A Decade of Kick Ass

Nathan Edwards

From Deschutes to Penryn, from Voodoo2 to GX2, from floppy drives to SSDs, the definition of pure PC power has changed radically over the last decade, and Maximum PC has been there—hands-on and no holding back—helping computer enthusiasts make sense of it.

In honor of those 10 eventful years, we take a look back at some of the key moments in the magazine’s history, hear from some of the editors who have been there along the way, and take a wild guess at how another 10 years might shape the computing landscape. Strap on your sneaks, folks, we’re taking a walk down memory lane.

10 Things We Got Right

It's nice to look back and see that we sometimes know what we're talking about

  • Athlon 64: You can call it jumping on the bandwagon, but we call it knowing a winner when we see one. We lauded the Athlon 64 with award after award and high praise for good reason: This chip kicked ass and took names for years.

  • Core 2: The AMD fanboys tried to blame it on bias, but we knew—and history has proved us out—that the Core 2 marked the return of Intel.

  • Dual-Core Processing: It’s hard to believe now, but there was resistance to the dual-core movement from folks who thought it was silly, given that applications and games weren’t multithreaded. Ahem, sounds a little like the people who promote dual cores over quad cores now, doesn’t it?

  • DirectX 9: DirectX has changed the face of PC gaming, and DirectX 9 is the most successful version Microsoft has ever released. With powerful support for programmable hardware, DirectX 9 delivered killer graphics at a reasonable frame rate, using hardware that was readily available at launch.

  • Windows XP: When it was released back in 2001, we bestowed XP with our highest honor—a perfect 10 verdict. Our appreciation of the OS has only grown now that we’re faced with its flawed follow-up.

  • Water Cooling: Back in the day, people said cooling hot hardware with liquids was crazy—now it’s a craze.

  • Ripping CDs and DVDs: People scoffed at the time it initially took to rip music and movies, but we didn’t let that stop us. We saw back then how important it was to take control of our media, whether it’s to stream our library around the home (and across the Internet) or just to load our favorite movies and music onto a pocket-size media player.

  • DRM: It was obvious to us that music shackled with copy protection would alienate consumers. Finally, that’s become obvious to the record companies. Keep fighting the good fight!

  • Hardware Physics: Ageia talked a big game about its PhysX PPU (physics processing unit), but we couldn’t get behind a card that cost $300, ate up a PCI slot, and had only novelty games supporting it. Nor could anyone else, apparently.

  • Firefox: In our January 2004 Softy Awards, we called Firebird (later to become Firefox) “nothing short of revelatory,” and boy has that held true. Indeed, at its release, Firefox 3 had the most downloads of any software in a 24-hour period (8 million!).

Humble Beginnings

Brian Lam
, former intern and current editor in chief of Gizmodo

Long before I had my job at Gizmodo, I was a Maximum PC intern who couldn’t write a review or run a benchmark. I learned those things from Will Smith, but I also learned how important the right voice is when writing about tech. Before there were snarky blogs, there was Maximum PC .

The point, though, wasn’t to be an ass. I think. The point was to turn the trade mags on their heads and cut through the BS and jargon, to inform without being boring. You know, actually write to people as if they were your friends. That irreverent tone complements how technophiles feel about tech: Because it’s fun thinking about how to squeeze a few more frames out of your hardware, reading and writing about such things should be fun as well.

I also learned how to order lunch, lift heavy boxes, and pack and ship a PC back to a manufacturer—and make it look like it broke during transit.

10 Things We Got Wrong

Yes, over the years we’ve made a few bad calls

  • Vista: We hardly gave Vista a glowing review, but given the magnitude of the botched launch—from crashing Nvidia drivers to certifying Intel’s 915 chipset as Vista-capable—Microsoft got off too easy.

  • GeForce 5800: On paper, this was Nvidia’s first DirectX 9 GPU. In reality, the company didn’t ship a DirectX 9-capable GPU for almost a full year after ATI. To anyone who bought a GeForce 5800, we’re sorry. You not only missed the full glory of Half-Life 2 but also got stuck with a bum card.

  • IBM 75GXP ‘Deathstar': It debuted as the largest, fastest IDE hard drive of its time, and we were smitten. But high failure rates for both the original models and their replacements left us feeling foolish.

  • TrueX Optical Drives: Kenwood’s CD burners were fast—when they worked. We looked past the original 40x drive’s myriad problems and gave subsequent models the nod, only to learn the whole lot of them were lemons.

  • BTX: In 2004, we believed the ATX formfactor was on its way out and that by now our motherboards would look very different. Instead, BTX has languished in obscurity.

  • Linux: Little did we know that the quirky OS favored by a fringe element would take off as it has, to become the trusty port in the storm of Microsoft’s dominance.

  • Pentium 4: Put that coffee down, P4. Coffee’s for closers. Unfortunately, who knew that the Pentium 4 would never seal the deal? Even worse, who could have seen that Intel, the king of the processor, would hit a brick wall at 1,000 mph and turn the Pentium 4 into one big dud.

  • Direct RDRAM: Kicking RDRAM under the bus seemed like the thing to do years ago, but if we could take it all back, we would. We’re now convinced that RDRAM’s serial interface was the right way to go, not DDR.

  • Tablet PC: The prospect of pen-based computing seemed awesome, and Bill Gates himself was backing the project. Unfortunately, five years later, we’re still waiting on the cheap, powerful Tablet PCs we were promised.

  • DirectX 10/Games for Windows: We feel like suckers for buying into Microsoft’s hype. DirectX 10 hasn’t delivered any significant innovation, and Games for Windows has turned out to be a joke.

Next: The old guard strolls down memory lane!

12­—Not 10—Years of Kickassedness

Jon Phillips,
current editorial director, former editor in chief (Oct 1999 to Dec 2003)

September 1998 marks the 10th anniversary of Maximum PC , but actually the 12th anniversary of our vaunted Kick Ass award. As our most devoted readers already know, the Kick Ass award first appeared in the premier issue of boot magazine, which we published for two years before renaming it Maximum PC .

In boot, we established much of the content and attitude that perseveres in Maximum PC today: our no-BS product ratings, our exacting attention to technical detail, our humor and spontaneity—and, of course, our overarching credo that if you’re going to build a PC, you should always build the absolute best rig possible. In many ways, the very name of the Kick Ass award embodies much of what Maximum PC stands for: exuberance, enthusiasm, excess, and just plain-old best-of-class awesomeness. That’s what we like in our PC hardware, and that’s what we’ve done our best to provide in the last 120-plus issues.

10 Things Maximum PC is Older Than

  1. White LEDs
  2. Wi-Fi
  3. The Segway
  4. Bad Star Wars movies
  5. Reality television
  6. 64-bit desktop operating systems
  7. Napster
  8. Department of Homeland Security
  9. The Nahasapeemapetilon Octuplets
  10. Splenda

Cue Blooper Reel and Laugh Track

Gordon Mah Ung , most senior editor and staff curmudgeon

My days with Maximum PC go all the way back to the beginning with “Big Daddy” Dosland and the legendary “Handy Andy” Sanchez, who set the bar for editorial excellence. In those days, hazing new staffers was the norm, and my first experience was upgrading the POS desktop business-class PC that our company provided us.

Would I get access to those oh-so-sweet Voodoo2 cards in SLI? Hell no! As the low man on the totem pole, I got a Voodoo Rush. Try to get a Rush to work with a machine that has integrated graphics that you can’t disable in Windows 95!

In those days, just as today, the Maximum PC Lab was no clean room where some disconnected technician tested hardware and handed you a report. Everything was hands, eyes, and ears on. Certainly one of the most embarrassing incidents was when we ran airflow tests using a fog machine. The good news is that the test worked well, and we were able to visually record the stagnant areas in a case. The bad news is that smoke alarms can’t tell the difference between smoke particles and fog particles. You can imagine the chewing out we got from the facilities manager after the entire building was evacuated and a fire truck rolled up.

Speaker testing is always a challenge—especially when the Lab was located directly next to an office full of lawyers and accountants. If you think editors are cranky, imagine a pissed-off lawyer/CPA hybrid after you’ve fired up Megadeth on eight Klipsch subs in parallel!

In another memorable speaker incident, former editor Josh Norem literally blew up a 5.1 speaker set doing frequency sweeps. Certain it was a fluke, we had a second set delivered and this time videotaped the test. Sure enough, we were able to capture the tweeter exploding with a puff of smoke.

Breaking hardware has always been a specialty of the Maximum PC staff. We could fill a freight car with all the carnage. Of course, in the old days you actually had to work at doing damage. Today, with liquid cooling, hardware gets waterboarded on a regular basis.

Next: An interactive timeline! Fancy!

A Brief History of Time

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