Every one of RGB's 16.8M colours has a place in PC gaming hardware

RGB gaming peripherals
(Image credit: Future)

It's easy to hate on RGB LED lighting in PC gaming tech; to simply go down the negative route, spurred on by outlandish product marketing displays of rainbow-vomiting hardware, or images of over-enthusiastic plastic products picked out from the bargain bin of an Amazon gaming peripheral search.  

But we're all here for gaming, right? The fun stuff? We don't need to castigate folk for a simple desire to imbue their rigs with a little light joy. Hell, it's been in short supply recently.

This was my reaction to reading a PC Gamer article, shared over the weekend, written by one of my erstwhile colleagues. It was published just over four years ago and, while it was maybe a valid argument at the time, today things have changed.

Like all of us, PC gaming tech had its difficult teenage years; that time where it was struggling to balance a desperate need to fit in with the nascent desire to stand out from the crowd. But now it's time to stop being so po-faced about gaming hardware, and give it props for coming out the other side as a more refined, elegant version of itself.

The gear we've seen rolling off the production lines over the last few years looks far more grown-up than the overblown, overly angular, overly aggressive designs that have preceded them. And pretty much all of it is still replete with RGB LED illumination.

Look at the latest lineup of Razer gear, and sure, you can still sneer at the colour wave RGB lighting if you so wish, but the overall design is restrained in a way PC tech hasn't always been. NZXT chassis are simple and clean too, and y'know come with that added frisson of danger from their potential to spontaneously burst into flames too. The new Nvidia Founders Edition shroud (which I'll admit to initially hating) actually looks stunning in-hand, with its two-tone styling and straight lines. Logitech too has been creating pared-back designs for all its gaming peripherals, designs that are less brash and more elegant than the likes of the resolutely old school G15.

(Image credit: Razer)

Okay, Mad Catz—whoever owns the brand now—is still, well, mad. But those companies are increasingly becoming the outliers in PC gaming hardware, with manufacturers en masse finally understanding that 'gamer' doesn't have to mean '12 year-old boy'.

Just look at the growing trend of gaming laptops that seem designed to masquerade as office notebooks, created so you can sit in your meetings or lectures (remember them?) and look like you're taking notes while you tame boars in Valheim. Or the modern gaming chairs which look like actual designed furniture; more like classic task chairs, and not something that's only meant to look good in the background of a stream.

Pfft, you might froth, however restrained the actual design of modern gaming hardware might be, it's still strewn with hundreds of little RGB LEDs, making it look for all the world like a unicorn has shat multi-hued poo all over your desk.

While it's certainly true some of us love our keyboards exploding in bursts of different colours under every key strike (Steven, I'm looking at you here), there are also those of us who quietly revel in the understated simplicity of a single-colour glow of lighting around our rigs. Of course I know there are those who would rather do without even a single sliver of light on their desktop, bar the LCD glow of their gaming monitor, but most RGB LEDs come with a software-based off switch too.

(Image credit: Future)

RGB lighting is almost now so ubiquitous that it's not really coming at a price premium any more, and it has actual utility as well.

Personally speaking, I would be at a loss using a keyboard without backlighting. My touch typing still needs work, and my machine is in the darkest part of my wee home, so I would otherwise barely be able to see the ends of my fingers without it's gentle pink ambience. I did try using an extreme Das Keyboard Ultimate for a while—it was also one of my first mechanical keyboard loves way back in the mists of time—but while the lack of backlighting or any characters on the keycaps at all made for a very simple aesthetic, it was tough to be confident on that final one of my three password attempts before lockout.

(Image credit: Das Keyboard)

So yes, I'm an RGB LED apologist, with my rig and peripherals all gently glowing a soothing magenta, but then I'm also not naïve enough to believe it's been perfectly implemented yet either. 

I don't think you should necessarily be down on the ever-expanding use of RGB lighting on our gaming gear, but I'm totally with you if you'd like to reserve a little righteous ire for the hundreds of megabytes of software we're expected to dedicate to our rig aesthetic.

A bunch of companies have tried to create their own one-stop-shop for RGB LED control, but inevitably gear will slip through the support cracks. On my own rig I have software for my Mountain Everest keyboard illumination, another app taking care of the Asus motherboard—though Corsair's iCUE seems to think it's in control of that too, while it also looks after the single RGB strip on my Nvidia FE GPU and disables the resolutely white 'GeForce RTX' logo. Then I have another bit of software making sure the LED fans inside my desk-chassis are the right shade of pink. 

SO. MANY.SOFTWARES (Image credit: Future)

And I think I need all that running, but at this point I'm actually a little afraid of pulling the software plug on anything lest it all falls over and I'm plunged into darkness. So yeah, even just a seemingly simple single-colour setup can be a nightmare to arrange.

There are still software issues then, but I'd argue now it's not gaming hardware that needs to grow up. It's us. We need to stop defaulting to sneering, pubescent rage and accept the beauty of the PC is in its consistent acknowledgement that one size does not fit all. It's not cool to automatically neg on something, I think that is itself kinda childish. We should take RGB illumination on its merits, accept humans and PC tastes can be different, and then decide if you want a disco on your desktop, a stylish one-tone setup, or just a little help finding the off switch.

Dave James
Managing Editor, Hardware

Dave has been gaming since the days of Zaxxon and Lady Bug on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. He first started writing for Official PlayStation Magazine and Xbox World many decades ago, then moved onto PC Format full-time, then PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3 among others. Now he's back, writing about the nightmarish graphics card market, CPUs with more cores than sense, gaming laptops hotter than the sun, and SSDs more capacious than a Cybertruck.