. Only then did people realise it was kind of dark and dingy in there and it needed some lighting so one could see those glorious innards better.

This began the whole CCFL (Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lamp) fad. Not so much a lamp in the traditional sense, CCFL’s are more like your fluorescent lights in ceilings at home or office – long gas-filled tubes that give off light – but for the PC scene they were miniature in size (around 10-30cm in length and 1cm in diameter) to fit inside your case.

The big thing with CCFLs was UV lighting (aka black lights) the kind you often see in TV shows like CSI to reveal blood stains and the like in murder scenes. Combined with water cooling liquid additives, special plastics in fans, case stickers, and more, specifically designed to react and glow when hit with UV lights it made for some impressive results back in the day.

The trouble with CCFLs is that they were very bulky. Not just the lights themselves but also the inverter power boxes required for each tube to power them. While it all lit up nicely there was an excess of extra messy cabling and inverter boxes inside the case.

Then manufacturers discovered (rediscovered?) LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights, which almost overnight killed off CCFL usage in PC lighting. Not only were they tiny and could be placed anywhere, they didn’t need any big and bulky power inverters, and barely drew any power at all. And so began the life of LED-lit PC case fans, which continues to this day.

In those early days, though, LED technology wasn’t as advanced. I recall seeing many a case fan that was entirely made of a semi-translucent colour plastic with white LEDs shoved in the corners. They still worked well but manufacturers were obviously working with what they had at the time to achieve the colour results they desired.

It wasn’t long before LED tech got to the stage where the actual LEDs were shining in all the various colours themselves. Even strips of LEDs came along which mimic the lighting results CCFLs used to provide, but in a far less bulky way and in a flexible and bendy format.

This year has been the year that LEDs took another step forward with the advent of RGB (Red Green Blue) LEDs, which can combine any amount of those three primary colours to offer basically any colour of the rainbow, whenever you like. So thankfully you’re no longer tied to whichever single coloured lighting theme once you build your PC, or upgrade and transfer parts to your new rig, the lighting scheme can now change to fit your new build, theme or environment.

SHOP TALK
How popular are PC aesthetic products? Is this segment steady or growing/shrinking? What are the most common PC “bling” items you sell? Are RGB products as popular as manufacturers make them out to be?

John, TI Computers:
“We have not focused quite so much in products and features related to PC aesthetics as yet, as we focus more in the PC builds for professional editing, server and business desktops, which the side panel is not transparent most of the time.

To date, even when we use products with aura lighting effects, we only use them as a thermal monitoring tool to reflect the change of CPU and the GPU temperature instead of blinking lights. However, we do receive a growing demand for fancy lighting effects from younger generation customers.” 

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