One RGB App to Rule Them All? Hands On With WhirlwindFX SignalRGB Software
It’s easier than ever to find components, peripherals and accessories that feature RGB lighting. In fact, it’s often harder to find PC parts without them. The hard part is making all those RGB glow in harmony, at least if they aren’t all made by the same company. Manufacturers have to decide if they’re going to offer their own lighting app, support an established synchronization platform (say, Asus’ Armoury Crate or Razer’s Chroma RGB), or just leave customers with a few preset effects to choose from and be done with it.
WhirlwindFX seeks to change that with SignalRGB sofware. The platform is supposed to make it easy to sync RGB lighting across devices regardless of their manufacturer, and the company regularly adds support for new hardware and releases new software integrations that can make an entire setup respond to in-game events. Users can submit their own lighting effects, too, and everything is managed through the central SignalRGB app.
We’ve spent a few weeks experimenting with SignalRGB Pro to see if the promise of keeping every aspect of your setup’s lighting in sync is too good to be true. We’re going to share our findings below. But before we do, we want to warn anyone with photosensitive epilepsy that the SignalRGB landing page, as well as several of the effects found within the app itself, feature very fast-moving, strobe-like lighting. Proceed with caution.
SignalRGB and SignalRGB Pro
WhirlwindFX offers two versions of SignalRGB. The free version includes full hardware support, access to lighting effects, and the ability to manage a mouse’s CPI. SignalRGB Pro expands that feature set with game integrations, “one-of-a-kind audio visualizers,” an “advanced pixel accurate screen ambience effect,” and early access to upcoming features in exchange for $4.99 per month or $35.88 per year at time of writing.
The company gave us access to SignalRGB Pro for evaluation purposes. That access was provided to us via promo codes, however, which means we experienced the sign-up process ourselves. And that’s where the problems start. Signing up for SignalRGB Pro is a multi-step process that requires an FAQ article to explain, which exceeds the amount of effort we’d put into joining a new service on our own time.
Canceling the subscription also requires multiple steps. WhirlwindFX does email you before you’re about to be charged, which is nice, but that email doesn’t include a link to a page where the subscription can be canceled. Instead the service requires you to launch the SignalRGB app, navigate its menus, and then follow a link to the cancelation page–a process we only discovered because we searched for a support article.
Managing an account shouldn’t be this frustrating. It would be bad enough if signing up for SignalRGB were a hassle, and we’ve become far too accustomed to companies making it difficult to cancel a subscription. But the lack of account management options available on WhirlwindFX’s website (or in SignalRGB itself) is exacerbated by the fact that the sign-up page doesn’t let you disable automatic renewals. Nothing about this aspect of the service left a good first—or last—impression, even though we had free access to it.
That doesn’t mean SignalRGB should be overlooked. There is a free tier, after all, and the cancelation process shouldn’t bother folks who never stop using SignalRGB Pro. But account management is an important aspect of any service, and it’s worth noting SignalRGB’s flaws in this regard at the start. Now let’s talk about the utility itself.
SignalRGB’s claim to fame is that it allows you to “control and sync your favorite RGB devices from any brand with one free application.” WhirlwindFX isn’t pulling off any technical wizardry to automatically support every RGB-equipped product on the market, though. Instead the company’s developers have to manually add support for specific devices to SignalRGB. A list of compatible hardware can be found on the service’s website.
We asked WhirlwindFX for more information about how often it adds support for new devices to SignalRGB. The company told us it added support for 16, 15, and then 13 unique SKUs, respectively, during a three-week period in May and June. Most of those products are peripherals, a company rep said. But it’s recently introduced support for a number of motherboards as well. Users can also request the addition of support for a specific device via its website.
So far as existing device support goes, WhirlwindFX says that SignalRGB “currently supports nearly 200+ [sic] of the most popular PC gaming peripherals, including products from brands like Razer, Corsair, SteelSeries, HyperX, Logitech and more.” Those products are spread across mice, keyboards and headsets, monitors, mousepads and microphones, as well as a variety of other categories. (There’s also a promise of supporting memory kits “soon.”) More information about supported devices can be found here.
Supporting roughly 200 devices is a feather in SignalRGB’s cap, but the nature of the platform means that its value will vary from user to user. Some people will find that SignalRGB already supports all of their devices; others won’t be able to get it working on any of their hardware. People using older devices and early adopters will both likely find themselves waiting for WhirlwindFX to expand SignalRGB’s support to their equipment. [Editor’s Note: In the custom rig I’m writing this on, the software recognized my Asus motherboard and Corsair headset, but not my RGB-enabled Team Group SSD or Zotac graphics card.] Whether or not the app is worth using in the meantime largely depends on your willingness to use (and perhaps even pay for) a product on the promise that it will improve in the future.
SignalRGB is supposed to make adding lighting effects to supported hardware easy. In theory the process should be:
- Open the app
- Find an effect you like
- Download it
- Apply it to your supported hardware
This process isn’t foolproof, however. For a while we could get the app to control the lighting on our SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless, for example, but not the Logitech G Pro keyboard (the old version with Romer-G switches, not the most recent version). The G Pro was initially supported, but then it stopped working. It’s not clear why. The app is supposed to support the keyboard, and we don’t have any Logitech software installed, so it’s not like the keyboard was struggling to resolve conflicting settings. This problem was eventually fixed, presumably because of an update to the app, but the inconsistent experience still left us wanting more.
SignalRGB also offered to control the RGB lighting on the Logitech G Pro X Superlight… which doesn’t actually have any LEDs to control. The preview images shown for both the G Pro X Superlight and the G Pro keyboard were also incorrect. The image shown for the Superlight looks like a Razer mouse, and even though the keyboard’s image at least appears to be on-brand, it’s still not the right device. That would be a minor problem if the rest of the app worked as intended, but as it stands, the app just seems like it’s broken.
WhirlwindFX also recently introduced a new feature called Layouts to make setting up multiple devices—the app’s raison d’être—easier by showing them all at a glance. We couldn’t test the feature ourselves due to a lack of supported hardware. But if it does work as intended, this should go a long way toward helping SignalRGB serve its intended purpose. Unfortunately the rest of the experience makes that a big “if.”
SignalRGB is also supposed to offer integrations with more than 70 games so it can make your system’s lighting react to in-game events. WhirlwindFX has published many YouTube videos showcasing integrations with popular titles like Fortnite, Valorant and Minecraft, to name a few, and most of them make sense. Taking damage in Apex Legends makes some lights flash red to mimic blood splatter, for example, while walking into lava in Minecraft will flash orange particles.
These videos offer excellent previews of the lighting effects triggered by in-game actions. They don’t appear to be available within SignalRGB itself, though, with the app instead requiring you to install and apply the integration without knowing exactly what it does. Would it be difficult to “Alt+Tab” over to a browser window to preview a specific integration? No. But the experience would be greatly improved if SignalRGB offered an idea of what to expect before that integration is applied.
Even applying an integration won’t necessarily offer more information, until the relevant game is launched. This is the preview displayed if you apply the Valorant integration when the game is closed:
That image exposes some of SignalRGB’s inner workings. This suggested the app was reading the screen and looking for specific visual cues rather than relying on a behind-the-scenes API, and WhirlwindFX confirmed that is the case. This kind of screen-reading will likely inspire privacy-minded users to leave SignalRGB behind. But even if you don’t mind this process, it’s still jarring to see it in action. The man behind the curtain should’ve stayed there.
This doesn’t seem to be the most efficient of processes, either. Valorant itself likes to use as much of our Intel Core i5-7600K as possible, with Task Manager typically reporting 90% usage in-game, but SignalRGB was quick to take up the remaining 10%. The end result was unbearable frame drops that had us scrambling to close the program. Better hardware might solve that problem, but it’s a shame people using older hardware will probably have to avoid the app. (Although Microsoft may be solving the old hardware issue its own way with Windows 11.)
These are essentially lighting effects that react to currently playing audio. SignalRGB doesn’t separate these visualizations into their own section of the app; they’re intermingled with other lighting effects. Mirroring these visualizations to RGB hardware is fairly interesting, but the visualizations themselves aren’t particularly novel, so don’t expect to be blown away the next time you listen to some Taylor Swift.
We couldn’t test this feature because we don’t use Philips Hue lightbulbs or have dedicated light strips behind our monitor. We do have one smart bulb, a Nanoleaf Essentials A19 controlled via HomeKit, but neither that lightbulb nor that platform is SignalRGB-compatible. But the basic idea is that the app will sample what’s happening on-screen to decide what colors to project to enable improved ambience. These capabilities are also offered by other lighting solutions, but having them included here is still nice.
It’s not hard to see why RGB fanatics might be curious about SignalRGB. Keeping an entire system’s lighting in sync with unique effects that respond to what’s happening on-screen or in-ear is a compelling enough proposition. The effort to support as many devices as possible is also commendable.
But, the execution simply isn’t there — at least not yet. When we tested SignalRGB in June 2021, device previews were incorrect, there were no previews for lighting effects until they were installed, and lots of RGB devices (particularly on the component front) just weren’t recognized by the software at all. In short, several aspects of the platform feel like a work in progress at best, and far from a polished solution. Is that better than not being able to keep your hardware’s lighting in sync at all? Maybe, if you happen to have peripherals that work. But the performance overhead and lack of integrated account management features would be enough for us to stop using SignalRGB even if it did support all our devices.
WhirlwindFX is making steady advances toward a more refined SignalRGB. The company regularly adds support for new devices, expands to additional product categories, and introduces new features. The company also told us it’s working on a significant overhaul to the dashboard user interface to provide a clearer experience that includes previews for lighting effects and game integrations. A rep told us the update will arrive “by July 31st at the latest” and will also include GPU and RAM support (although it’s obviously not clear which models), an in-app notification system for updates, and a tutorial and free one-month trial of the Pro version.
The promised updates sound good, but this isn’t a proof of concept looking for beta testers. This is a promise of future potential being marketed as a finished product. Maybe check back in 3-6 months to see how much the device support, features, and overall feel has improved. In the meantime, most people should probably stick with the (likely multiple) pieces of software they currently use to control their RGB devices. The long-dreamed-of world of simple RGB synchronicity still isn’t here yet. Maybe it never will be.