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An introspective, completely unsubstantiated view of the technology enthusiast, in late 2007

More than a few times someone asked me why does DailyTech cover all that global warming stuff, or defense tech, or automotive breakthroughs.  There's a good answer to that, but its not a simple one.

In 2004 I already saw the writing on the wall.  PC technology started commoditizing, and at a brisk clip as well. 

When I got my first K6 processor, it was not just the overclockers that cranked up that 66 MHz front-side bus.  Anyone who bought a computer had to know some of the essential differences between MMX and 3D-Now!.  A lack of knowledge, in those days, would set the up and coming computer user back hundreds of dollars if he wasn't careful.

Whether you agree with Karl Marx or Karl Rove (or anyone in between), a telltale sign of commodification occurs when the manufacturer stops focusing on tangible aspects of the product and starts pushing less tangible selling points.  This often occurs when competing products are too similar, or at least indistinguishable from the purchasers point of view. 

Where have we seen this before?  Well, my HTC Hermes did everything the iPhone did a year beforehand, but I'm pretty sure Apple sold a whole lot more iPhones.  Look at today's motherboards: any manufacturer would tell you its  all-solid capacitors are better than the next guy. And don't even get me started on the memory industry ...

I remember the exact instant when computer hardware became a commodity.  Steve Jobs got up in front of one hundred journalists and in less than 60 seconds, a million Apple zealots went from ardent Intel naysayers to hardened Intel devotees.  In that moment I realized it didn't really much matter to anyone which CPU was better than another, it only mattered what Steve Jobs told everyone to think anyway.

Other signs of the death of the PC enthusiast are littered across the Internet like the tattered remains of a kite breaking up on rentry.   The birth and demise of AMD's Quadfather, the ubiquitous lack of support (or interest) for quad-GPU graphics, failed physics processors and inconsequential sales of "killer" network cards. 
In a recent conversation with Jon Stokes, both of us agreed that while PC tech has seen some great growth over the last few years, this growth is not keeping pace with the Internet as a whole.  PC technology, as a journalistic discipline, is unfortunately niched to the degree you'd find with muscle cars. 

This leads me to answer the question I started out with: the PC industry, as a whole, just isn't as fast-moving or interesting anymore.   Attempting to debate the merits of largely intangible technology topics is a discussion more akin to politics than science.

You bet I'm excited about CPU-GPU integration and new OLED technology, but another unfathomably high frequency bump in the sea of JEDEC memory timings completely fails to pique my interest.  Analysis of Google Keywords would indicate those more mundane markers of progress in the PC industry fail to grasp even the smallest of demographics on the Internet as well.

That does not discount the importance of the tech enthusiast.  Those of us who grew up debating the merits of CPU architecture in the 1990's are the pioneers in virtual discussion.  We are what the majority of consumers will become over the next decade when new, broader forums come to be. 

Don't worry, I'm still the first person in Taiwan with Intel's next-generation roadmap.  However, as this industry withers and new ones blossom, I encourage you all as pioneers and enthusiasts to look beyond the chips and bits once in a while.

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By cochy on 11/30/2007 6:15:25 PM , Rating: 3
The birth and demise of AMD's Quadfather, the ubiquitous lack of support (or interest) for quad-GPU graphics, failed physics processors and inconsequential sales of "killer" network cards.

I wouldn't quite agree with the examples to listed here. In fact I would say that these products weren't targeted towards the PC enthusiast at all. Many times we've made the distinction here that on one hand you have the PC enthusiast and on the other hand you have the "gamer". Two very different people mind you. Those products are all marketed towards "gamers". For the most part these gamers don't really understand much about computer hardware at all. I mean ever walk into a pc shop and listen to these kids talk? What they understand is marketing hoopla.

Now on the other hand you have the very knowledgeable PC enthusiast. Now by virtue of actually knowing something or two about hardware, all those above products were doomed to failure from the start with the enthusiast. Why? Because they were/are stupid useless products, that no matter how much marketing bs in thrown in front of them, we know they suck. Quad-FX was just a dumbed down re-branded Opteron platform. Why buy into that? Quad-video card? Are you kidding? SLI and Crossfire x2 have a tough enough problem seeing linear performance gains. KillerNIC? lol won't even go there.

Basically these products failing doesn't really understate a problem in the enthusiast industry. Your other points are good. AMD blackbox edition with unlocked multipliers. Now there's an enthusiast product. Highly overclockable mobo with good options, that's an enthusiast product.

Dunno..maybe you're getting a little cynical with age :P

RE: examples.
By KristopherKubicki on 11/30/2007 6:23:25 PM , Rating: 2
Perhaps I am a little jaded -- but then again so are these companies to put resources in those directions.

RE: examples.
By Puddyglum1 on 11/30/2007 7:38:49 PM , Rating: 2
AMD blackbox edition with unlocked multipliers. Now there's an enthusiast product. Highly overclockable mobo with good options, that's an enthusiast product.
The very reference to "enthusiast product" shows that you may still misunderstand this blog. An enthusiast product nowadays is not as it was years ago, e.g. dual video cards then, and dual video cards now.
Preliminary testing of dual graphics cards shows performance gains of more than 50% compared to single graphics card configuration. performance benefit and cost-effectiveness was exciting to the market 3-7 years ago. The average computer user didn't really know about it. It was left to enthusiasts.

What are the benefits of the Blackbox Edition AMD 64? An enthusiast sees right through it by taking a peek at review websites. Even the gains of PCIe vs. AGP are more theoretical than practical; the theoretical gains became the selling-point, when in actuality an enthusiast of four years ago would use an adapter so his old card could work in the new motherboard -- and with the saved money buy a nicer present for his mother than if he hadn't been so pro-active.

But as PC technology becomes a larger market, the competition becomes more fierce, and the consumers become more eager. The enthusiast market now has a disgusting price for entry, both for the consumer and the manufacturer. Quad-FX highlights this, as nobody wanted to go that route.

In short, I think the enthusiast market is plagued by artificial campaigns for products with marginal performance increases which cannot deliver cost-effectively.

That's the most boring conclusion I've ever come to.

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997
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