Big League Modders Discuss Building Eye-Popping Rigs for Computex

Desktop towers draped in the sort of show-stopping colors you don’t find on Best Buy shelves. Rigs that break the traditional tower form factor and take completely unexpected shapes. Dizzying water cooling entwining a powerful lineup of components and amplified by a rainbow of lights. These are the type of PC builds that make you stop and point. This is what modding’s all about, but at Computex the world is your stage.

At the Computex 2019 tech conference in Taipei last week, over 43,000 attendees from 171 countries came seeking the most powerful, coolest, exciting, unique, or niche products. For a PC modder, this means stakes are higher than usual. Who knows what website, blog, social media account, fellow modder or vendor your creation will meet. Both your modding reputation and potential opportunities are on the line.

Last week, we showcased our favorite PC mods from Computex 2019. Now, we’re giving you an inside look at what went into those pieces of computing art before they wound up wowing spectators on the Computex show floor.

Apex Legends Loot Tick by Jesse Palacio aka JPModified

Palacio’s mod features:

Case
Custom case
Cooling
Phanteks PH-TC12LS RGB
CPU
Intel Core i7-8700K
Graphics
Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Founders Edition
Memory
G. Skill Trident Z Royal
Motherboard
Asus ROG Strix Z370-I Gaming
Power Supply
Silverstone SX700-LPT
Storage
G.Skill Ripjaws S3 400GB SSD

When you’re recruited to mod for Computex, you’re under pressure to create something not only grand and exciting, but that no one else is doing. Starting his rig three months before the show, Palacio had to scrap his original idea to make an airplane-like dropship from Apex Legends because his schedule and time constraints made it “close to impossible.”

Instead, Palacio thought he’d make an Apex loot crate before learning someone else was doing that too. After playing a few rounds on Apex, the Filipino modder found new inspiration in the loot tick and quickly asked G.Skill, which displayed the rig, to stop anyone else from doing the same.

Palacio admitted that he could have went with a more personal design, but said not as many people would get it. “I went with a game for it to be easy to relate to,” he explained.

Much of the case was 3D printed, and Palacio had to have a friend make a scaled down rendering, since none were online. Every mod has to be able to draw people in. This time Palacio’s focus were the feet, “since people see triangles all the time,” and took extra care in making them as realistic as possible.

Printing out all the pieces on an average-size 3D printer was time-consuming, but nothing was harder than shipping this BUILD from the Philippines to Taiwan, especially with the difficulties that often come with shipping companies, Palacio noted. He started figuring out shipping a day after finishing the mod.

“I had to figure out a way to ship it in piece by piece and have it not look like a 20-foot container,” Palacio said. He ended up using one crate with four different sections: one for the “head” with all the components, one for the body, one for the feet and one for the cover and everything else.

Although Palacio is a full-time modder, he feels pressure when modding for a show the size of Computex, noting that you have to be “extra meticulous” because of all the foot traffic.

“When you build for a client, only the client’s going to see. When you build for a company like Asus for local events in the Philippines, it's only going to be there for a specific number of people also. For something as big as Computex, you got to put in extra effort,” Palacio said.

G.Skill Trident Z Royal Inspired Mod by Alex Banks

Banks’ mod contains:

Case
Custom case
Cooling
EKWB water cooling
CPU
Intel Core i7-8700K
Graphics
Nvidia Titan Xp
Memory
G.Skill Trident Z Royal
Motherboard
Gigabyte Z370 Aorus Ultra Gaming
Power Supply
-
Storage
-

For G.Skill’s booth, UK modder Banks went for a mod as intricately carved as G.Skill’s Trident Z Royal RAM and worked to make the finely chiseled look of the memory modules a feature of his build’s chassis.

“I didn’t want to try basing something off a game or just some random silliness. So I thought it’d be good fun to try and take a bit more difficult approach,” Banks said.

Built from scratch, the mod was designed so the structure of the heat spreader ran through the whole case, with the water cooling incorporated into all of that. Banks also wanted the liquid to flow nicely around the whole build in a way that stood out from the norm.

The biggest challenge with this mod, Banks said, was in the crystal lighting plate and trying to emulate the “polygon effect” going down the middle of the Trident Z Royal RAM sticks. Creating the three plates took 16 hours total, with the first one taking the longest amount of time at eight hours.

“I took thick pieces of acrylic, clear plastic about 20mm thick, and then I had to in my 3D design make the whole sort of polygon shape,” Banks explained. After he had his 3D model, Banks used his CNC machine to make the double-sided crystal plates. This required machining the material on one side, flipping it over and then lining up the machine in the same exact spot so everything was symmetrical.

“That basically involved milling down little triangles and some pockets and then running a very small end mill across the whole thing backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards for 12 hours, just to be able to get the shapes and get it very smooth,” Banks recalled.

Taipei is about a 16-hour flight from the UK, so Banks designed his mod with shipping in mind. It has “strategic hard points” scattered about that distribute the weight evenly when it’s laid flat. Banks claims this build’s as strong as a rock.

At a big show like Computex, modders go over the top to get attention. But flashy rigs, with features like decals, crazy paintwork and skulls, just aren’t Banks’ style, which he describes as having a “Scandinavian design approach.” He admitted this style works well in Europe and for video and photography but is the “exact opposite of what people like here in Asia.”

“It’s really about trying to get as much of visual flair in as you possibly can, but at the same time I didn't want to lose the identity that my own modding style has,” Banks said. He added that he likes his mods to be functioning for years to come.

Meter-Tall Mod by Mike Petereyns

Petereyns’ rig includes:

Case
Custom-made case
Cooling
Bitspower water cooling
CPU
Intel Core i7-9700K
Graphics
Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 2080 TI ArcticStorm
Memory
G. Skill Trident Z RGB
Motherboard
Asus ROG Rampage VI Extreme
Power Supply
Seasonic Prime Titanium 1000W
Storage
Samsung 960 Pro NVMe SSD 512GB
Other
CableMod cables

This mod was so tall -- a little over 1m -- that G.Skill had to lower its table for displaying mods at its booth in order to stop the rig from crashing into the banner hanging above it.

Like Banks, Petereyns' rig drew inspiration from G.Skill’ memory, crafting a mod to looks like a giant memory stick. Its shape is a nod to the Trident Z specifically.

The profile view not only shows off the G.Skill logo, but the rig’s cooling reservoir, where the cooling passes through the radiators. It then goes to the back through a hole, straight to the video cards and then the motherboard and then out through the top and back down.

Petereyens also added an extra radiator in preparation for Taipei’s environment.

“It has two big 360 radiators in the bottom. Normally one is enough for a system like this, but in Taiwan it’s hot and humid, so I provided two radiators, and it cools very well,” he explained. “I think idle temperature is like ambient 20 / 25 [degrees Celsius] or something. But if you ramp up the fans, it can go much lower also.”

To no one’s surprise, constructing a rig this tall was the biggest challenge. To build it, Petereyns started by making a 3D model in CAD software so he could determine its size and how all the components would fit.

After creating a rendering, Petereyns needed to construct the chassis in a CNC machine. That’s no easy task, especially since modders often work with hobbyist-grade machines, rather than professional ones. Petereyns actually called in Banks to use his semi-professional machine for help.

With this slim, clean design, there’s limited room for cable management. To keep things neat, Petereyns relied on products from German company Label the Cable, which he said open and close more quickly than zip ties.

Petereyns shipped his rig in one piece via a giant crate stuffed with insulation and foam. Now, after a week wowing the crowd at Computex, Petereyn’s tall drink of water may end up in the modder’s house as a piece of modern art.

“I’m going to hook it up on my big screen in the living room and I’m just going to enjoy it every day,” Petereyns said. The modder currently has about 20 of his creations in his attic and 5 more around the house for general use.

"Neon 20" by Jason Simm aka Sam Arlian

Simm’s mod includes:

Case
Thermaltake Level 20 XT
Cooling
Custom cooling
CPU
AMD Ryzen 7 2700X
Graphics
Asus ROG Strix GeForce 2080 Gaming
Memory
XPG 16GB
Motherboard
Asus ROG Strix X470-F Gaming
Power Supply
-
Storage
-
OtherPacific V-RTX 2080 Plus (Asus ROG) water block

This was Simm’s first competitive mod ever and took about 100 hours to build. The UK modder helped Thermaltake celebrate its 20th birthday like any other tech enthusiast that age: with a love for RGB. Neon colors and RGB inspired this build, which includes holographic sides and an infinity mirror for a front panel.

To raise the bed of the PC, Simm put the 360 rod underneath. A handmade waterfall serves as the cooling reservoir, as Simm was looking to stand out from builds with distro plates. With a Pacific-brand pump, liquid cooling comes from the waterfall and flows around the build’s entire loop, going down the pump to the CPU and GPU, before heading up top and dripping back into the tank. This all required sawing a piece of the case off to keep it clean and help with cable management.

To make the waterfall, by far the most cumbersome part of the project, Simm used a CNC machine and acrylic glue to stick it all together. The meticulous process took 40 adjustments before the waterfall worked perfectly.

“Get one mill wrong and the whole thing would be wrecked enough to start [the waterfall] from scratch again. That took me the longest getting that to work because either it was flowing to the left or to the right too much,” Simm told us.

Simm used acrylic to make the reflective Thermaltake logo on top of the rig and included upcycled truck guard rails on the bottom.

He also replaced the back glass panel of the E-ATX case with laser-etched acrylic and added an LED strip down the back. Inside the case, he fit a two-way mirror that reflects the LED lights while still offering visibility inside the case.

“I Choose You” by Stefan Ulrich aka random2k4

Ulrich’s mod features:

Case
Thermaltake Level 20
Cooling
Custom water cooling
CPU
-
Graphics
Zotac Gaming GeForce RTX 2080 AMP
Memory
Thermaltake WaterRAM RGB 32GB (4 x 8GB)
Motherboard
ASRock Z390 Extreme4
Power Supply
-
Storage
Team Group SSD 240GB

I Choose You has a triple-loop cooling system, with the graphics card, memory and CPU each getting their own independent water cooling loop. The coolant comes in green, red and blue to represent each of the adorable Pokémon on display in the case’s power supply chamber: Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle, respectively.

Those Pokémon are three you’re offered when you first start playing the original Game Boy game, Ulrich told us during Computex.

Fitting those three loops was Ulrich’s biggest obstacle, even with an E-ATX size case.

“Even though the Level 20’s a very big case, to fit like all three loops in, three water tanks, three radiators, three pumps … and to figure out where to put all the tubings was the hardest part,” the UK modder explained. “I wanted to keep the original shape of the case because I think it looks great. I just tried to figure out a nice and creative idea to showcase the Pokémon.”

For new school Pokémon fans (or maybe just Ryan Reynolds fans) there’s also a poster for Detective Pikachu. Additionally, Ulrich added yellow and black vinyl to the outside of the chassis. Pikachu also makes appearances on the front and side panels.

“I played this game a lot as a child. And when the movie came out, I thought maybe it’s a good idea again to pick up the theme,” Ulrich said.

And for those wondering which Pokémon the modder himself would choose, it’s Squirtle. That’s because Ulrich is a Wartortle fan, plus it doesn’t hurt that in the original game “the first trainer has a stone Pokémon, and water crushes stone.”

Hopefully, this has given you mod fans an even deeper appreciation of the creativity, work and trial-and-error that goes into the spectacular mods that shone brilliantly at Computex. If that’s not enough mind-blowing technology for you, relive Computex’s finest with our breakdown of the Best of Computex 2019: Overclocked With Innovations and The Coolest Stuff We Saw at Computex 2019.

Image Credits: Tom's Hardware