If you want to dress up your gaming PC, an RGB lighting kit is a great accessory. Does it perform any useful function? No. Do gamers love them anyway? Absolutely! After all, your gaming rig is designed for fun and entertainment. So why not accessorize it with something that looks cool?
Today, we’ll be reviewing three different RGB lighting kits for your PC. First, we’ll look at the Corsair iCUE Commander PRO. This is a powerful controller that allows you to connect several accessories in addition to LEDs. Next, we’ll review the Speclux RGB LED Light Strips. This kit includes a pair of strips, along with a more basic, laid-back controller. Finally, we’ll check out the Airgoo PC RGB LED Strip Light Kit. This kit doesn’t include a controller, and is designed for motherboards with a built-in controller. Let’s take a closer look, and see how these kits compare!
Creating Custom Colors
Before we delve into today’s offerings, let’s start by talking about how an RGB light kit works. To begin with, some kits and motherboards will produce colors automatically. This is a great feature if you just want to connect your kit and start gaming. But what if you want to create your own custom colors? In that case, you’re going to need to understand a thing or two about creating custom colors.
RGB color is a little different than paint color. The reason is that paint pigments aren’t actually adding color; they’re removing it. So blue paint pigment is absorbing all the light except for the blue light, which it reflects back to you. As a result, you see blue. But with light, you’re adding colors together instead of taking them away. So instead of blue, yellow, and red, the primary light colors are red, green, and blue (RGB).
In computing, RGB levels are expressed in hexadecimal, with values from 0 to 255 (or FF in hex). At 0, the color is not present at all. At 255, the color is at maximum brightness. So the darkest black is 000000, and the brightest white is FFFFFF. The first two digits represent the red value, the next two represent the green, and the last two represent blue. If you want to play along with different colors, there are plenty of resources that can help you out. The Computer Science Field Guide has a great tool for mixing your own RGB colors. Play around with it, and see what values suit you best!
Single-Channel or Multi-Channel?
The next thing we need to talk about is what type of controller you’re going to use. No, we’re not talking about game controllers. We’re talking about LED controllers. The controller is simply the device that the LEDs plug into. It controls the color and brightness level of each individual bulb on the light strip. Some high-end motherboards sport built-in controllers, but what if you’re supplying your own? In that case, you’ll need to know what you’re buying.
There are two basic types of LED controller: single-channel and multi-channel. The difference here is how many different lighting zones you can operate. Suppose you have lights on the front and the back of your PC. You might want to have different color levels and brightness. With a multi-channel controller, you could create separate settings for the front and the back. Conversely, with a single-channel controller, you only get a single lighting zone, so all your strips will look the same. Nowadays, with lower technology costs, most RGB controllers are multi-channel. But it’s still something you’ll need to pay attention to.
3-Pin, 4-Pin, or 5-Pin?
Another thing you’ll need to consider is how many pins your LED strips have. You might think that there’d be a universal standard, but the industry has not been kind to us. Instead, there are now multiple standards, so you’ll need to make sure everything you buy is compatible.
The original RGB standard utilized a 4-pin design. In this design, each color has its own separate wire, one each for red, green, and blue. Primary power is supplied by a 12-volt cable on the end. This standard actually predates PC LED lighting, and dates back to when RGB lights were mostly for home decoration.
Many motherboard manufacturers still use this standard. However, some manufacturers have decided to change things up. For example, the 12-volt wire may be one of the middle ones instead of on the end. In this case, there will typically be an arrow that indicates which one is the power cable. If you’re connecting LEDs directly to your motherboard, check first to make sure what you need.
But wait, there’s more! Some other manufacturers, like Gigabyte, have started using a 5-pin cable. This fifth pin is dedicated to white LEDs, which are included on some modern RGB strips. These lights use a lower wattage than other lights, which use three separate diodes. So even though you’re using more wires, you’re actually using less power.
Finally, the latest standard is the 3-pin design. The 3-pin design provides 5 volts of power through three cables, one for each color. This standard is useful for newer LEDs that draw less power than older diodes.
As you can see, figuring out your connection type can get a bit tricky. Thankfully, if you’re buying a dedicated LED controller, all your lights will be plugged into the controller. As a result, you’re guaranteed that all your parts are going to be compatible. But if your motherboard has a built-in controller, you’ll need to make sure your light strips are compatible.
Finally, we need to talk about cooling. The reason for this is that LED lights produce heat. Depending on the design and the number of diodes, this can be a significant amount of heat. The easiest way to deal with this is simply to install more fans. Some LED controllers even provide extra fan ports precisely for this purpose. If you have a smaller case, though, you might have limited space for fans. In this case, your best option is to install a liquid cooling system. This can be a pain, but it’s well worth the effort to keep your PC from overheating. Now, let’s check out some light kits!
Corsair iCUE Commander PRO
For gamers, Corsair needs no introduction. They’re well known for their high-performance RAM cards, as well as accessories like RGB keyboards. Their iCUE Commander PRO lives up to Corsair’s standards for quality and performance. It’s a complete controller kit, designed to operate a two-channel LED system. It connects to your PC via a 6-inch SATA connector, which provides sufficient power for all of its functions. On the face of the unit, you’ll find a pair of 3-pin connections for LED strips. There are no strips included in the kit, but that’s not a concern considering everything else you get.
To begin with, you get Corsair’s iCUE software. This is a program that controls your lights, as well as six fans. There are four temperature sensors in the kit, all of which can be re-positioned throughout your case. This allows the iCUE technology to intelligently manage your fans, providing cooling exactly as it’s needed. The more fans you install, the better it will perform. But even with two or three extra fans, you should be just fine under most circumstances. You can even use the iCUE software to control a liquid cooling system, which is great for smaller PC cases.
The low-profile design makes it easy to install the Commander PRO behind your motherboard. Alternatively, you can mount it anywhere you want inside the case. On the face of the unit, you’ll see a pair of USB internal headers. These can be used to connect to internal Corsair devices, such as a motherboard front panel or PSU. So if you’re already rocking a lot of Corsair hardware, you’ll get even more functionality. Buy a couple fans and a pair of 3-pin RGB light strips, and you’re good to go!
Speclux RGB LED Light Strips for PC
The Speclux RGB LED Light Strips for PC are unfortunately misnamed. Yes, you get a pair of LED light strips, both of which are just under 14 inches long. This is the ideal length for a full-sized PC case, which is standard for most gaming rigs. Both of these strips have a magnet between every three bulbs. This makes mounting easy if you have a case that’s constructed from steel. If you have an aluminum or plastic case, Speclux also includes a set of 3M adhesive strips. Either way, installation should take just a few minutes, and you’ll be ready to go.
If your PC has a built-in 3-pin controller, you’re ready to go. Just plug in your light strips and start adjusting your settings. There are even adapters in the kit for oddball connections like Gigabyte, ASUS, MSI, and ASROCK. As a result, you’ll be compatible with most PCs.
Alternatively, you can use the LED controller that’s included in the kit. It connects to your motherboard via a SATA connection, which will provide more than sufficient power. The controller only has one 3-pin connection, though. So you’ll only be able to operate it in single-channel mode if you’re using the lights in this fashion. Still, there are plenty of options for control. You can adjust the brightness through five different brightness levels. In addition, if you want color-changing LEDs, you can choose five different speed levels. All of this is controlled by the button on the controller, not by any software. So you’ll need to have the controller hanging out of the case to take advantage of these features.
Airgoo PC RGB LED Strip Light Kit
The Airgoo PC RGB LED Strip Light Kit is the most basic option on our list. There’s no controller included in the package. Instead, you’re looking at a pair of 16-inch LED strips. There’s also a 20-inch, 4-pin RGB extension cable for easier placement. You can plug the strips into separate ports on your motherboard, or daisy-chain up to four of them. Provided your motherboard sports a 4-pin RGB controller, you don’t need anything else to get started.
Installation is very easy. Each light strip has built-in magnets that will snap to any steel PC case. If you don’t have a steel case, you’ll want to pick up some 3M adhesive strips for installation. The lights themselves are exceptionally bright, so they’re ideal for see-through cases. You can create whatever RGB effects your motherboard will support. You can even use the lights with sync technology, to match your lighting to what’s going on in your game. You also get Airgoo’s 12-month warranty, ensuring that you’re protected from any manufacturer’s defects.
So, which one of these RGB light kits is the best of the bunch? As with so many things, it depends on what exactly you need. If you want the ultimate in control and performance, go with the Corsair iCUE Commander PRO. It’s pricey, but it offers more features than just about any option on the market. Not only can you control dual LED strips, you can control up to six fans. And Corsair’s iCUE software is exceptional. For a motherboard with no built-in LED controller, it’s an ideal choice. That said, it’s a wee bit pricey.
The Speclux RGB LED Light Strips for PC is a more affordable option that includes an LED controller. Not only that, but it includes a variety of adapters. So if your motherboard has a built-in controller already, the strips are easy to connect. Then again, you don’t get any extra fan connectors.
The Airgoo PC RGB LED Strip Light Kit is a great choice for motherboards with 4-pin connectors. It’s very affordable, and the LED lights themselves are very high quality. The extension cable is a great added value, since it makes placement easier than it would be otherwise.