PC modder culture reaches new heights

Header image via Timothy Smith on Flickr.

You bend over your desk, screwdriver in hand. You look over your opened computer case. An additional graphics card has been added, which led to the need for improved cooling methods. You have already gone this far. Why not take it a step further?

“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. Computer modding is the same way,” says Johnnie Rodrigues, Technical Marketing Engineer at Intel. He tests how far the company’s processors can go, building high-end machines via modding.

There are computer owners who want to take their machines to new places. These PC modders push to make the plain boxes holding their computers so much more. What they want dictates how they modify their machines. Some want more powerful machines, adding tech to improve the specs. Some want a new form factor, taking the tech out of the case and putting it in something else. And others want to express themselves, turning the cases into works of art.

“might as well completely jump in” 

“We are moving into 4K resolution. If you want to play a game at that level you going to need at least [a scalable link interface] to reach the framerates to make a game enjoyable. And sometimes having SLI is not enough,” says Alejandro Hoyos, a Solutions Architect at Intel. One of his past jobs at Intel was interacting with gaming enthusiasts.

To get almost photoreal games, DIY users are putting additional graphic cards in their machines, up to four of them working together via SLI process. It could also mean changing out the CPUs or the RAM. It may mean overclocking everything, so it all runs faster. Such horsepower can run hot, leading many to add the tubing and radiators of a liquid cooling system to supplement fans. And after such nuts-and-bolts modding, why stop?

“It’s a domino effect. You start doing the technical mods, your hands are already there; might as well completely jump in,” Hoyos says. “People build their first system and they love it. Then they are already thinking about the second one. ‘What if I make this blue? Or what if I put this tube over here?’ It becomes addicting, in a good way.”

Image via Garrette on Flickr.

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 of 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. Everything from PCs designed to lay flat against a wall, to built into a desk—the possibilities are pretty limitless,” says Rodrigues.

Fandom is an integral part of the PC modding experience. Some change their PC equipment to fit a theme. One superhero fan dddadded 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 plexiglas.

“People are trying to differentiate themselves.”

Hoyos says, “People are trying to differentiate themselves. 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. 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 they do it and then contribute their own work. Once, you could only see impressive mods at shows and tournaments, but now they are easily shared all around the world.

“Most of the things that I look at are on Facebook. There are just so many modding communities out there. You can start following those and seeing the work that they do. And you start seeing all these different techniques. There is always something new showing up that I haven’t seen before,” says Rodrigues.

Image via Intel Free Press on Flickr.

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 sells internationally, so you can get things from just about anywhere,” says Rodrigues. “Even Amazon and Newegg are selling those parts. Then you have companies like iBuyPower and Falcon Northwest selling customized systems through retail, like Best Buy, Fry’s, and Micro Center. It’s a very healthy market. I don’t see it doing anything but getting bigger.”