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?

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