Tom's 20th Anniversary: A Retrospective With The Editors-in-Chief

Introduction

I feel like an interloper on 20 years of history, having been at the helm of Tom's Hardware for less than three years. I know all but one of the former editors-in-chief personally. Omid Rahmat is the lone exception, but he graciously acquiesced to my request to share some of his thoughts on his bit of history with Tom's Hardware.

On the other end of the equation, I've known David Strom, who was at the editorial helm only in 2005, for more than 25 years, and he gave me my first job in journalism where I served as his Reviews Editor at Network Computing Magazine, back when they used to put printed words on paper; it was there that I got my first spark of interest in hardware, and it was there where we reviewed everything from Sun and IBM Unix servers to early campus Wi-Fi gear (including microwave technology) to storage area networks to heavy duty routers and switches at big labs on university campuses, and even client/server applications and middleware.

Meanwhile, Chris Angelini, who preceded me here, is still very much a part of today's Tom's Hardware team, providing lengthy and critical technical edits on our content, and serving as a trusted advisor while also leading our major CPU and GPU launch coverage. I have a feeling -- it's just a feeling, mind you -- that you'll see his name and his words on these pages with some frequency before summer officially begins.

I've also partnered with former EIC (of Tom's Hardware U.S. and Tom's Hardware WorldWide) Patrick Schmid, who works closely now with our European Tom's Hardware team.

And finally there's "Tom," as in "the Tom," as in the founder and namesake of Tom's Hardware, the inimitable Dr. Thomas Pabst. A man I met for the first time at Computex in Taiwan last year, and with whom I've stayed in touch, and whose budding little infant boys provide the gleam in his eyes much brighter than I'm sure Tom's Hardware ever could.

You'll hear from all of them in the following pages. I asked them each to answer the same five questions. I'll take my turn to answer them all here first. The rest of the editors-in-chief follow in reverse chronological order.

We'll let this piece stand alone as our tribute to 20 years of Tom's Hardware. We've posted a new About Us page on the site, along with some history about our forums. But feel free to share some of your favorite Tom's moments and memories from over the years in the comments below.

In exploring the expanse of the web as background and research to satisfy my own curiosity in working on this, I came across a fascinating letter that Thomas Pabst wrote at the turn of the millennium (Tom's Blurb: Thoughts To The Turn Of The Millennium). That piece is chock full of history (the true, early history), with references to some important industry milestone's and this publication's role in them. Along with realizing that our colleagues at Tom's Hardware Russia have wisely held onto some of these historical bits, thankfully, I'm also inspired by Tom's letter and have returned to it often in the days after first reading it. As we set foot on some new hardware landscapes, like VR, it will be important to remember the spirit with which Tom's Hardware Guide was created, and the work Tom (and so many others after him) did to understand hardware performance, and so much more.

MORE: About Us

Fritz Nelson (August 2014 - Present)

Tom's Hardware: What are some of the highlights that you recall from your time at the helm of Tom’s Hardware from an industry happening standpoint?

Fritz Nelson: I can't think of a GPU launch (Maxwell, Fiji) that hasn't been a highlight from the standpoint of rumor, speculation and raw anticipation, not just of the GPU, but our coverage of it and reader response to it. I could say the same about CPUs, but most of the excitement for me right now is about whether or not Zen is going to make or break AMD. Hearing directly from AMD CEO Lisa Su (during a small group interview) that Zen was something AMD just had to get right was one of those moments of frankness you don't often hear from CEOs these days.

I also remember being invited to an Intel memory announcement last year that turned out to be 3D Xpoint, and the ensuing energy that technology consumed at Flash Memory Summit shortly after was pretty astounding to behold. That momentum even carried into the Intel Developer Forum (IDF), and the buzz is still reverberating.

From the moment I stepped into this job, though, virtual reality has been such a relentless futuristic theme, and to finally see the first platforms launch, to have tried them out early and often, to have lived in the same vicinity as Oculus, with the ability to attend almost all of the company's events along the way, I feel as if -- I hope it's as if -- I'm on the cusp of the next era of PC gaming.

TH: What about from an internal Tom’s point of view — here I’m talking about milestones or significant achievements on a brand level?

FN: Almost two years ago now, we set out to accomplish a few goals. First, we wanted to review more products in the key categories, such that we could start making our recommendations on a substantial body of work. To do that, we had to expand our pool of reviewers and get pretty meticulous and aggressive with scheduling. We're still working on this, but the fruit of this is our Best Picks articles, which we're now updating monthly, all based on the reviews we've done.

Next, as part of this initiative, we wanted to increase the number of stories we published, and now sometimes we publish two features per day, and we've been publishing on the weekend for quite some time now.

We also wanted to revamp our approach to news. In the early days, we just tried to keep a good steady flow of tech industry news, but in doing so we were routinely just followers; in most cases we weren't even fast followers, often posting news days late, with mistakes and little value-add. We've narrowed our focus considerably to the enthusiast categories almost exclusively, we've established strong ties with all manufacturers so that we're getting the news in advance and sometimes exclusively, and we've employed news writers who have more of an enthusiast mindset. If the type and tone of comments is any measure, we've succeeded in this endeavor.

Finally, the most fun I've had is at our G-Sync vs Freesync event with our local (LA and surrounding areas) readers. Getting to meet many of you in person, have good food, play some games, the giveaways . . . that was something I'll never forget, and I'd like to do more of it.

TH: What are some of the technologies that excite you most today? What do you think holds the most promise?

FN: Virtual reality. I know there are probably more naysayers than fans; I know there are many advancements needed, primarily content. But we'd have to go back a long way to envision the application of technology ingenuity and advancements like those needed to make modern VR, even as it exists in its first iteration today. Every bit of the gaming and content ecosystem, from developers and designers, to development engine makers, to component vendors, to developers within component vendors . . . the problems are being solved one by one, quickly, decisively. If you were to go back and read Michael Abrash' commentary on the technical performance needs of VR two years ago, and compare it to what was accomplished between then and now, you'd think he had written the actual playbook. Achieving the levels of latency, of optical fidelity -- these breakthroughs were achieved quickly and collaboratively.

I am also hopeful about 3D XPoint. If it works as promised the ramifications are fairly profound. I remember three or four years ago reading about all of the new developments coming down the storage pike back when the industry first started worrying about the volatility of flash at smaller and smaller lithographies. It seems 3D XPoint is the first forthcoming viable offering in this regard.

TH: Are there areas where you feel as if the hardware technology providers are failing?

FN: It's difficult to point to any single trend and blame a manufacturer for what seems to be a general malaise when it comes to innovation. Moore's Law is challenged. So many components are hopelessly iterative: a few million more CUDA cores here, a couple hundred thousand more IOPS there. Is it a lack of innovation, or a lack of new problems to solve? I suppose that's one reason VR excites me; it's one massive new problem to solve.

There is inventiveness happening constantly. Have you seen Nvidia's NVLink in the Pascal architecture? Or the efficiency gains AMD has made in its existing CPU architecture? Have you seen the prices of displays drop, while quality and performance and size (and shape) increase? I could go category by category and find engineering might. I imagine it is so much easier now to build a PC than it was back in the days of Thomas Pabst.

Change is almost always a more gradual thing while it's taking place, and that makes it easier to proclaim the end of innovation. It's tempting to see yet another PC case, this one with tempered glass or colors like "cranberry frost"; or yet another set of DRAM sticks, these with LEDs or running at slightly faster frequency; or yet another PC cooler with yet another approach to fan bearings and fin shape . . . and think: We're still here talking about the same things?

TH: What are you up to now?

FN: This is really a question for the former EICs, but I'll add: We're also working on fixing many of these nagging site issues that have plagued us for years! Stay tuned on that front, and remember change sometimes seems gradual.

Chris Angelini (July 2008 - July 2014)

Tom's Hardware: What are some of the highlights that you recall from your time at the helm of Tom’s Hardware from an industry happening standpoint?
 

Chris Angelini: There were three segments that I enjoyed watching evolve from my front-row seat: graphics, host processing, and storage.
 
The week before I was hired on as the managing editor for Tom’s Hardware U.S., Nvidia launched its GeForce GTX 280. AMD followed up in my first days at the site with the Radeon HD 4870, which couldn’t quite catch Nvidia’s flagship, but offered better value than the GTX 260. From there, we saw Nvidia stumble over the GeForce GTX 480 and then recover with the 500-series. Ping. Pong.
 
Host processing evolves a lot more slowly, but I remember sitting in on Intel’s Nehalem briefings and getting more excited about CPUs than I’d been in a while. Eight years later, Intel still hasn’t topped that transition from Core 2 to Core i7.
 
Then, at the same IDF, we got to hear about how the Nehalem architecture was so fast that it’d choke up on storage, so then here were these new X25 solid state drives, which would eventually make solid-state storage a mainstream commodity. 

TH: What about from an internal Tom’s point of view — here I’m talking about milestones or significant achievements on a brand level?
 
CA: By far, I was most proud of having new feature content posted every work day for six consecutive years. Tom’s Hardware reviews can be incredibly in-depth, so to make sure something new was/is available to read involved many all-nighters and collaborative efforts with a worldwide team of editors.
 
TH: What are some of the technologies that excite you most today? What do you think holds the most promise?
 
CA: This question couldn’t be timed any better—having just had the Rift to play with, I’m most excited about VR. I can’t help but liken it to my first experience enabling GLQuake in the late ‘90s—except even more impactful. My kids are five and two, and knowing that gaming for them will be completely unlike what I experienced makes me feel a lot older than I’d like.
 
TH: Are there areas where you feel as if the hardware technology providers are failing?
 
CA: The easiest targets are the segments where consolidation, mismanagement, shifting market share, and the resulting disparate resources negatively affect competition. A lack of innovation follows, and we’re left to write uninspiring reviews of hardware that the manufacturers themselves don’t even seem proud of (Skylake? Broadwell? Shoot, even Haswell and Ivy Bridge to a degree?). I’m hoping that VR—the brightest star in the gaming galaxy right now—pushes the host processing and graphics vendors harder. We can clearly see early software already pegs the best components available.
 
TH: What are you up to now?
 
CA: Many Tom’s Hardware readers probably don’t know this, but I’m still active behind the scenes, editing much of the content for technical and grammatical accuracy. During the day, though, I run a metrology laboratory in Bakersfield, CA, calibrating electrical, temperature, pressure and gas safety equipment mostly for our local oil and agriculture economy.

Patrick Schmid (2005 - 2006, U.S.; 2007 - 2010 Worldwide)

Tom's Hardware: What are some of the highlights that you recall from your time at the helm of Tom’s Hardware from an industry happening standpoint?

Patrick Schmid: One of my favorites is the Tom’s Hardware Overclocking Competition that we executed in five countries in 2008. We took care of all winning teams from the United States, Germany, France and Italy, and flew them to Paris, France, where they battled for high scores on liquid nitrogen. It sounds almost common today, but in 2008 no one before Tom’s Hardware had executed such an event. We called the event "Overdrive," which reflects pretty much how it felt.

TH: What about from an internal Tom’s point of view — here I’m talking about milestones or significant achievements on a brand level?

PS: Few tech magazines have been available in multiple languages for so many years, and even less have managed to maintain a balance and be attractive to grassroots enthusiasts as well as for decision makers that need to be sure their budgets are spent the right way. Tom’s is the bank, so to speak.

TH: What are some of the technologies that excite you most today? What do you think holds the most promise?

PS: I’m looking forward to industries working on ease of use and interoperability when it comes to IT topics. There is plenty of technology: smart home concepts, mobile infotainment, the entire IoT spectrum, mobile connectivity. I personally don’t need killer features, but I want things to be really accessible and reliable. We should not have to deal with dropped calls, with device incompatibilities, or with complicated interfaces anymore. I would love my parents to be able to utilize new technology with confidence.

TH: Are there areas where you feel as if the hardware technology providers are failing?

PS: History will tell. Hardware tends to fail if there is no ecosystem, no application or no software to create a solution.
 
TH: What are you up to now?

PS: I’m still hanging with Tom’s Hardware in Europe. I guess I cannot let go.

David Strom (2005)

Tom's Hardware: What are some of the highlights that you recall from your time at the helm of Tom’s Hardware from an industry happening standpoint?

David Strom: ​I ran Tom's during 2005 when the company was nearing its end as an independent business actually still connected to its founder. We were head-to-head with AnandTech, who at that time wasn't even covering Mac-based systems. We had writers delivering stories to us in French, German and Australian. 

​My favorite show was Computex in Taipei: That was a lot of fun, seeing entire halls filled with USB fabricators. My favorite interview was of Vint Cerf, when he went to first work at Google. That and meeting the pro-level girl gamer group PMS Clan. And back in '05, Carly Fiorina was still a computer exec and hadn't entered politics.

​TH: What about from an internal Tom’s point of view — here I’m talking about milestones or significant achievements on a brand level?

DS: In 2005, we launched four new websites on a single day (TwitchGuru and other "Guru" sites that have been consolidated into the main Tom's site and the Tom's IT Pro site). That was crazy, but fun.​ Barry Gerber was hired for that launch and has remained with the company ever since. Barry and I had worked on numerous publications before then, by the way.

TH: What are some of the technologies that excite you most today? What do you think holds the most promise?

DS: Containers are where it is happening. ​SQL Injections were still the number-one problem for web attacks then and now, which is pretty depressing.​

​TH: Are there areas where you feel as if the hardware technology providers are failing?

DS: I think the days of the overclocker are mostly over. You can get a decent PC with very fast components off the shelf without having to go through extremes as we once did back in the day. I think the hardware vendors don't really understand virtualization: While both Intel and AMD have made efforts to incorporate support into their CPU chipsets, the rest of the computer components have lagged behind. More corporations are designing and building their own PC servers (see Facebook for its Open Compute servers as one example). That to me means that the major computer server vendors are missing out on this important market.

TH: What are you up to now?

DS: ​I am freelancing for a number of tech sites including Network World, Dice and Techtarget. And speaking at a variety of conferences with an IT focus. Still testing enterprise products after 30 years!​

Omid Rahmat (1999 - 2003 as EIC; 2003 - 2008 as CEO)

Tom's Hardware: What are some of the highlights that you recall from your time at the helm of Tom’s Hardware from an industry happening standpoint?

Omid Rahmat: The single point when Tom's went from a blog to a phenomenon was the Pentium III recall that happened in the summer of 2000. Up until that point Intel was untouchable. The mainstream technology press was pretty much in Intel's pocket, and the enthusiast sites were still kind of a mass of amateurs nerding out among each other. It's kind of a testament to Thomas Pabst's brilliance that he managed to do something that no one, inside or outside of the industry, could do or would have dared to do. That put Tom's Hardware on the map globally.

TH: What about from an internal Tom’s point of view — here I’m talking about milestones or significant achievements on a brand level?

OR: I remember that somewhere around late 2001, first week of 2002, we changed Tom's pages from a black background to a white background. You would have thought we had killed somebody, because the diehard Tom's community had been so used to our black background, kind of grungy, garage-band look. But, within months, our traffic had doubled. It still amazes me to this day that something that simple meant so much.

TH: What are some of the technologies that excite you most today? What do you think holds the most promise?

OR: Health, and wearables. The desktop, even the laptop, are utilitarian devices. They really are for work only. With mobile devices I think our unhealthy attachment is going to create a backlash to being always-on. However, the opportunities for wearable tech and health-related devices and applications is just beginning. It seems like a natural extension of mobile, which is a very self-centered experience. Technology has to become about our personal wellness and longevity.

I am not sure that it is a good thing, either. Maybe we won't need to fear robot overlords but hybrid bio-electronic organisms. The good news is that we know it will puny humans behind the next wave in technology, so they will probably never, ever become self-aware.

TH: Are there areas where you feel as if the hardware technology providers are failing?

OR: I think hardware is making a comeback. We have been in internet mode for the last 20 years. It has consumed the tech industry. Now, hardware is becoming cool again. I hate the term Internet of Things, but networking our world is inevitable. Unfortunately, I think talking fridges and smart thermostats are not that much to get excited about. The tech world really isn't ready, quite yet, to lose itself in the world. It still wants to cry out, "Look at me." The best hardware will be the hardware that we never see or think about.

TH: What are you up to now?

OR: Breaking Muscle. The legacy of Tom's Hardware is still there, I think. I still love digital media but my passion is in health and fitness. Nevertheless, like Tom's we are built for the best and the rest will follow. It is driven by a desire to be more questioning than the mainstream, and it is leading the way. I truly believe that human well-being, fitness, and health are going to be the biggest drivers in technology innovation over the next 20 years.

And like Tom's, we have built an audience organically, driven by the quality of content and our sense of values. One thing that we never compromised in the old days of Tom's was our principles. We felt like we were better than the mainstream tech press, and I think we were right to feel that way. Doing things for the right reasons is still a good way to succeed.

Thomas Pabst, Founder (1996 - 2001; Chairman through 2008)

Tom's Hardware: What are some of the highlights that you recall from your time at the helm of Tom’s Hardware from an industry happening standpoint?

Dr. Thomas Pabst: Considering that Tom’s Hardware was founded in 1996, the first big thing for me that happened in the computer hardware industry was most certainly 3D-acceleration. In the beginning, there was only 3dfx and its Voodoo accelerator that was truly able to improve gaming experience. Nvidia caught up with 3dfx within a few years, though, and shortly after that 3dfx vanished. It took ATi, later acquired by AMD, quite a while until it was able to hold a candle to Nvidia.

Other than that, I would say the birth of AMD’s Athlon CPU was a big thing, as it created true competition with Intel.

Flat screens have changed more than just the world of computing or home entertainment, but who would see them as a highlight today? We are used to them. Without them, no smartphones or tablets.

I find it amusing that I am sitting here, wondering why I am only able to list so few items. I attended so many launch events and yet none really stuck in memory. It shows how transient computer hardware happens to be, and how most supposedly big advances turned out being reasonably meaningless in the end.

TH: What about from an internal Tom’s point of view — here I’m talking about milestones or significant achievements on a brand level?

TP: Thank you for this question! It is an easy one. There are many memorable moments, but the big milestones were joining Pair Networks; the first "real world" 3D benchmark; my two big battles with Intel, each of which got me into U.S. headlines; and my epic pieces about AMD's Athlon and Nvidia's GeForce 3.

August 1996: An important moment for the very young Tom’s Hardware Guide was joining Pair Network, based in Pittsburgh, as our hosting service. Kevin Martin's business grew alongside Tom's Hardware and provided us with the best web hosting we could have possibly wished for. In the beginning, we operated from a mere server share, but the rapid increase in readership quickly required a dedicated server and increased to a sizeable 2-digit number of dedicated servers within a few years. Kevin’s team always stood closely by our side, and we never had an outage despite plenty of cyber attacks for the whole 11 years that I ran Tom’s Hardware.

Besides that, I'd list the baptism of what was initially dubbed "Tom's Roadrunner Page" to "Tom's Hardware Guide" in 1996.

I could talk about technicalities, like the introduction of Tom's News and new areas like networking or games, but to be honest, the world of publication is extremely simple. If you want to increase your readership, publish ground breaking, unafraid and truly meaningful articles. It's what gives you international recognition and TV coverage, and it will make people want to read more of your stuff.

TH: What are some of the technologies that excite you most today? What do you think holds the most promise?

TP: I have learned being skeptical, and the frighteningly antisocial effect of the most significant advance in recent years -- the smartphone -- has proven that progress often comes at a price.

Right now, I am very curious about VR, but while it may provide an experience that surpasses everything that's been there before, it turns people into deprived zombies, even worse than the smartphone already has.

What is exciting, naturally not without worries, are the new opportunities for personal mobility, may it be self-driving cars or self-flying personal aircrafts.

While VR will merely be a stepping stone, hopefully surpassed by a less antisocial and weird-looking interface, self-moving vehicles are most certainly the future, especially for metropolitan areas.

TH: Are there areas where you feel as if the hardware technology providers are failing?

TP: The industry is divided in very few truly innovative businesses, and then [into] a myriad of companies that sneakily wait for others to have the courage of bringing real novelties to the market so that they can make their very own "me too" product. It's a sad situation, but look at Tom's Hardware's history and all the "me too" hardware websites that came up a few years later. It's human nature. There are few with vision, and many simply driven by jealousy and greed.

Other than that, I truly wonder if the classic IT hardware providers are even interested in what the people out there actually need or want, or if they rather try pushing one thing after another down customer’s throats. Today, being nothing but a normal consumer, I feel as if the best thing I can do is wait that the "something" that I want or need will miraculously appear. The alternative seems to be entering the production circus and simply creating what you so badly want by yourself. You might as well find plenty of others who were waiting for the very same thing, too.

TH: What are you up to now?

TP: Since I sold Tom’s Hardware, I moved to Asia -- to be exact, Singapore, which had been something I wanted to do since 1998 and should have done much sooner. I got married and am the proud dad of two little sons, Ciarán and Conor. I have since 2009 been working on a new platform for product information that does not have the shortcomings and possible flaws of classic publishing. If it is one thing that I learned when running Tom’s Hardware, it is the issues some readers have, should they be of fundamentally differing opinion. I want to create a source of information that leaves no room for doubts or accusations, which is a win for all -- the readers as well as the information providers. I have countless new ideas, but this is my true pièce de résistance. It is time to look for investors now.

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  • das_stig
    I hope the room they booked wasn't paid by the hour for this back slapping love in. TH went down the pan as soon as Tom sold up !