By: Jonathan Kwan
December 24, 2010
Here is a quick question to test your IQ: What came after case windows? Well, vanity lighting kits that go inside your computer, of course. Back when AMD Athlon 64 processors were the rage among computer enthusiasts, my Cooler Master Cavalier 1 was equipped with two blue cold cathodes I purchased from a fellow American friend for $12 including shipping. It was really one of the coolest things in my opinion. I would stare inside, and marvel at the workings of my unique combination of printed circuit boards and multitude of fans working hard to keep the system temperature in check. Sure, blue cold cathodes look extremely generic by today's standards, and "cold" cathodes are far from being "cold" -- but the options we have do not go much further than that. The situation improved significantly when I got my hands on those Lamptron case lighting products in June 2008. In terms of technology, LEDs are compact and much more efficient, so it was easy -- at least for me -- to be creative with the color combination. But that's not for everyone, because even I have to admit a good amount of them were quite hard to mount properly. It was not until recently that chassis manufacturer NZXT finally came up with a solution to all these things. The NZXT Sleeved LED kit is a far more elegant answer to the usual improvised mounting methods employed by computer enthusiasts. Promising easy implementation for anywhere installation, how well does it translate to real life applications? We picked up three sets to see how it goes. Read on to find out what we have found!
Our review units of NZXT's Sleeved LED kits came in a medium sized brown corrugated cardboard box using UPS Standard from American Future Technology's offices in California, USA. Everything was handled in excellent condition all the way to our doorstep here at Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Included inside is the company's 80 Plus Gold certified HALE90 750W power supply unit, so stay tuned for our report next week. I'll be fancying three Electrical Engineering exams by next Friday (Well technically, by the time you are reading this, I am already done haha), so I'll hold off the power supply article until then. Analog Electronic Circuits, Probability and Statistics for Electrical Engineers, and Numerical Methods of Electrical Engineers are some real fun stuff. Let's just say I never attended the last class on the list I just made.
NZXT uses clear blister packs for the Sleeved LED Kit's retail package. Blister packs are cheap and work well in the parts and accessories corner of your favorite computer retail store, but they are definitely not my first choice -- since opening them requires more effort than your average retail box. This is not to mention you have to endure a high risk of cuts on your fingers. Fortunately, I managed to crack all of them open free from any small or large personal injuries.
Other than that, the packaging is quite straightforward. NZXT sent along three kits for our review today; where we have one 1M in orange, and two 2M in blue and white. Pretty much everything included can be seen at first glance; where the PCI bracket/controller board is placed on the left side, a roll of the sleeved LEDs in the center, self-adhesive mounting clips in the middle of the roll, and a Molex adapter on the upper right corner. The only thing you can't see is a small instruction poster hidden in between. At the back, marks are made to indicate its LED color as well as the kit length.
Before we move on, let's take a look at the specifications of NZXT's Sleeved LED Kit, as obtained from the manufacturer's website:
- Easy Management: Designed to take up minimal space and fit in narrow areas in any case, the Sleeved LED Kit provides numerous LEDs on one cable to simplify installation.
- 5 Kit Colors: Set the mood or mix and match with red, green, white, blue, or orange kits.
- Sleeved LED Kit comes in 2 lengths; 1m and 2m.
- 3-Step Light Sensitivity: Allows user to turn LEDs on high, medium, and low settings or turn off.
The first photo includes the one meter version, while the second photo takes a shot at the two meter version. If you purchased the one meter NZXT Sleeved LED Kit, 6 self-adhesive mounting clips will be included -- otherwise 10 clips are available for owners of the two meter edition. With that aside, you should be glad to hear the product is very straightforward, as its name suggests. A sleeved wire (Well, obviously, haha) pulls along either 12 or 24 LEDs for the one meter and two meter kit, respectively; spaced approximately 9 cm apart each. This is crucial for a uniform lighting effect, as you will see later on in this review. The LEDs are then hooked up to a controller board installed in your chassis' expansion card slot. A power button in conjunction with a three-mode brightness switch is located on the rear metal bracket. A series of resistors control the current flowing to the lights; and since the total load differs between the two kits, the boards are also slightly different between the one meter and two meter kit. The shorter version has four 33 ohm resistors, one 22 ohm resistor, and one 6.2 ohm resistor; whereas the board designed for the longer version has four 22 ohm resistors, one 12 ohm resistor, and one 3 ohm resistor. Obviously having 24 LEDs require a high current to run, so it makes sense to feature a combination of lower impedance resistors compared to having only 12 LEDs.
To install, simply connect your power supply to the control board via an included Molex to 3-pin adapter. The sleeved LEDs then plugs into to a separate 2-pin power output jack, also located on the control board. I am not a big fan of the fact that the LEDs connect to a jack that is located on the outer edge of the board and faces outward toward the side panel of the chassis, because it negatively impacts the quality of the cabling job. I would much appreciate it if the connector points downward as well as being relocated to an area more near the edges. Other than that, I just have to make a small complaint with regards to one of the Molex to 3-pin adapter, as it is broken out of the box. They are not hard to make, and it is not hard to fix either, but personally I would have expected slightly better quality control from a manufacturer like NZXT. But these are just relatively small things -- the rest is all smooth sailing from here.
Computer 'Prologue' with NZXT Sleeved LED Kit (White).
Computer 'Revival' with NZXT Sleeved LED Kit (Blue).
I executed a perimeter install into my computer chassis, which is the most simple implementation for a well implemented design in my opinion. Multiple kits can be installed in the same computer at the user's discretion if you wish to put more complicated lighting effects into action. I only got around to installing the white and blue version as shown, but I will post examples of the orange LED kit when I have them installed as well. From my experience, you really don't need to use all the mounting clips; in fact, all I have used were only four for each install -- one for each corner of the case. The clips ensure the orientation of the LEDs are correct, and allows the user to remove the Sleeved LED kit from the system without peeling out the clips itself. It is hard to say the overall effect is anything short of excellent. Due to good spacing of the LEDs, lighting is pretty uniform across the interior, and the LEDs are bright to ensure everything is well lit. (However, you can always tone down the brightness by a switch at the back if you find it too overwhelming). The thing is, with the vast availability of color switchable LEDs nowadays, the only thing I would like changed is for the next version of this product to just have one version with all the LED colors selectable at user's preference. From my years of computer interior lighting, I have never seen a product so easy to install, and works so well. NZXT has done a brilliant job with their Sleeved LED kit in turning quality case lighting from the work of a well practiced enthusiast to the ability of anyone who can build a computer. Our photos above simply speak for themselves.
Conclusion? Well, everything you need to know is in the previous three paragraphs, so why bother writing another full length one (Hey, I am lazy)? All I can say is that for $5 more at press time, just get the 2m version. It is only 15 bucks at most online retailers. It is better to run the NZXT Sleeved LED Kit the whole way around the case with a few extra centimeters to spare, than to have a weird half-illuminated chassis with the relatively short length of the 1m variant. Now the other question is, why hasn't anyone thought of this earlier? Oh, and a user selectable color variant rather than the current fixed color kit would be great, too.
NZXT provided this product to APH Networks for the purpose of evaluation.
APH:Renewal Award | APH Review Focus Summary:
8/10 means Definitely a very good product with drawbacks that aren't likely going to matter to the end user.
7/10 means Great product with many advantages and certain insignificant drawbacks; but should be considered before purchasing.
-- Final APH Numeric Rating is 7.5/10
Please note that the APH Numeric Rating system is based off our proprietary guidelines in the Review Focus, and should not be compared to other sites.
The NZXT Sleeved LED Kit is a well implemented and extremely easy to use case lighting system for anyone looking to add some style to their computer interior.
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