Hardware Web sites threaten paper trail

The Register looks at the rise and rise of online mags

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Why buy a thick monthly magazine which is out of date by the time you’ve paid for it, when you can get up to date information on technologies as well as reviews far faster on the Web? That question is far more relevant for the industry and for consumers as the number of hardware sites devoted to CPUs, games and PCs rises and there’s no doubt vendors are beginning to take the phenomenon sincerely. Although figures vary about how many people worldwide are using the Web or joining up, what’s for sure is that the kind of people who are interested in the fastest possible PC are also likely to be those connected and keen to know exactly what’s happening to their hardware. Just before the Yule period, a senior executive at AMD Europe revealed to The Register that it is now the company’s policy to seed Internet hardware sites with evaluation kit because the company knows that gamers and power users look at them. They have an immediacy that paper products lack and the reviews get posted faster. Many of these sites also have animated discussion forums with tips and other information power users and gamers will find useful. Here, too, they score in immediacy over paper products because if you don’t know the answer to a technical question, the chances are one of the other online technies will know. How do these sites make money and/or stay alive? Some are clearly sponsored by hardware manufacturers while others rely on advertising. But the important consideration here is that they are much leaner and meaner than the sites big publishing houses run and also have a far more independent view. As many are not funded by advertising, you can expect the site owners to be more objective in their reviews than the paper based monthlies. So The Register decided to take a look just a few of the many sites we’ve come across. We’ll take a gander at more in the future. Tom’s Hardware Page The grandaddy of hardware sites, Tom’s Hardware Page, which semiconductor companies fear because of the number of visits it attracts. We’ve bumped into Tom Pabst a couple of times in our peregrinations. He’s a medical doctor with an interest in hardware that started off as a hobby. Now, his page has turned into a proper business with employees and a business plan, Tom told us at the last Intel Developer Forum. On the page you can find some in-depth articles on CPUs, fast graphics cards, DRAM and other topics of interest to gamers and PC hardware freaks. His approach is thorough and detailed, focusing on factual information. Anand Tech This guy is 17 years old and started his site two years ago. AMD and Intel take him very seriously. For example, like Sharky Extreme (below), Anand and his crew were able to bring out a review of the K6-3 long before Christmas and well before most of the thick paper magazines got there. This site, like many of the other hardware pages, is updated very regularly – the last time we looked at it he’d managed to get hold of a 370 Socket motherboard (released on 4th of January) and promised a review for next week. Anand has a chatty approach and mixes sound technical knowledge with personal information about him, his friends and his pets. Sharky Extreme Like Anand, Sharky also managed to get his mitts on an AMD K6-3D early and reviewed it some weeks ago. The pages are more lively than Anand’s – they include discussion forums, news items, buyers’ guides, downloads and lots of links. Sharky reviews graphics cards, monitors, CPUs, and games. The site is extensive, well designed and updated daily. It’s been in existence for around a year but many of the other hardware sites link to and recommend it. Blue’s News This is a top games site. Updated very regularly, you can find info on the latest PC games as well as file libraries and extensive links to other sites. Eric’s Fast Graphics A Dutch site that covers a wider range of topics than some of the others. You can go here to find out about MP3, OpenGL, video overclocking, digital cameras, CPUs and the site also has a lively discussion forum, focusing on technical issues, as well as a particularly good set of links. CPU Review Again, this site is regularly updated and looks at the major developments in the processor market, with coverage of Intel, AMD, IDT, Cyrix and Rise. The site has only been going for about six months and includes benchmarks not just on chips but on graphics cards. There’s some solid technical information here too. The System Optimization Site A very extensive site which includes overclocking information, benchmarks, a message board, reviews of chips, graphics boards, memory, motherboards, chipsets and other peripherals, technical information, stuff about the BIOS and file downloads. There’s also a review of over 500 direct mail hardware companies. Storage Review Everything you might want to know about the world of storage. Many IT journalists we come across groan if they’re asked to write about hard drives and the like but it’s pretty vital stuff. This site reviews kit as it comes out, has a discussion forum, a multitude of links to other sites and a lot of solid reference information. 3Dnews This site mainly specialises in reviews of 3D video cards which is a very hot topic in the gaming community. Power VR Revolution This independent UK site specialises in products built around the Power VR chip and as well as including files that can be downloaded, also has an extensive list of games reviews. Conclusion Just a random surf of the Web turned up a large number of sites, many of which certainly give paper products a run for their money. The evidence is that the big paper publishers are already aware of the phenomenon and at The Register we know that many of them have plunged large amounts of money into their own Web sites without seeing any clear sign of return on their investment. If they’re not worried, they should be. N.B. If your site hasn’t been included here, it doesn’t mean we don’t rate it. Hardware sites are a media phenomenon, there are hundreds if not thousands of them, and we’ll cover more on the topic during the course of 1999. Please email us and we promise we’ll look at your site and if we like it add it to our links page. ®

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