How to Install Cold Cathode Fluorescent Lights (CCFLs)

Cold cathode fluorescent lights

Neotesla/CC-BY-SA-3.0/Wikimedia Commons

This guide was developed to instruct users on some of the methods for properly installing cold cathode fluorescent lights (CCFL) into a desktop computer case. The method for installing these may vary depending on the manufacturer and style of light tubes installed, but those presented here tend to be a very common method. Be sure to read any instructions provided by the manufacturer of the light kits for any possible variations in the installation method.

  • Difficulty: Simple to Complex (see below)
  • Time Required: 10-60 Minutes
  • Tools Needed: Philips Screwdriver, Tape Measure, Scissors and Metal Cutting Tools (Optional)
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Intro and Powering Down the Computer

Power down the computer
Mark Kyrnin

Before beginning the installation, it is necessary to power down the computer. To safely do this, shut down the computer from the operating system. Once the computer has powered down, flip the power switch on the back of the computer to remove active power to the internal components. As an additional safety precaution, remove the power cord from the back of the power supply.

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Opening up the Computer

Remove the case panel or cover
Mark Kyrnin

At this point, the computer case can be opened up to allow access for installing the lights. Computer cases will vary on how access to the interior is managed. Some will require the whole cover be removed while others will have a side panel or door. In most cases, the panel or cover will be fastened down with a series of screws. Remove these and set them aside someplace safe. Once unscrewed, remove the panel by lifting up or sliding depending up how the cover is fastened on.

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Determining Where to Install

Layout the light tubes
Mark Kyrnin

Now that the case is open, it is time to figure out where to install the lights into the case. It is important to look at the size of the lights to be installed, the length of the wires includes and where the power inverter will go. Measurements are important to determine if there is enough clearance for all of these parts. Layout the parts in this locations to see if they will work properly.

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(Optional) Switch Installation

Some light kits for desktop computers will come with a switch to allow the user to turn the lights on or off at any time. Many newer kits do this through a switch placed inside of a PC card slot cover. Others may have a larger switch that requires the case to be modified. This typically requires that a section of the case be cut out for the switch to then be mounted into.

No matter how the switch is mounted, this step is typically optional. Most lights can be plugged directly into the inverter meaning that the lights will turn on whenever the computer is on.

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Mounting the Voltage Inverter

Mounting the voltage inverter
Mark Kyrnin

Cold cathode fluorescent lights run at a much higher voltage than those typically supplied by the computer to the various peripherals. As a result, the lights require a voltage inverter to supply the proper levels to the lights. Often this will be a box that will reside somewhere inside of the case and runs between the power supply and the lights.

Mounting the inverter is fairly simple and done through double-sided tape or Velcro. Simply remove the backing on the tape and then place the inverter in the desired location and press firmly to get good adhesion.

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Placing the Feet for the Lights

Mount the feet to the case
Mark Kyrnin

For many CCFL kits, the light tubes themselves do not have any direct means to mount them to the case. In order to mount the tubes, they are strapped to some feet that are placed into the case. These feet are attached by double-sided tape.

To properly install them, first make sure that they are in the proper location. Simply remove the backing from the double sided tape and then press the feet firmly into the location in the case.

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Strapping the Tubes to the Case

Attach the tubes to the feet
Mark Kyrnin

With the feet mounted to the case, it is now time to attach the tubes to the feet. This is typically done by using small plastic zip ties. Feed the tie through the hole in the foot on the case and then place the tube onto the foot. Pull the tie around the tube and tighten the tie to hold the tube onto the case.

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Connecting the Internal Power

Connect the internal power
Mark Kyrnin

The tubes and inverter are all placed inside of the case, so it is time to wire up the parts. The light tubes will have their power connectors fit into the inverter. The inverter will then need to be hooked into the computer power supply. Most light kits use the 12-volt power lines that use a 4 pin molex connector. Locate a free 4-pin power connector and plug the inverter into it.

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Close up the Computer Case

Be sure to screw the cover down
Mark Kyrnin

The lights should now be properly installed into the computer case. At this ​point, everything just needs to be closed up. Take the computer cover or panel and put it back on the main case. If the installation using right everything should fit without a problem. If the cover does not fit, doublecheck the components and relocate them in the case. Be sure to use the screws removed earlier to fasten the cover.

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Powering Back Up

Plug the power back into the computer
Mark Kyrnin

At this point, everything with the installation should be down. It is now just a matter of powering up the computer and making sure that the lights work. Plug the AC cord back into the computer system and remember to flip the switch on the back of the power supply to the on position. Once the computer is turned on, the light tubes that were installed should light up the case.