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Jan 02

Hardware Reviews

Ok, time for a little rant on the glut of bad hardware reviews I have come across lately. There are hundreds of sites reviewing PC bits and pieces all around the net. Hardware reviews are meant to provide multiple perspectives on the pros and cons of the device in question. The information provided in these perspectives would otherwise be unobtainable without purchasing the device (and where company propaganda provides insufficient information). Bad reviews don’t achieve this. Here’s a few things that I have found annoying and unhelpful with a lot of sites attempting to review hardware:

1. Regurgitated specifications. When listing a device’s features, more and more sites tend to just do a cut and paste job off the device’s product website. Look, if I want the spec sheet for hardware, I’ll just visit the company web site myself. In fact, that will normally be my first stop. I want to know what those specs mean, anything particularly noteworthy about them and how they compare to the rest of the market. Look at this review comparing two i845D motherboards. The specification listings are dumped straight from website. The worst thing is, the review is meant to be a comparison, and because the spec lists are mismatched, you can’t compare the two motherboards! (You can’t tell if Abit board has USB 2 ports from that list, for instance.)

2. Regurgitating company propaganda. A lot of reviews kick off with a couple pages paraphrasing company propaganda: “This card has a HyperTurbo Z-Buffer Engine and Quadlinear Inversion which kicks ass because it is good and makes the card go Really Fast.” Again, rehashing what is written on the official product web site is a waste of time if you don’t expand on it. Think I exaggerate? Look at this. You’d think the guy was Seagate’s incarnation of Goebbles.

3. Benchmarks, benchmarks, benchmarks. Straight after the “it goes really fast” bit, many reviews launch into pages and pages of benchmarks. We won’t get onto the validity of testing methods. Nor the fact that a lot of reviewers list all test system specs regardless of the fact that their T3 connection to the net has nothing to do with the performance of their sound card because they want to show off how l337 their test systems are. The benchmarks in many cases means nought, because they conflict with other sites’ benchmarks, yet there are pages and pages of them scrutinising those minute 2-3% performance differences over competitor products. You see, benchmarking requires little creativity. Sure it’s hard boring work, but it’s a testing formula and you follow it.

4. Misdirected reviews. Partially to do with the benchmarking preoccupation, very little information is provided on related topics or aspects of the product that can’t be benchmarked. Look at this ATI Radeon 8500DV review. I wanted to find out information about the All-In-Wonder aspect of the card – how good it was for capturing from analog and digital sources, for instance. Even small details about whether the 1384 port had a power load limit. Instead it breezes over those things and skips straight to pages of graphs and numbers (they might as well have just reviewed the vanilla version of the 8500).

5. Inexperienced reviewers. When the reviewer doesn’t have enough knowledge and experience with that type of product such that the review produced is woefully inaccurate or just lacking in depth. Many multimedia speaker reviews are guilty of this. (Hi-fi speaker reviewers on the other hand tend to be audiophiles.)

Easy way to tell if a review is bad: When you could write a review that says just as much (minus the benchmarks) by just reading the official web site and not actually using the product.

Still, there are many good review sites out there. Eg: DPReview is incredibly thorough and consistent in its reviews. Dan’s Data is also exceptional because he chats a lot about using a product and goes through all the possibilities. He also sidetracks a fair bit, but those sidetracks are interesting. You’ll also notice that he only uses benchmarks to illustrate a point. Anyway, with experience you get to learn which sites are good for doing reviews of what devices.