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Tom’s Hardware Guide, Anand’s Tech Page, The System Optimization Page, The Alternative CPU guide (formerly the Cyrix Upgrade Advice Guide) and TweakIt… For those who are looking to get the best performance from their system and to find the latest, cutting edge information on motherboards, CPUs and video cards, these are the sites many people rely upon. The information these individuals provide generate a lot of market excitement and generate quite a bit of sales for the manufacturers who are fortunate enough to have their product claim the top honors on one of these websites.
Quite a number of internet regulars rely upon the reviews from these sites to assist them in choosing the latest and greatest products, and to avoid the products that don’t quite measure up. One thing to note is that sometimes very good products are rated poorly, while other not-so-good ones are rated at or near the top. In some cases, a mere revision change may cause a product that was rated near the bottom, to be proclaimed the absolute best.
Over the past several months, we have received several complaints and questions on why the product we ship does not correspond to what these sites may be stating are the ‘current’ models or revisions. In a few cases, the individuals have stated that the particular webmaster they have taken the information from is an ‘expert’, and we are not – therefore we must be wrong and should do more research. Of course, the problem with this is that most of our information comes directly from the manufacturer, not from one of these websites.
This article primarily focuses on the reviews and selection of motherboards, since that is probably the most important component of your entire system. However, the sites mentioned offer information on much more than just motherboards and should be checked out, if you haven’t done so already.
I Tweak, Therefore I Am
One of the first things to realize is that these sites have changed from being hobbies that were overlooked by most manufacturers to businesses being used as marketing tools. The popularity of Tom’s Hardware Guide has forced a number of manufacturers to watch what is posted there and to try to emulate those products that are rated very high. These manufacturers also use the review sites to ‘pre-announce’ their products by sending Beta and pre-production versions. Let’s take a quick look at what these review sites have to offer, and why they are popular.
The first truly popular computer hardware site was The System Optimization Page (http://www.sysopt.com). Rather than discuss in infinite detail all the pros and cons of a particular product, this site focuses more on the performance aspects and what can be tweaked to make it faster. There are also some excellent surveys.
About two years ago (Feb ’96 or thereabouts), Tom’s Hardware Guide appeared (http://www.tomshardware.com). While originally the site focused on what a ‘dream’ system would be, it eventually evolved into the premier overclocking site. Today the site is less an advocacy of overclocking than one dedicated to new and upcoming technical advances, as well as a review site for newly released products. No other site is as comprehensive as this one in regards to technical information.
In August of ’96 The Cyrix Upgrade Advice Guide was born. This was a site dedicated purely for those interested in the Cyrix 6×86 processors. Eventually, IBM took notice and began to work with the webmaster to promote the chips. Strangely, Cyrix never really understood how much this site did for their popularity. Today, the site is called Alternative CPU (/altcpu), and covers all non-Intel processors.
TweakIt (http://www.tweakit.com) is another performance and review site. There is some good technical information, and some nice product reviews. There is not quite as much content as the first three sites mentioned, but that is probably because of the relative newness of the site.
The most recent entry into this field is Anand’s Tech Guide (http://www.anandtech.com). This site was started as a review site of several different motherboards, CPUs and video cards. The ratings are mostly subjective, and are not what I would call ‘hard hitting’, but the writing style and content has captured the interest of quite a few people. There is not as much technical content as the other sites, but a lot of people follow the recommendations.
How Do They Rate?
While I understand the reason for the popularity of these sites, and believe the information they contain is invaluable, there are some inaccuracies. Many of the conclusions are subjective and do not take into account some very important factors. In addition, sometimes the manufacturer will make changes to the product between the time they send the ‘final’ production version to be reviewed, and the time they actually release it for sale.
Another example of this occured in April of 1997, when Tom reviewed the AOpen AX5T-3. We were flooded with calls for this board, and called AOpen to find out when it would be available. They initially told us it would be released in June, but a week before the scheduled date, they backed off and indicated the board would not appear until September. Quite a few callers told us we had no idea what we were talking about, since Tom had one, so they must exist. What actually happened was that Intel informed AOpen that there was a problem with the current revision of the TX chipset and that they should wait until the new revision was available in September.
Not too long ago, Anand’s Tech Guide posted a review of the Abit LX6 motherboard. In that review he claimed that it had an incompatibility with the Enlight ATX power supply. When I read this, I sent an email to Anand telling him that this was a problem with the power supply, not the motherboard. We had already been in contact with AOpen about the exact same issue with the AX5T-3, as well as another vendor (ESC Technologies). Never was any correction made that I saw, and no acknowledgement was ever sent.
Almost every one of the sites mentioned rated the Abit IT5H as *the* motherboard to have. While it was very fast, the rev 1.5 had an incredibly high RMA rate because of QA problems. On the other hand, the Gigabyte GA586HX was an exceptionally reliable board, but since it did not get any reviews on these sites most people never even considered it – even when it was suggested by us. When we mentioned the problems with the IT5H many people simply ignored our warnings because of the favorable reviews the board had received.
This list could go on, but hopefully the point has been made that not all information on these sites is current or accurate. On the other hand, much of the information is extremely good. Tom’s reviews of the ASUS P/I P55T2P4 and AOpen AP5T/AX5T revision 3 were right on the money. TweakIt has some reviews of cases that are very good and provide some essential information on the power supplies. The Cyrix Upgrade guide has some very wonderful reviews of M Tech/Cyrix compatibility and Cyrix vs. AMD processors. I would in no way suggest that these sites be avoided, or the information ignored. On the contrary, I think that *all* of them should be checked out to get a much more accurate picture of what is good and what is not.
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