Death to all Ultra Extreme Enthusiasts

@ 2005/02/06
A FEW WEEKS back, I had a conference call with Via regarding their new PT880 Pro chipset. If you haven't read about this already, it's basically a Pentium 4 chipset with support for both AGP and PCI Express graphics, although only four lanes I might add. My first thought about this chipset was when does the Athlon 64 version arrive? Its response was that people buying Athlon 64s are enthusiasts and that enthusiasts generally want the best of everything and will buy a new graphics card as well as a motherboard etc. This really shocked me as there are loads of Athlon XP users with new graphics cards who really don't want to throw them away for their next upgrade. I responded with "that's a big mistake" and I was told that it had asked the board partners and they had been the ones that suggested this move. In Via's defence, if the board partners don't want it, they made the correct move. What's the point in creating a product that won't make a profit?

But this has really infuriated me, and sparked off this column. I'm really fed up with the misuse of "Enthusiast". It's a word that really grinds with me now, like "Extreme" or "Ultra".

Overclocking is not new by any standards, but at its consumer level infancy, it was hard to find boards that supported front side bus adjustment at all, let alone anything as advanced as AGP or PCI frequency locks. This is where companies like Abit did really well, with its SoftMenu and incredibly tweakable motherboards. Sure, the boards were more expensive, but you easily reaped that money back with the overclocks attainable. A Celeron 400 @ 600MHz gave you an extra 50% performance for a motherboard that cost say £30 more. That's value for money! Nowadays, if you buy an enthusiast board, you are expected to pay perhaps 100% more than a cheaper model and then, even with overclocking, you won't get the value for money.

Being an enthusiast was never about buying the most expensive kit, it was about understanding how a machine ticked over and why it behaved in certain ways. It was getting something for nothing. It was generally being a geek! Water cooling was reserved for those who had access to a pillar drill and knew their way around a DIY store. It wasn't about off the shelf products, it was about knowledge.

The mere definition of enthusiast is someone who is "ardently absorbed in an interest or pursuit". Doesn't that say enough?

Yet nowadays, enthusiast seems to mean "people with more money than sense". Do you see people jumping out to by the Pentium 4 Extreme Edition? To an extent yes, but these aren't the enthusiasts of the yester-years. The enthusiasts I knew and loved, would wait for the latest stepping of their chosen chip and then buy the budget model with the new stepping (like the P4 2.4C) and overclock the hell out of it.

In 2005, enthusiast products are things such as Alienware machines. These really irritate me. To quote someone I heard talking on counter strike, when asked why he wanted to buy an Alienware - "Alienware are great if you don't know how to build a machine". Someone who can't build their own machine, should not be allowed to class themselves as an enthusiast?

Today's enthusiast is yesterday's Idiot.

Although it seems like I'm pointing the blame finger at Via for this, that's really not the case as I feel it has done a lot to nurture the enthusiast community. There are plenty of other companies abusing it though. When I spoke to Via CEO WenChi Chen recently, he gave a more sensible response to why an Athlon 64 chipset isn't going to be made. He suggested that Via had not predicted the popularity of the Athlon 64 particuarly well. The good news for us is that creating this chipset is still a possibility. µ

Comment from Sidney @ 2005/02/06
Couldn't have said better; enthusiasts.
1)was never about buying the most expensive kit
2)value for money
3)Water cooling was reserved for ...It wasn't about off the shelf products

Today's enthusiast is yesterday's Idiot - the truth