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Computing to the X-Treme

By Froma Harrop

Computers have become the new cars. The American lust for speed, power and performance has been transferred from the Corvette to the Athlon 64 FX-60 microprocessor. Computers, like cars, are all about cutting-edge technology, and whoever can get under the hood commands respect.

Cars have horsepower. Computers have megahertz. Cars have mileage. Computers have gigs. Cars have superchargers. Computers have multicore processors. OK, I'll stop.

These observations come from perusing a gamers' magazine called Maximum PC. In it, the sort of red-blooded fantasies once fixed onto cars are transferred to computers. I have no idea how I got on the mailing list for Maximum PC, but there I am. Maximum PC takes computing to the X-treme.

One ad shows the blur of a racing car behind a serial ATA (actually, just a box) with the claim, "Up to 5 Times Faster than USB 2.0!" It's interesting that carmakers in the '50s attempted their own tech tie-ins. A 1955 car ad showed a fighter jet parked behind the Chevy Bel Air, with its "Turbo-Fire V8."

Maximum PC has articles headlined "Speaker Spelunking" and "Core 2 Mobo Shootout!" And it carries ads for War Rock, an apparently sadistic game that, we are told, is "Locked, Loaded and Rolling Hot!" Turn the page, and there's a picture of armored space aliens charging out of a computer screen.

This gaming world is action packed and dangerous -- though to be really honest about it, you're just sitting on your big rear and staring into a monitor.

Still, I love the concept of "Speaker Spelunking." You have to appreciate a comparison shopping guide to speakers that invokes crawling on your belly through a cave.

My reality may be that I'm pecking at a keyboard in the public library. But with Maximum PC by my side, it's like I'm scorching the pavement around Big Sur in a Porsche 911. I'm headed south on the scary side -- mere inches from the deadly drop into the Pacific.

It can't be coincidence that the game consoles look like engine blocks. They even come with big fans to keep the CPU electronics from overheating. One suspects that the fans are bigger than they have to be and that they make more noise than necessary. Consider the caption under a picture of the Zalman CNPS9700 LED CPU cooler, which reads, "It's hella big and can get hella loud."

Hey, there are instructions for building your own gaming system. Don't just call your geek uncle to put the parts together. Build it, man. Mount the PSU, add CPU cooling, and you're burning rubber.

I know I'm disgracing myself with this display of computer ignorance. But let it be said that Maximum PC does address some of my more pedestrian interests, albeit in a violent way. A recent issue features the "Battle of the Browsers." As the lead-in promises, "We pit brand-new versions of Firefox and Internet Explorer against each other in a head-to-head death match to determine which is right for YOU!"

I found the piece quite helpful.

I don't know who writes this stuff, but whoever does it is having a better time than I am. That one author used the word "milquetoast" to describe an allegedly underpowered audio component suggests that the writers spent more hours in English class than they care to advertise.

Some of their headlines: "Hardcore hardware." An iPod remote "for the extreme side of life." "Torture tests" on hard-drive enclosures. Can I have your job?

I'd still prefer a Vette, but let me confess: I look forward to gunning down the info highway with my next issue of Maximum PC.


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