We’ve built a Christmas tree for nerds
«Does anyone have a good idea for the front page of the digitec brochure?», someone asked at our monthly meeting. «What about a nerdy Christmas tree?», I replied spontaneously. «RGB lights are trendy, why not decorate a Christmas tree with illuminated PC components? It’s easy and sure to look good». How naïve of me to assume this.
We got off to a slow start when our design team decided against a real tree. This would have made our mission so much easier; with its large green branches, a tree even looks pretty without decoration. With a few LED strip lights and fans attached to it, I was sure it would make for a cute little nerd tree. However, our design team didn’t agree. They insisted that trees belong to Galaxus, so we had to find an alternative. And we did: naked wooden scaffolding in the shape of a Christmas tree. That’s not exactly the most usual product – we have nothing like it in our shop – so we had it made. This gave me enough time to browse through our selection of PC components and order everything that has lighting. I wanted to be able to control the lighting and create special effects, so I focussed on RGB lights. I also made sure they were compatible with one of the common lighting controls such as Asus Aura, which allowed me to control colour, as well as patterns, speed, brightness and more.
The second time I was put in place was when I started ordering decoration. The project had a deadline, so I could only order those PC components that were available straight away from our warehouse. And a naked 2-metre wooden tree takes a lot of decoration. Unfortunately, the long LED strips were only available single-coloured, so I only ordered two of them. Those with RGB spectrum were a lot shorter, so I ordered as many as I could. If you wondered why our modding illumination sector was almost empty in October, it was my fault. I also bought loads of Cooler Master and Corsair fans, Razer mice (they’re the brightest) and Cooler Master keyboards. The latter are compact and feature RGB lighting effects. The last item I needed was a PC to connect to my lighting. The ones standing around in our office didn’t have a built-in RGB controller for Asus Aura or similar, so I had to get a new one.
Necessity begets ingenuity
Our next challenge, and this one was major, was that the components I bought aren’t made to be at a distance of two metres from the PC, so I had to order loads of extension cables. Yet, most of them are only 10, 15 or 30 cm long. The fans need two connectors: a 4 pin connector to make them spin and a proprietary connector to light them up. With the short cables that were available to me, I was forced to build a crazy construction with connector sockets, extension cables, USB hubs and adapters. Not to mention the Led strips and the fans didn’t all have the same terminal. I came to appreciate the LED strip lights by Phanteks, as they can be connected at both ends, take as many connector sockets as you like and work as extension cables at the same time. All we needed to make these work were RGB splitter cables to connect them directly to the RGB port on the motherboard.
We eventually decided to go without the Cooler Master fans, as they couldn’t compete with the Corsair fans, which were extremely bright. Besides, Corsair fans also work with RGB connectors. Six of them can be connected to a controller that’s powered by a SATA connector. This was the final set-up: SATA power cable of mains supply > SATA power to Molex > Molex to two SATA power > SATA power extension. I wasn’t going to be fussy, I was glad that it worked.
With all the components I’d ordered, I couldn’t stop worrying that the mainboard might fail, the wiring might not last or I might run out of decoration. The days went by and my deadline to hand in the photograph for the front page of our brochure came closer. It took four follow-up orders until, on the very last day, we had all we needed: a room, the tree, the lighting, our photographer Thomas Kunz and myself. I had great support from Sven Mathis, Graphic Designer, and Raphi Knecht, also team leader in our Editorial Department and passionate about hardware.
The drone was cancelled
With the help of a pack of 100 black cable ties, we attached 12 fans, 8 mice, 5 keyboards and 12 LED strip lights and connected them with a combination of adapters and cables. I must say, the light show was spectacular. We’d planned to add a trail of light, created by using a drone and time exposure, as a final touch. However, our pilot and video producer Manuel Wenk terminated the flight after a short test. His verdict: too dangerous. We tried moving the drone along a piece of string, but it just didn’t look as good as we wanted, so we gave that idea up, too. Our nerdy Christmas tree is a beauty – even without the trail of light. In the end, it cost about 2,500 francs, including the PC. It was absolutely worth it and I’m sure it would make Father Christmas green with envy.
Update: Win our Christmas tree decoration We’ve been thinking about what to do with all the hardware that’s attached to our tree. I’m too lazy to pack it all in again and we enjoy making presents, so we’ve decided to give away all our Christmas tree decoration at a later time. We’re planning to display the tree in our store in Zurich in December. After that, we’ll raffle off slots and let you choose something from the tree. We’ll talk about this competition and how to participate in a few weeks in a separate article. I’ll update this article accordingly.