We’ve built a Christmas tree for nerds
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We’ve built a Christmas tree for nerds

Philipp Rüegg
Zurich, on 20.11.2017
Pictures: Thomas Kunz
Translation: Eva Francis
Christmas trees are a thing of the past. At digitec, we’re a bunch of nerds, so we set out to build our own Christmas tree. Instead of Christmas glitter balls, we used fans; instead of candles, we used LED strip lights and instead of chocolates, we used keyboards and mice.

«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.

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It all started with a naked tree and lots of bits and pieces.

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.

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Decorating our tree almost put us in a Christmas mood.

Re-interpretation

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.

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Reaching from the PC to the top of the tree was only possible with extensions.

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.

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Our tree is starting to take shape. Pretty, isn’t it?

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.

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The LED strips proved to be great lights.

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

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The tree looks even more spectacular when it’s in movement.

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.

These are all the components of our tree

HD120 RGB mit Controller (120mm, 3x)
97.–
Corsair HD120 RGB mit Controller (120mm, 3x)
Mamba Tournament Edition (Cable)
Razer Mamba Tournament Edition (Cable)
Kone XTD, Optical (Cable)
Roccat Kone XTD, Optical (Cable)
MasterKeys Lite L (CH, Cable)
Cooler Master MasterKeys Lite L (CH, Cable)
PC/>
SAVAGE GTX 1070 (Intel Core i7-7700K, 16GB, 250GB, 2TB, SSD, HDD, PCIe SSD)
MIFCOM SAVAGE GTX 1070 (Intel Core i7-7700K, 16GB, 250GB, 2TB, SSD, HDD, PCIe SSD)

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Philipp Rüegg
Philipp Rüegg
Senior Editor, Zurich
Being the game and gadget geek that I am, working at digitec and Galaxus makes me feel like a kid in a candy shop – but it does take its toll on my wallet. I enjoy tinkering with my PC in Tim Taylor fashion and talking about games on my podcast . To satisfy my need for speed, I get on my full suspension mountain bike and set out to find some nice trails. My thirst for culture is quenched by deep conversations over a couple of cold ones at the mostly frustrating games of FC Winterthur.

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