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Computer Hardware Reviews: Industry Insider E-mail
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Written by Olin Coles   
Tuesday, 05 October 2010
Table of Contents: Page Index
Computer Hardware Reviews: Industry Insider
What You Know Vs. Who You Know

Computer Hardware Reviews: Inside the Industry

Exposing tricks of the trade and revealing industry secrets doesn't bite the hand that feeds you, unless you're owned by the manufacturers.

After four years of aggressively working our way up the ladder, Benchmark Reviews has grown to better understand the industry around us. If you're reading this, the chances are very good that you either hold an interest in the legitimacy of product reviews or you're already a frequent visitor to our site and read our articles. Regardless, there's a lot going on behind the scenes that you'll never see unless you're part of the media, and it all has an impact on the independent evaluations you've come to trust. In this editorial article Computer Hardware Reviews: Inside the Industry, I share my eye-opening observations and personal experiences with you for the benefit of extending an understanding to others. Let's begin with why we're here, and why we do this.

The computer hardware industry accounts for a significant portion of worldwide consumer electronic sales, which results in a proportionate amount of marketing and advertising effort expended to help push sales. Equally aggressive in this competition for consumer attention is the myriad of media outlets that focus and feature these products. Media coverage ranges from printed press, dedicated websites, topic blogs, broadcast radio and audio casts. Depending on whether the media outlet is a hobbyist resource or operated like a business, competition can be just as fierce as it is between the companies selling product. As a result, the competition creates favoritism towards specific media outlets, increasing the struggle for sponsorship opportunities.

For the purpose of this short editorial piece, we'll concentrate on the computer hardware industry. I've had the good fortune to experience this industry as a sales person in the mobile electronics field during the dot-com boom of the late 1990's, as the owner of a small business that sells PC products since 2000, and as a reviewer and editor for Benchmark Reviews since 2007.

Each major company has a marketing department that works closely with media outlets, and they frequently offer new products for evaluation testing referred to as sponsorship. The process of receiving samples is different for each company, since most requests are filled from a small inventory held aside just for marketing purposes. Other times these sample requests are sent on temporary loan basis, whenever products are expensive or in short supply. As previously reported, the highest ranking media usually get the most sponsorship attention - from both consumer visitors and manufacturer companies - as they make up the highest rung in the ladder.

Despite our enthusiast roots, Benchmark Reviews is a collection of individuals who strive to offer thorough tests and professional-looking images in our review articles. We do it all ourselves: requesting product, research, testing, writing the article, photo editing, chart building, and even the proof reading. For a low-budget outfit I think we've done pretty good job of publishing high-quality projects to our readership. This doesn't excuse us from the occasional mistake, but it proves that even a small team of unpaid amateurs can succeed if they work together as a team. It also means that we have to work even harder at competing with the professional websites.

Once a product is received, technical marketing collateral is usually offered by the manufacturer based on availability and project importance. In four years of testing consumer products and writing reviews, very few companies have sent expanded technical documentation with their sample. Based on my experience, the most helpful companies will consistently offer design details in a white paper document or press deck. Surprisingly, the majority of manufacturers offer very little documentation with their new product, leaving reviewers to uncover the details for themselves. This is something that changes as you climb the ranks, but not for the reasons you might think...



# RE: Computer Hardware Reviews: Inside the IndustryDoug 2010-10-04 22:39
You don't need to bribe websites in the US because the way the system is set up, the bribe is included in the "marketing" expense getting a website to review yuor product. For instance, tier 1 website gets a marketing offer on how much it will cost to review X product. Website responds with X dollars. Now it's easy to see that if the website gives a #ty review the marketing department will no longer give them money to review their products. That's why no one reads PC mag or CNET anymore for legitimate information, unless your totally ignorant about computers and reviews. That's why we patronize websites like yours. Once a site gets too big, like Tom's did, the tech savvy enthusiasts leave and the site dies. I never read Tom's anymore. My first line of information is very thin: BMR, HardOCP, Johnny Guru, FrostyTech, maybe a couple more. That's it.
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# Anandtech tooDr.Unk 2010-10-04 22:50
Did anyone notice how Anandtech only reviewed Intel SSD drives forever and would rarely mention the other types of drives? They also give Intel processors a lot of coverage, and only mention AMD when they have something bad to say. BenchMarkReviews and Hardocp are good websites, and so is JonnyGuru for power supply reviews.
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# seen the other resultsPsy4computers 2010-10-05 01:02
I used to review hardware and build computer systems that were the leading edge of computer systems,topping benchmarks over other computer systems around the world.
What I found was that magazines would ring up and offer me space to promote my products. These were called advertorials; they look like reviews and real comments but were fabricated giving me control over the content.

I have seen other companies (review sites) slate certain hardware as part of their review, this resulted in them being treated like the plague and direct action taken to supress the site and information.
It also resulted in samples being taken away from them and hardware was never releasede to them again. They pretty much said what you said, but named names and who they 'cheated' causing a big stir in the industry which then lead to the big outing of the websites who we now know and the bias review websites.
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# reviews workyerrd 2010-10-05 02:37
I read the articles and I try to stay away from the comments as there are too many people who just want a forum to make themselves important. As long as what you say is truthful and not biased. That's what counts. I have a preference for Intel and Nvidia. I know they can cost more but I can afford them. If I didn't have much money I would look at AMD and ATI. They are cheaper. Simple enough. They are both excellent products in there own ways. I just want the truthful facts.
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# RE: Computer Hardware Reviews: Inside the IndustryRobert17 2010-10-05 03:49
As Sgt. Joe Friday was fond of saying on the TV show 'Dragnet', "Just the facts, M'am, just the facts".

As mentioned above, it's pretty easy to determine who is trustworthy and who is a schill for a product. But just as reviewing products takes practice, so does reading reviews. I have 50 (counted them) sites that I visit for varying tidbits of info. Some for the reviews, some for "Headline News", and some for how-to's. Each may have strengths and weaknesses but there it some modicum of value even when reading the obviously biased sites (these are the ones that help me put negative values on products from the get-go).

All in all, you guys do a good job technically, your biases are held in check, and you don't "take no *&^* off nobody". That's kinda my style as well which is a factor in trust. Too bad the advertising dollars don't value these attributes more than the sales dollars. Wouldn't life be simple if they did?
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# Advertizing DisclosureJohn Darcy 2010-10-05 04:02
I enjoyed your article on the actual experiences. It is refreshing to see in print what one might have presumed or surmised. I am somewhat naive and probably wouldnt have thought it was as pronounced a practice as apparently it had been, or is, but believe it when told. I probably based some purchases on information that was biased. I like the forum you attach to the articles and how you field certain responses and read both the editorial/reviews and self important replies as well as sometimes there is merit despite motivation.
Also, I do not mind the advertorials when there is disclosure or even biased reporting as long as the funder is identified. I wouldnt even mind payola as long as the reporter said : "i was paid $xx by ..... to write" whatever so i could immediately identify it as a puff piece. as yerrd said about wanting the truthful facts, simple enough.
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# trustRealNeil 2010-10-05 05:37
I have about 6 sites that I trust for reviews. I've been reading here for a while now and I'm slowly getting to know how you guys write. I like most of your reviews. You include a lot of data and don't seem to favor anyone too much. The comments section gets a little dicey at times. I've noticed some responses from staff that were a little on the heavy side at times,...but I realize that some reader's comments are off the wall and downright nasty too.
Overall I like it and that's why I keep reading.
Keep it up, your methods are working.
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# MrAlbert Kolkin 2010-10-05 06:11
Too bad you could not name the sites that you believe are good! Naming them would not detract from our visiting your site, but would just add to our ability to check on the numerous products that are released every month. Every review you make comes to my inbox and yous is the only one that has that luxury(?!)

I rely on your reviews. Thank you for providing them
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# OutstandingK Gregory 2010-10-05 06:56
I actually agree with the post above. I do realize that naming the 'sold out' sites would possibly start a slug-fest but the naming of a couple of other 'solid and true' sites would help some of us continue to support the 'ring' of 'solid and true' sites.

Although I can deduce from the link to the `HardwareSecrets' attempted bribe that may possibly indicate that you believe them to be a 'solid and true' site. I wholeheartedly agree. I visit them routinely.

Nevertheless outstanding and (ahem,somewhat...) bold in addressing the inside (dust?)...dirt. -yeah a slight dig because there aren't a list of names of tier2/3 sites that are 'sold out' and 'on the take'.

Thank very much for this article.
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