What is the difference between Addressable vs Non-Addressable RGB LED lighting? What is 5V vs 12V? What are 3-pin vs 4-pin headers?
When I was first searching for RGB fans and lighting for my gaming PC, I had a lot of issues finding a good explanation of these questions. There wasn’t a very good guide or easily understood post about this topic.
So, today we’re going to explain these concepts. And whether you’re a new or experienced PC builder, hopefully this will help if you’re in the same situation I was!
- Addressable vs Non-Addressable RGB LED’s
- 3-pin vs 4-pin Motherboard RGB Headers (5V vs 12V)
- What’s Better: Addressable or Non-Addressable Lighting?
Addressable vs Non-Addressable RGB LED’s
So, what is the difference between addressable and non-addressable LED lighting? To answer that you have to understand what is going on in an RGB LED strip or fan.
In these devices, there are individual LED light sources. LED stands for light emitting diode. So, you have sometimes 10-100 LED chips (or sources) on each light strip, fan, or whatever RGB gear it is.
With addressable RGB, each one of these individual LED chips can be programmed on it’s own. So, you can individually control what colors are showing up (Red, Green, Blue, or White). You can also control that individual chip’s brightness, whether it’s on or off, and other aspects of it’s lighting as well.
With non-addressable RGB, whatever commands you provide to the LED’s will affect every LED on the circuit. Each LED chip is not individually controlled. So, if you want one LED to be Blue, then every LED will be Blue. If you want one LED to be off, then all the LED’s will be off.
What Does This Mean for You?
What does that mean for you? Well, you have a lot more customization options when it comes to addressable RGB LED’s. You are able to individually control the effects for each individual LED. The effect of this can be super cool for your gaming setup.
But, if you typically only use one or two colors for your gaming setup (without any effects), then it really won’t matter which one you go with. Another issue is that you have to consider which RGB headers your motherboard has.
3-pin vs 4-pin Motherboard RGB Headers (5V vs 12V)
When it comes to the difference of 3-pin vs 4-pin motherboard headers, you have to look at a few different factors. For one, they are different connections, so if you directly plug on into the other, you could cause a short on your motherboard (so be careful!).
3-Pin ARGB Header (5V)
The 3-pin header, which is 5V, can also be referred to as the “digital RGB header”, or “addressable RGB header” (DRGB, ARGB). This header uses separate pins for power, data and ground. This data pin is why it’s referred to as “digital”, because it sends a data stream across the pin.
For you, this means that each LED can be individually addressed (or controlled). When you send information through this pin, the first LED uses the first part of the data, then passes the right along and so on.
4-Pin RGB Header (12V)
The 4-pin header, which is 12V, can also be referred to as an “typical RGB header” or “non-addressable RGB header”. This header has the 4 pins used for red, blue, green and ground. So, there is no data stream in this setup. When you send information through the blue pin (0 = off, 1 = on), you either turn that color on or off.
For you, this means that every LED on the same strip or circuit will be the same. There is no individual control over the LED’s because there is no “data” stream. While this isn’t the most in-depth explanation of how this works, it does give a decent explanation of why they are different.
Can You Use a 4-pin Connector with a 3-pin Connector?
While it might seem like if your motherboard has a 4-pin connector, you could just connect a 3-pin LED strip to it (and vice-versa). But, this isn’t the case. Other than being a literally different connection, they run different voltages. You are at a risk for shorting parts of your motherboard or your LED strip.
Make sure you know what RGB connections your motherboard has and the LED strips or fans you’re using have. It is possible for your motherboard to have BOTH 3-pin and 4-pin connectors!
What’s Better: Addressable or Non-Addressable Lighting?
When it comes to RGB LED lighting, what is better: addressable or non-addressable? Well, that is up to you and your lighting purposes.
Typically, we recommend using addressable lighting because it just gives you more options for lighting effects. Because each individual LED node is customizable, it gives you a lot of adjustability. You can easily match your gaming setup and other RGB lighting to each other.
However, if your motherboard doesn’t support 5V addressable RGB, then you might have to use non-addressable LED’s so that you still are able to have RGB lighting! Non-addressable RGB’s have been around for a while now, so you don’t loose out on a whole lot. And, especially if you only use one or two colors for your gaming setup, you don’t really need a lot of addressable effects!
In the end, it comes down to your personal preferences, what you need and what is in your budget! While addressable RGB fans look awesome, you might find some non-addressable ones that look great too.