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During the holiday season, people inevitably reflect upon the events of the past year, evaluate how it relates to other years and make plans for the next one. With this in mind, on behalf of all the employees at Real World Technologies, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our customers, distributors and manufacturers, and wish everyone a very joyous holiday.
A lot has happened in the past year, both within our company and within the industry at large. Some of these events were good, some were bad, and some were just interesting. Of course, just because the calendar is rolling over to another year doesn’t mean that these events will stop, or even slow down. On the contrary, it appears that next year will be every bit as exciting, frustrating and interesting as this year was.
Let’s take a moment to look back and see just how much has actually changed. I cannot possibly include every event, so I will only mention those that directly affected those of us at Real World Technologies
State of the Industry – One Year Ago…
Intel had been marketing their MMX Technology, and was hyping it to be the best thing since the invention of the wheel, but they had no products yet. Cyrix one-upped Intel by releasing their ‘Low Voltage’ processor, becoming the first processor manufacturer to implement the dual voltage. AMD had touted the K5 as a better alternative to the Pentium, but the performance was disappointing, and sales were even worse. It appeared that Intel would remain the King of processor manufacturers, and Cyrix would settle for the title of Prince. AMD was looking a bit like the court jester (though their 5×86-133 was a *huge* success).
The ASUS P/I P55T2P4 was the board of choice for many performance fanatics, with the Tyan and Supermicro boards having a reputation for quality and robustness. Two smaller motherboard manufacturers were trying to break into the market with specialized products. One was M Technology, who recognized the value of non-Intel chipsets for supporting Cyrix processors, while the other was ABIT who implemented a ‘jumperless’ design and pushed the memory timings a bit to get a faster product.
The memory market was in the midst of a price freefall, with literally hundreds of no-name manufacturers selling FPM and EDO modules for (at that time) ridiculously low prices. People were so memory hungry (because of Windows 95 and 3D games), that almost anyone with a little knowledge and equipment was getting into the game. Major manufacturers were looking to SDRAM to increase their profits, and began pushing their products on an unsuspecting world.
A company named Matrox had recently introduced a video card that was reportedly the ‘fastest’ card on the planet, and appeared to be poised to knock Diamond from their lofty perch. Western Digital and Seagate were gearing up for a battle in the land of SCSI, while 2GB IDE drives were just becoming mainstream. 33.6KBPS modems were the rage, and Creative Labs was the unchallenged champion of sound cards. CDROM speeds of 6x and 8x were very common
Many new technologies were being announced, or were getting a lot of attention. USB had been anticipated for many months, but there were no products in sight even though *everyone* had to have USB capability on their motherboard. SSA and IEEE1394 (FireWire) were facing off to see who would win the high-end serial interface battle. DVD was expected to debut either during Christmas, or shortly thereafter.
Tom’s Hardware Guide had quietly and unexpectedly become one of the most popular web sites on the Internet. Overclocking was out of the closet and people were actively engaged in seeing who could push products the farthest. The Cyrix Upgrade Advice Guide was both pissing off Cyrix, and selling lots of processors.
Amid all of this was a small company consisting of three people who just wanted to offer better products and service, while trying to make a living. That company, of course, was Real World Industries. We had made a good reputation for ourselves in the local area by providing better service than the local chain stores and established shops and offering name-brand components with full warranties. Unfortunately, competition was *extremely* fierce, and many local vendors had more money, better profit margins, and lower prices (due to offering low-end, generic products). A web site had been started several months earlier in order to provide technical information in an attempt to educate the buying public regarding the many scams and low-quality products being sold to unaware consumers. We had decided to call the ‘web company’ Real World Technologies, since it was intended to focus on the technical issues.
During a visit to Tom’s Hardware Guide for some technical information, I noticed a small item on the front page that indicated the webmaster was looking for sponsors. I emailed the man, and he responded by saying that another, very large company had already contacted him, but he might consider us instead (along with another vendor that contacted him at the same time – The Ram Warehouse). He indicated that he would feel more comfortable with a company that needed him as much as he needed them. After some negotiations and a few stops and starts, our banner appeared on one of his pages (the ASUS P55T2P4 page).
Tom was very helpful. He told me that our first banner ‘really sucked’ – and he was right, then gave me tips on how to make a better banner. He also was very generous with the initial advertising rates (the first one is always free!). I updated our website to include a product catalog and support section, purchased a couple of desks to take orders on and waited. What happened next was incredible!
Picking up Steam
Soon after the first of the year Intel released their MMX processors, which were an instant success (well, there wasn’t much competition). The Cyrix low-voltage processors were given a boost because of a few motherboards that officially supported the 75MHz bus speed – especially those from M Technology. The 200MHz (or PR200) processor was the speed to have, with the 166 taking a close second, only because of the price.
The IT5H was given Tom’s highest rating, and sales went through the roof. Suddenly, high performance HX motherboards were all the rage. ASUS had been the best seller up to that point, but the IT5H was an overnight success. M Technology also had a best-seller on their hands with the R534. It seemed that everyone wanted a board that had at least a 75MHz bus speed, not just for supporting the Cyrix, but so they could see just how fast their processor could go.
People started focusing on high performance components. 50ns memory was the rage and SDRAM was getting a lot of attention. The i430TX chipset was announced and UDMA became the buzzword. 56KBPS modems were being touted and reviled at the same time. CDROM speeds seemed to get faster every month. IDE hard drives started getting larger as operating system and BIOS limitations were pushed aside, in addition to greater areal densities becoming possible. Video cards were coming with more and faster memory on board.
During this time, we saw our sales literally go through the roof. Three people were working 12 to 14 hours a day just to get all product shipped and paperwork done. It became very obvious that we needed help, and so we hired some temporaries for quick relief. Soon we had 6 people working and had divided into departments – Sales & Purchasing, Shipping & Receiving, Office & Accounting and Tech Support.
We worked very hard at establishing good relationships with our suppliers, and had succeeded in getting some very creative programs set up with a few manufacturers. One of these was Crucial Technology, which has turned out to be a great benefit to both companies. One item that is interesting (to me, at least) is that Tom’s Hardware Guide, Real World Industries and Crucial Technology all began the same month and year. I don’t know what that means, but I like to tell it just the same.
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