A Modder’s Insight Into the World of Custom PCs
Alphacool’s Dave Alcock discusses the industry, modding, and where the future will take us
How far do you go when customizing your rig? What’s the limit? Are you willing to beat a chassis into submission to improve airflow, or get that snazzy lighting you want just right? We speak to Dave Alcock, Alphacool’s marketing honcho and modder extraordinaire to get to grips with the custom mod scene, and take a look at where the industry is heading. Maximum PC: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What got you into modding? When did you start doing it? And how did you end up where you are today? Dave Alcock: Hi! My name is Dave Alcock, better known on the Internet and in the modding world as davido_labido. I’m a 29 years young guy from the UK, who went from playing BF2 competitively to modding to working for a rather large liquid cooling company. This is going to be a long bit of text, so sit down, grab a coffee, and enjoy!
It all started when I was 15, competing at a massive LAN event. I showed up with the rest of the team, and saw an awesome liquid-cooled rig. Instantly, I wanted one. I didn’t know why, I didn’t have a use for it, and I didn’t understand how it worked, I just knew I needed it. Fast-forward to when I was 23, again at a gaming event, and I saw another liquidcooled build. This time I had the cash (well, I was old enough for a credit card), and I started to investigate it all. Luckily, I had a friend at a PC hardware eseller who just so happened to manage its liquid cooling section. He talked me through all the parts I needed, and had it shipped to me. I started to look at it all like it was adult Lego, but I didn’t have a clue what to do. I threw it all together to get the system running, and that was it. A few months later, I had another event to attend, and was embarrassed about how much of a mess my system was, so I started to change it, and make it pretty. This is when I figured out other ways to make it look good and perform better. I chopped up the case, sprayed parts, and generally just did what I wanted. At the next event, a company came up to me, and offered me free parts to redo the build bigger and better. I agreed, and XSPC started me in the world of sponsorship. I gained a huge list of sponsors. Whilst modding, I had a real job—I was an engineer for DHL, but also worked for review sites eTeknix and TechPowerUp. Eventually, I quit DHL to run the modding section for Bit-Tech. I was sent to Aquatuning to write an article on its new offices. Whilst there, I was offered an opportunity I couldn’t turn down: to work for Alphacool as a marketing rep. As Alphacool was one of my sponsors, they knew me, I knew them, and it made sense. I’m now the marketing rep for Alphacool in the UK and US, and I’m still modding, which is awesome. MPC: Case modding has a very niche competitive scene—a lot of our readers won’t even know it exists—so can you tell us what’s involved in a competition, like some of the ones in Taipei and Computex? DA: The way I usually describe case modding to those who have never seen it is to say: “It’s like what car enthusiasts do to cars, but to computers.” We change the colors and chassis, upgrade parts, chop things up, and generally try to make something that’s different and unique. The next question we get asked is: “What’s in it for the companies that sponsor you, and why do they hold events?” Well, modders help move the industry forward, particularly in the design area. For instance, vertical GPUs are seen more and more often now—modders have been doing this for years. In my Pandora’s Purple Box build, I put a GPU on a 45-degree slant. I wasn’t the first to do this, but the more modders who did it, the more it was seen, and the more requests companies received for a similar idea. When I did it, so many people asked how it worked, it was crazy. Now it’s everywhere.
As for events, more and more companies are doing these now. I attended one in 2016 in Taiwan called In Win Mod in Taiwan. Daniel “B-negative” Harper was invited to attend from the UK, and he needed a teammate. He chose me, and we flew to Taiwan to compete against some of the world’s best modders. It was an amazing experience, and we won one of the categories. The reason companies do this is simple: Our builds get seen hundreds of thousands of times, and that means their products are, too. It’s marketing for companies,
and they also get ideas for cases. It’s a fantastic co-operation, and it’s great to see that most of the large companies are helping modding move forward. MPC: When it comes to building your own machines, when do you stop? Are you ever satisfied? DA: It depends. Sometimes I just throw something together and leave it at that. I often need something that isn’t too crazy, so I know I can swap parts out easily without destroying how it looks. I often just work on a test bench.
On the other hand, I keep all the mods that I build for events and shows, and I do use these, too. Often I see little changes months after I have “finished,” and come up with a new idea. Mods are never finished. MPC: Moving on to the industry as a whole—and liquid cooling in particular—where do you see it going? DA: The liquid cooling industry has grown immensely, even in the relatively short time I’ve been part of it; it has pushed forward with more people using liquid cooling. It wasn’t so long ago that AIO units weren’t available, and although these aren’t really considered liquid cooling, they’re a very good first step. Alphacool has many AIO options that are expandable with prefilled parts, so you can expand the loop without worrying about a custom loop. I think this is one area companies will try to push, to get people who are worried about custom loops taking the first steps. Once you use one of the expandable AIO units, you can see how similar they are to a full loop, but we make it easier with quick disconnects. MPC: What are your thoughts on the current RGB phenomenon? DA: I’m not a big fan of the RGB craze when it’s set to one of the crazy lighting modes. However, I do like it overall, as it gives the user more control over their system aesthetics. Not so long ago, if you wanted a certain color for a motherboard, you had to buy a certain brand and board. For example, I wanted an orange build a while back, so I had to buy the Gigabyte Z77X-UP7. It was the only board I liked that had the orange I wanted. Now, I can buy any RGB board, and change the LED colors. It is the same with any other product; it can be changed to suit your own preferences. I’m currently doing a build with Cooler Master, called UniKAOrn Farts, which will be full RGB. I want to go over the top with this, and make it as headache-inducing as possible. MPC: What is it about a custom loop that makes them so much more worthwhile than an AIO? DA: Again, it is more about being able to customize everything you want to do. Most traditional AIO units lock you into their parts; you have no way to fix them, and no way to swap parts out. Alphacool has changed this, so you can modify most of the parts in the AIO, but you’re limited by the power of the pump or the size of the radiator. As you can expand our AIO units, you can add these extra parts, but then you’re basically doing a custom loop. I find it far better to dive straight into a custom loop, so I can choose exactly what I want for the perfect balance of aesthetics and performance. I can choose different colors, radiator sizes, fittings, and balance everything out—it’s great! MPC: What do you think makes Alphacool so different compared to other companies, such as EKWB and Primochill? DA: I’ve used a lot of products from most of the liquid cooling brands. EKWB was a big sponsor of mine, and I like the products it offers. In all honesty, I don’t focus on what we do differently from our competitors, as there are plenty of customers for us all, and I think it would be far better to work with other companies than compete against them. Having said that, it is my job to market our products, and we garner a lot of praise for using copper for the majority of our parts. We do have some aluminum end caps on reservoirs, and even some stainless steel panels on our special radiators, but everything that touches fluid is copper, brass, or nickel-plated copper. This means compatibility across our range is ensured, and you are receiving high-quality materials. Also, everything we make is done by us; we have our own factories, design team, and warehouses. This enables us to create products that other companies would have to outsource. We even make products for other companies as an OEM! MPC: What tips can you give people who are looking to get into modding? DA: Just jump in and give it a go. Don’t worry about what others think, or if the hardware isn’t the best—just start modding. You can pick up old cases for free quite easily, and they’re perfect to practice on; you don’t need to spend a fortune at the start. Oh, and never do it with the aim of being sponsored for “free parts.” There’s no such thing as free parts—sure, I haven’t paid cash for components for years, but I’ve worked crazy hard to get builds out the door in a few days, or I have spent crazy money on tools, materials, and travel to do the things I love. It isn’t free. MPC: What is it about the industry that you love the most? DA: The people. It sounds corny, but I’m motivated by my friends in the industry. Even you [Zak]. We met via Facebook and a modded build I did a few years ago. We only met recently, but we’ve chatted multiple times, and when we did meet, it was like meeting an old friend. Competitors are friends with each other, we all go to the same parties and events, and as we spend a lot of time with each other, we become better friends than with “real-life” friends. If I need anything, a post on social media, and all the industry rallies behind you.
MPC: Any other thoughts? DA: I’d just like to say that you don’t have to be the best modder in the world to do well. My builds are quite mediocre, but I’ve done well in a short period of time, mainly because I like to try things out, and I show everything I do, even if it fails. If there’s one thing you take from this interview, just give it a go, talk to other modders, and see where it takes you.
Dave Alcock, Alphacool’s US modding and PR marketing rep.
A 45- degree angled GPU, anyone?