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Modding kit lost to time

We want to see the return of cold cathode lights and custom fan grilles, because maybe we've have lost some good ideas along the way.

A variety of PC components

The fan that cools the X570 chip on my Asus motherboard is failing. It’s only two years old but even after cleaning, reapplying thermal grease and remounting it, the chipset temperature is still blipping into the 70s. I’ve looked around for alternatives, but there’s nothing out there. Years ago, we used to be able to buy a chonk of anodised metal fins with little wings that jutted out from underneath, so you could align it to the non-standardised heatsink-mounting holes in your motherboard.

I’m surprised at the lack of options – virtually every X570 motherboard needs a chip fan, so there should be a small army of people in the same boat as me, all looking for alternatives. This got me thinking about all the other little bits of kit we used to get but you can’t easily find any more.

Back in the early 2000s, you could nip down to Maplin and pick up all manner of modding kit, such as 15cm and 30cm cold cathode lights, for around a fiver each. For me, cold cathodes were the pinnacle of in-case lighting, but they’ve been difficult to find in the UK since the invention of RGB LED strips.

Amazon US has a single stockist of these superior lights, but there’s nothing available on the other side of the Atlantic. Cold cathodes can’t produce fancy-pants 16.8 million colours, but the few colours they do have emit a beautifully radiant soft glow. They don’t illuminate every nook and crevasse; instead, they cast light onto your various bits of hardware, creating interesting hues and shadows, and leaving as much to the imagination.

Now, your average RGB-filled build is so packed with bling that it’s like you’re housing your own fusion generator. The whole interior is shadowed in light because every component sports some sort of RGB-fuelled feature. Yes, cold cathodes weren’t perfect: they couldn’t be bent, required an inverter and they ran warm, adding slightly to case temperatures. However, you didn’t need to faff around with a piece of software for every item – you just plugged it in and enjoyed it.

Custom fan grilles are another old modding feature that seems to have fallen by the wayside. You can 3D-print your own ones now, but I used to have a set of laser-cut spirals that were awesome (although they could also slice your fingers). I’ll chalk them up on the growing board of ‘things I regret selling’.

They did nothing for my PC’s performance – in fact, they got in the way of the airflow – but they added that personal touch, whereas now fans are just another RGB lighting source unless you’re a Noctua fan (ahem) and prefer that particular shade of brown.

At least we no longer have to crack out the jigsaw to cut our own case windows – the chunky plastic ‘bus window’ style never looked that great anyway. Almost all cases have some sort of tempered glass panel option now, although we are missing side panel-mounted fans to give our increasingly hot graphics cards some air.

Bottom-mounted fans work well when graphics cards are placed right near the bottom, but most non-ITX systems have them sat in the middle with no intake fan next to them. I say we should bring back side-panel fans – enough of the front panel trilogy that every case manufacturer seems to offer now. Progress is good, but we also seem to have lost some good ideas along the way.