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It’s a mod, mod world

You can judge a gaming system by its cover. Here’s how to make yours look sharp.

It wasn’t too long ago that you could have your computer in any color you wanted, as long as it was beige. Sometimes lighter, sometimes darker, but beige nonetheless.

Today, color choices are almost limitless or, at least, limited only by budget. Beige cases are still available, but a rainbow of colors is now obtainable as standard fare from many PC vendors. Some even offer custom finishes, something that was once limited to classic cars and hot rods. Moreover, color isn’t the only option in cases. We’ve entered the age of high-end case design, with alternatives that range from the simple addition of extra fan openings with decorator grilles to windowed side panels with etched designs and internal illumination to exotic built-in, water-cooled systems, and everything in between.

That raises the question, “Are high-end cases and case modifications (or mods, as the lingo goes) for serious gamers only?” In the early days of PC modding, they were. Most custom cases and case mods were homebrew in nature. Now, however, even novice tinkerers can get in on the action of ramping up the look and performance of their rig. The cost? Anywhere from $20 for a couple of lighted case fans to several hundred dollars and more for housings featuring beautiful acrylic and aluminum artwork, bonded wood finishes, and cutting-edge cooling apparatuses.

Gamers who want to get in on the modding scene have two choices: DIY (Do-It-Yourself) or DIFM (Do-It-For-Me). If the thought of popping open your PC’s case and handling its expensive innards causes your heart to race, pack it in and pull out your credit card. Your best option, finances allowed, is to order a new, hopped-up, ready-to-run DIFM system. Several high-end PC boutiques offer substantial customization options. We particularly like Alienware, Falcon Northwest, and Voodoo .

DIYers, however, have a substantially wider array of options in high-end cases and individual system mods than those going prefab, including a more affordable route. When it comes to classy cases, several names surface immediately. Coolermaster and Lian Li, for example, are the top choices for computer cases with built-in wow factor. In many ways, their offerings look more like audiophile-grade enclosures than simple PC chassis. Tower and desktop models are available in all-aluminum construction with aluminum and clear acrylic doors and windowed side panels. Exquisite!

They are not, however, the only options. Case makers like Antec and Enermax make enclosures that are both attractive and a touch more affordable, usually employing steel rather than aluminum construction. Custom windows and finishes are part of the standard price for many models, and the number of cases from which to choose is rising.

Additionally, most case manufacturers offer more these days than pre-modded enclosures alone. Many feature windowed side panels for those who already own one of their cases, as well as a gamut of power supplies. Also available, depending on vendor, are matching drive adapters, drive covers, multifunction bays with various I/O ports, card readers, and a wide selection of case fans and rounded cables. Cool items such as illuminated power supplies are in stock, as well as control panel-adjustable units that allow the main output voltages and minimum fan settings to be tweaked for peak performance. There are kitschy products, too, like Enermax’s Aquarium Aluminum Side Panel that includes a blue cold cathode light kit, low noise air pump, and colorful plastic fish.

Cases, though, are only part of the mod equation. Other visual add-ons and replacement parts need to be considered, as do performance-oriented upgrades and sound-deadening options. As a starting point for a list of mod suppliers, search the Internet for PC mods. Generally speaking, if it can be done, someone has made a mod to do it.

What other visual flourishes can you add to your PC? The simplest accoutrements for ramping up the look of your PC include high-resolution, full color, wrap-around prints on adhesive-backed vinyl, replacement side panels and windows, illumination, and custom cabling.

If your case doesn’t feature a windowed side panel already, you can either invest in a window kit (which requires some cutting and fitting to install) or, if available, a replacement side panel that already includes a window. Applying an etched window appliqué adds a little extra eye-candy to unadorned Plexiglas.

Case lighting can also be an impressive addition. Among the options are neon, cold cathode, sound-reactive cathode, and bubble cathode lights; clear, LED, fiber-optic, cold cathode, neon, and UV fans; electroluminescent tape and cable; white LED tail lighting (mini spotlights); illuminated rheobus or fan controllers; laser LED and strobe lights; and illumination-enhanced cabling. You can even add an electroluminescent keyboard and illuminated mouse pad if you desire. Plus, illuminated mice are on the way.

Regarding custom cabling, several options exist. The easiest is to replace old flat-ribbon cables with new rounded cables. These come in many solid colors, as well as alternatives that include cables braided with electroluminescent wire and those covered with clear tubes that emit a sky-blue glow under UV light. An added benefit of rounded cables is that they help increase airflow inside your case, which is always a benefit.

Other cabling mods include split-loom tubing and wire sleeves used to bundle and conceal miscellaneous case wiring. Both are available in a variety of colors, with some wire sleeves reactive under UV lighting. Heat-shrink tubing in various shades serves to hold wire sleeves in place. Additional mods on the cheap-and-easy side include laser-cut fan grilles, anodized aluminum and plated thumb screws, UV spray paint, case handles, temperature monitors and gauges, and multifunction transfer panels. Those wanting to silence the drone emanating from their PCs can employ smart fans that automatically adjust speed based on case temperature and sound dampening material such as sound absorption mats and high-density foam.

PC modding also includes performance-enhancing options, some of which add visual flair as well. Requiring a bit more in the way of “installation” than the mods previously mentioned are active, passive, and water-cooled CPU heat sink and fan assemblies; memory heat sinks and heat spreaders; chipset coolers; hard-drive coolers and cooling bays; GPU fans and heat pipes; and complete water-cooled systems with glowing UV dye for rigs pushed to the limits of sanity.

Whatever enhancements you decide on, it’s clear from the options available that PC modding has come of age, offering visual and performance tweaks attainable by complete novices to seasoned performance geeks. All it takes is a little time and money–or a lot, if you’re so inclined–and much less ingenuity than it once required to turn your game rig into a uniquely personal creation.

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