Hardware Tutorials

Basic Tutorials Guide: PCs Perfectly Set in Scene with RGB Lighting

From desktop to gaming station

Once computers and peripherals have been illuminated, the question arises as to the right lighting for the interior of the room. Although the entire effect backdrop only unfolds its true potential in the dark, working with little light is strenuous and tiring in the long term. With just a few tricks, a workstation can be illuminated in such a way that the room shines in pleasant indirect light or the effects of the PC are extended and intensified on the outside.

With RGB LED strips or LED lamps from Philips Hue this is child’s play. For example, these can be controlled via Razer Chroma. The control is partly done by a controller, which is installed in the PC case and whose cables are laid out through a screen. LED strips can often be connected in series to create long lighting chains. For example, the back of the table edge or the monitor can be supplied with indirect lighting. Depending on the controller, the LEDs can be software controlled and synchronised with the rest of the lighting.

The technology in detail

LEDs or light-emitting diodes emit light as soon as electric current flows in the direction of transmission. Depending on the semiconductor material used, the wavelength and consequently the colour of the emitted light changes. The brightness is controlled by so-called pulse width modulation (PWM). Here the LED is switched off and on at a variable frequency, giving the human eye the impression that the LED is constantly illuminated. If this frequency is reduced, the brightness also decreases.

Since light-emitting diodes are limited to one colour, RGB lighting – as the term already suggests – uses both red, green and blue variants. Almost any colour can then be mixed from these three basic colours in combination with different brightness.

White light is produced either by the three primary colours or by separate white diodes. The latter are ultraviolet or blue light-emitting specimens, which are coated with a yellow phosphor layer and can therefore glow either cold white, warm white or neutral white.

A large number of these light-emitting diodes, mounted in miniaturised groups of three (one LED for each primary colour) on a flexible, self-adhesive strip, form the LED strip. Of these, some variants offer the possibility of also being operated in a so-called daisy chain (series-connected components). This simplifies cabling and saves on connections, but increases the current, which is why an infinite number of modules cannot be connected in series. Common boards support a maximum load of 2 amps and a strip length of 2 meters.

Various manufacturers, various connections

There are currently three different connection types for RGB hardware. The 12-volt RGB header with 4 pins is used at ASUS‘ AURA, mostly in multiple versions. The pin assignment can be read directly below. Rarely does a 5-volt version of the 4-pin header exist. If a 12-volt component is connected there, it glows less brightly. In the opposite case, i.e. if 5-V LEDs are operated on the 12-V header, damage to the LEDs or the controller is likely.

Newer mainboards are equipped with an additional 3-pin RGB header, which works with only 5 volts operating voltage. Here you should pay attention to the correct connection, because the plugs fit on both headers. The difference lies in the number of single wires. 3-pin headers have the advantage that they can address LEDs digitally. This means that each LED can be addressed individually and even more spectacular lighting effects can be created.

A special form is that of the company Gigabyte 5-pin GRBW header, which is provided with an additional white channel. Assuming the right components are used, more color fastness and brightness is achieved.

The lighting can be configured either directly via the header of the motherboard and the associated software or via control units. However, the latter only allow a limited range of functions and a limited colour palette.

RGB connectors on the motherboard usually have the names RGB_HEADER (where the voltage is indicated on the first pin), ADD_HEADER (for a digitally addressable LED device) or RGBW (for LED hardware with additional white LEDs).

The pin assignment of the different connectors is the same regardless of the manufacturer. If in doubt, however, the label on the mainboard or its manual should shed some light on the matter.

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Simon Lüthje

I am co-founder of this blog and am very interested in everything that has to do with technology, but I also like to play games. I was born in Hamburg, but now I live in Berlin.

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