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A light mod (or lighting mod) is a type of case mod which involves installing some type of light source inside your computer's chassis. The result, especially if the chassis has been window modded, is a computer that looks much nicer than all the beige boxes out there.

  • Looks cool, sets your computer apart from others'
  • Impresses your friends, and you can show it off at LAN parties and the like
  • Extremely easy to do - no special tools required
  • You might fry your PSU if you mess it up
  • Pretty pointless unless your chassis is window modded, or has a lot of openings through which the light can be seen
  • Costs time and money

There are a variety of lighting kits available for sale in stores and over the Internet, some of them will make this mod extremely easy to do. However, you can save a lot of money by buying the simplest kit possible and assembling it yourself.

If you're the type who wants instant gratification, the quickest and simplest possible way to get some light inside your chassis is to buy a case fan with LED's already mounted in it. Such fans are inexpensive and easy to find, and you install them just like any other case fan. They don't come near the coolness factor of the mod I'm about to describe, though (though this is of course a matter of personal taste).

I will now proceed to explain the steps involved in installing a light source inside your case using the simplest possible kit: A cold cathode (or CCFL) tube, a compatible inverter and some wires. For fastening and installation, you may also need a small screwdriver and some tape, cable ties or some other fastening mechanism for securing the components and wires inside your chassis.

Stage one - planning

Always make sure that you know what you're going to do before beginning your case mod, no matter how insignificant or simple it may seem. In the case of the light mod using the simplest possible kit, there are three things to consider:

  • Where to put the CCFL tube - if you have a window in your case, a good place would be where the tube itself is not visible through the window. After all, it's the cool hardware you've got that you want to show off, not some cheap CCFL tube, right?
  • How to assemble and mount the rest of the kit - the inverter must be mounted in such a way that it absolutely, positively, won't short-circuit by coming into direct contact with any metal part of your computer.
  • How to connect the inverter to your computer's PSU - if you chose an inexpensive and simple kit, the power cable to the inverter won't end in a 4-pin Molex connector or somesuch for easy connection to your PSU, so you will have to attach one yourself.

The last two of these considerations are by far the ones requiring the most work. Firstly, I believe a short explanation is required as to what the inverter is/does: It is a small circuit which converts the 12V DC current from your PSU to the 180~1000V AC current required by the CCFL tube. It won't get very hot, so if you got it delivered to you inside a smallish box, you can just mount it inside of that (provided you poke some holes through the box for the cables to run through). Wrap the box up in something which insulates from electricity, such as PVC tape, to further protect against accidental short-circuits.

Stage two - assembly

As for our third consideration, the simplest possible CCFL tube kit would likely only have a black and a red wire from the inverter for you to connect to the power supply somehow. "Yay!" I hear you say. "All the connectors from my PSU have black and red wires as well! I'll just solder red to red and black to black, and it will work!". A word of advice: DON'T. You PSU's 4-pin Molex 8981 connectors all have four wires: Red, black, yellow, black. The red one is +5V, the yellow one is +12V, the black ones are both ground. Your inverter needs 12V, so you have to connect the red wire from the inverter to the yellow wire from the PSU. The black wire from the inverter can go to either of the black wires from the PSU (they're all the same).

I suggest you DON'T start messing around with the wires coming directly from your PSU, as you will likely be ruining a perfectly good PSU if you do. Find a pass-through connector or a Y-splitter for 4-pin Molex 8981 connectors (they're usually included with case fans and the like) and use that instead. If you need to go and buy one, buy two; They're rather cheap, and if you have more than one, it doesn't matter if you fail on the first try. For doing the actual connecting of the wires, you can either just solder or use a wire connector of some sort. I prefer the latter approach as it makes post-installation maintenance easier.

Always assemble the kit as much as possible before installing it inside your chassis. It's also wise to plug it in and see if it works before you mount it. Your kit might have been DOA, but the risk of your CCFL tube suddenly failing once it's installed and working is very small - even a cheap tube will have an MTBF of at least 15,000 hours.

Stage three - installation

This part should be relatively easy if you've planned it well. Use wire strappers, glue or the alternative fastening method of your choice to secure the inverter, CCFL tube and wires in a way that looks nice and unobstructive. There are always two wires between the tube and inverer - depending on the kit you've bought there may be one wire coming from each end of the tube, making installation a bit harder as the length of the wires will impose a limit on where you can place the inverter.

Since the CCFL tube is very bright, one might assume that it generates a lot of heat, and pay special consideration to this during installation. Fortunately, this assumption is wrong. Neither the inverter nor the tube itself will get very hot during normal operation.

Stage four - all done? Conclusion:

Having assembled and installed your kit, the light mod is complete. Now all that's left is to plug your computer back in, turn it on, and admire the results. If there's a short-circuit, your PSU will (in the best case) let you know by simply refusing to power up the system. However, in all honesty, you will have to work hard to screw up this mod. If you're feeling really insecure about having to mess with the internals of your system, maybe case modding isn't your thing to begin with, or perhaps you should choose one of the slightly more expensive ready-made kits available, which take 30 seconds to install. It's your choice. I estimate that you save between $10 and $20 by buying a simple rather than a pre-assembled kit.

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