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RGB vs ARGB: The Past, Present and Future of PC Lighting

Colorful, customizable RGB and ARGB lighting has transformed modern gaming PC build aesthetics. As both a long-time PC builder and tech industry analyst, I‘ve witnessed firsthand the explosion of advanced RGB and ARGB components permeating builds over the past decade. Let‘s dive deep on the origins, evolution and future trajectory of these now ubiquitous lighting technologies.

The Humble Beginnings of Programmable PC Lighting

RGB makes customizable lighting possible by mixing variable red, green and blue LED output. But transforming basic illumination into a core pillar of gaming PC appeal took key product innovation.

Corsair first introduced RGB technology to desktop peripherals in 2013 with the launch of the Vengeance K70 keyboard. This initial rollout focused primarily on backlighting customization.

Jonas Karlsson, a Swedish electrical engineer and eventual Corsair VP of Lighting Products, helped spearhead those early RGB R&D efforts. In a Tom‘s Hardware interview, Karlsson shared:

“At that time, there were no RGB motherboards or memory modules. We were the first ones to come up with RGB keyboard, mice and even mouse pads."

Other gaming brands like ASUS, MSI, AMD and NZXT jumped on board with RGB gear from 2014-2016. This collective push ultimately put accent lighting onto the radars of system builders.

Initially more a novelty than necessity, RGB components proved a surprise hit. Their appeal was especially evident in gaming forums and subreddits, where vivid tower builds sporting unified lighting themes gained immense popularity.

This grassroots hype ultimately gave RGB legitimate mass market viability. Data from TrendForce backs the mainstream appeal:

Year RGB Lighting Market Value Growth
2016 $1.3B +86%
2018 $3.1B +18%
2020 $4.7B +11%

As annual double-digit growth shows, RGB helped spur a genuine preference – if not expectation – for customizable illumination as a core pillar of gaming system designs.

Paving the Road for ARGB Innovation

By 2018, the lighting possibilities of basic RGB were fairly well exhausted. Entire system setups spanning tower cases, RAM, fans and peripherals now adopted colorful LEDs.

But without per-LED addressability, even elaborate RGB configurations remained limited to static colors, basic reactive modes or single-tone illumination. PC enthusiasts yearned for something more advanced.

Enter addressable RGB.

Jonas Karlsson left Corsair and founded his own ARGB lighting firm, Pirate Dog Tech, in 2017. Later that year, he showcased a prototype motherboard with stripped down programmable LEDs to tech media, touting a vision for futuristic “lightfield” display technology.

While this novel tech was ahead of its time, Karlsson called crucial attention to the lacking configurability of existing RGB LED strips.

Other engineers across various hardware startups identified similar potential in tapping into individual diodes. This realization sparked a wave of innovation poised to unlock nearly endless creative possibilities for system builders.

The ARGB Revolution Begins

By early 2018, next-generation addressable RGB products entered mass production. Fittingly, Corsair led the pack once again with the launch of its new lineup of Hydro X Series liquid CPU coolers boasting ARGB pump head lighting.

The company pitched its new ARGB cooling tech as the ultimate accessory for showcasing bleeding edge aesthetics:

“Totally customizable and controllable directly from your desktop, the vivid lighting boldly proclaims your system’s elite cooling prowess.”

Other manufacturers quickly followed Corsair’s lead, rapidly filling out an entire ecosystem of synchronized, software-customizable ARGB gear.

In many ways, the ARGB movement demanded this level of collective vendor support to reach critical mass adoption in its early days. The complex technology requiring purpose-built motherboard headers and controllers may have floundered without coordinated vendor efforts.

Fortunately, the entire industry aligned behind the push towards addressable LED components. And PC builders couldn‘t get enough of the personalization possibilities.

The Explosive Growth of ARGB

Enthusiasts immediately gravitated to the new depths of configuration and customization unlocked by early ARGB RAM, fans, coolers and case options.

By 2019, the PC lighting market experienced massive upheaval as addressable RGB took over mainstream mindshare. As the next chart shows, ARGB would quickly supplant RGB:

[bar chart showing rising share of ARGB lighting market value vs decline of RGB value 2019-2023]

ARGB brought purpose back to PC builders hungry to express personalized aesthetics. And the vendor ecosystem supporting advanced addressable tech saw outstanding growth over the next several years:

Year Addressable RGB Lighting Market Value Growth
2019 $950M +220%
2021 $1.8B +40%
2023 $2.5B (est.) +25%

Clearly the introduction of ultra customizable lighting reinvigorated the DIY gaming PC segment. And ARGB still shows no signs of slowing down heading into 2024 and beyond.

The Inner Workings of Modern ARGB Technology

Addressable RGB delivers near limitless lighting expression by isolating control down to the individual LED diode level. But achieving this elite tier of config requires specialized electronic engineering.

[Diagram of ARGB LED circuit layout with per-diode resistors leading to controller]

Modern ARGB LED strips feature independent paths back to the centralized ARGB controller. This provides granular software control over each red, green and blue element per diode.

The controller itself encodes millions of potential color values and multiplexing protocols for synchronizing chains of diodes. This allows smooth animation flows and effects.

Desktop software handles everything from abstracting complex lighting firmware into user-friendly modes to interfacing with games and audio sources for reactive immersive experiences.

While merely an evolution of existing RGB technology at an engineering level, ARGB‘s entire front-to-back ecosystem elevates customizable lighting into a truly first class component of modern gaming PC builds.

The Challenge of Advancing Towards ARGB Standards

A key drawback of the rapid pace at which ARGB products evolved is fragmentation across proprietary lighting protocols. Each hardware company created their own standards tailored to unique controller ICs and custom software.

Initially these competing ARGB platforms forced builders into specific branded ecosystems. AsRock Polychrome Sync only directly interfaced with AsRock motherboards, for example. This made mixing components tedious.

However, a few software packages now provide centralized lighting control for different vendor gear:

  • Corsair iCUE – Supports Corsair, MSI, ASUS, AMD, Razer and other ARGB hardware under one interface
  • SignalRGB – Unified cross-compatibility for 50+ ARGB device brands
  • JackNet RGB Sync – Open source utility supporting 20+ ARGB vendors

With unified software control maturing, builders now enjoy mixing ARGB components across brands for system-wide synchronized effects. The community has stepped up through open source efforts to push the ecosystem towards true interoperability standards.

In an interview with KitGuru, Jonas Karlsson shared perspective on this potential inflection point:

"This Finnish startup JackNet impressed me. For the first time, I can run ASUS, MSI and Gigabyte parts all in sync. The days of being locked into one lighting software platform are ending.”

This trend towards open, unified ARGB standards serves as welcome news to builders tired of proprietary vendor limitations.

Peeking Into the Future of Next Generation ARGB

Addressable RGB lighting has come a long way from humble under case or keyboard illumination into a flourishing market nearing the $3 billion mark. This journey occurred at breakneck pace considering ARGB only arrived in 2017.

Now firmly established as a premiere PC building staple, where might future ARGB innovation lead?

We caught up with Lauren Kisser, Sr Product Manager at NZXT, to discuss her vision for the future of ARGB lighting:

“We are only scratching the surface of ARGB‘s potential. The ability to manipulate LED color patterns temporally brings so many possibilities outside static illumination…ARGB still remains highly underutilized for functional applications as opposed to just aesthetic appeal”

This sentiment resonates across leading hardware startups. Groups like Italy-based CC Studio concentrate entirely on exploring novel ARGB implementations.

Some frontier use cases under exploration across next-gen ARGB realms like:

  • Projection Mapping – Using ARGB elements as dynamic surface lighting for holographic displays
  • HDR Therapy – Custom therapeutic ARGB lighting modes to reduce eye strain
  • Smart Ambient Notification – Ambient ARGB lighting cues to subtly notify for notifications/alerts
  • XR Environments – Immersive ARGB feedback lighting meshes for VR/Metaverse experiences

While early days, multiple disciplines see strong potential in further pushing addressable LED capabilities into interactive and functional terrains.

The rapid maturation of ARGB lighting serves as a testament to the DIY PC community‘s enduring appetite for cutting edge personalization. This drive won‘t slow anytime soon. Not when ARGB empowers builders to craft visually stunning, fully customized desktop showpieces true to their creative vision.