Pursuit of Performance

PC Modding Culture Reaches New Heights

Kevin Ohannessian Author, Kill Screen

Gone are the dull gray boxes of old. Today’s players mod their PCs with all sorts of forms, themes and tech.

You look over your opened computer case, screwdriver in hand. An additional graphics card has been added, which led to the need for improved cooling methods.

You’ve already gone this far. Why not take it a step further?

In a world where even overclocking is going mainstream, today’s PC users are finding new ways to make their machines work for them.

“Most people are familiar with people who customize cars. They do a whole bunch of different things to their cars, from different paint, rims, to customizing the engine or the interior,” said Johnnie Rodriques, Technical Marketing Engineer at Intel. “Computer modding is the same way.”

pc modding

Rodriques would know. He tests how far the company’s processors can go, building high-end machines via modding.

Computer owners who want to take their machines to new places are known as “PC modders.” They take the plain box that holds their computer and transform it into something wild and wonderful.

What they want dictates how they modify their machines. Some desire more powerful machines, adding tech to improve the specs. Some crave a new form factor, taking the tech out of the case and putting it in something else.

Others want to express themselves, turning the cases into works of art.

“We are moving into 4K resolution. If you want to play a game at that level, you’re going to need at least an SLI (scalable link interface) to reach the frame rates to make a game enjoyable,” said Alejandro Hoyos, a Solutions Architect at Intel. “And sometimes having SLI is not enough.”

pc modding

To get almost photo-real games, DIY users put additional graphic cards in their machines — sometimes up to four of them working together via SLI process. This could also require changing out the CPUs or the RAM.

It may even mean overclocking everything, so it all runs faster. Such horsepower can run hot, leading many modders to add the tubing and radiators of a liquid cooling system to supplement fans.

“It’s a domino effect. You start doing the technical mods, your hands are already there; might as well completely jump in,” Hoyos said. “‘What if I make this blue? Or what if I put this tube over here?’” he said. “It becomes addicting, in a good way.”

After deciding to put new tech in, some modders replace the computer chassis all together. They want to put the computer parts into a new form.

Have a small desk? Put the computer inside a frame you hang on the wall.

Fan of the Back to the Future films? Put your machine inside a Delorean model. Modders can do anything, as long as they have the time and the money.

“The most genius ones are fabricating these systems from scratch. They are welding chassis together from sheet metal and designing it to be a very special custom thing — the possibilities are pretty limitless,” said Rodriques.

Fandom is an integral part of the PC modding experience. One superhero fan added yellow and red metal plates to the case so it looks like the Iron Man armor. Another made a case into the cycle from Tron.

Some modders even use laser-cutting machines to put etchings in Plexiglass.

“People are trying to differentiate themselves,” Hoyos said. “They want to stand out. When you go to LAN parties, you want this wow factor on your system, to showcase your skills.”

These days, the community is online, too. There are dozens of Facebook groups devoted to modding, some with thousands of members.

There are also websites and forums where modders share images of their pieces, including step-by-step guides.

New modders can see how veterans do it and then contribute their own work. Impressive mods used to be exclusive to shows and tournaments, but now they are easily shared all around the world. Intel’s popular #ExpertMode on Instagram showcases rigs from around the world.

“There are just so many modding communities out there. You can start following those and seeing the work that they do,” said Rodriques. “And you start seeing all these different techniques. There is always something new showing up that I haven’t seen before.”

pc modding

The popularity of PC modding doesn’t seem to be abating. As eSports continues to grow and more people play in tournaments, more people want to customize their PCs to stand out from the crowd.

Some modders have even gone professional, hired by companies to do custom mods that draw crowds at events. And the fact that it is getting easier to do it also shows how much modding has grown.

“You used to only be able to get the parts from select few manufacturers. Now there’s shops that sell internationally, so you can get things from just about anywhere,” said Rodriques, whose seen Amazon and Newegg selling mod parts.

“Then you have companies like iBuyPower and Falcon Northwest selling customized systems through retail, like Best Buy, Fry’s and Micro Center,” said Rodriques. “It’s a very healthy market.”

 

Flickr photos by Garrette

 

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