The Changing Definition of the Enthusiast


I fully understand the irony of this editorial as I sit here and type this from a Corsair K95 Platinum RGB keyboard, but I can’t help but come to the realisation: We deserve nothing more than RGB these days. To be honest, though, I didn’t get this keyboard for its lighting effects but rather for its comfort when typing. There was a time not too long ago (OK, it was a good while back – more than a decade for sure) where engineering was appreciated no matter the appearance, while today we have the exact opposite scenario.

There was a time where the enthusiast was someone who appreciated the fundamental engineering of hardware. A time where a motherboard giving us the ability to push extra voltage through our memory without the need to whip out the soldering iron was celebrated. A time where having the ability to set tertiary timings was revolutionary and, in the enthusiast community, worshiped.

There was a time when the extreme enthusiasts used to bin their hardware to such an extent that we had guys de-soldering individual memory ICs in order the create the ultimate memory module. A time when the enthusiast had at the very least a basic understanding of what each primary memory timing did – not just in that it made access times quicker, but how it did so.

There was a time when the enthusiast was someone buying aquarium supplies in order to further cool his computer and push it past its limits. There was a time when the enthusiast thought nothing of whipping out the drill and jigsaw to make his case unique. A time when modding meant physical modification to a case and not just adding colourful fans.

What has happened to the enthusiast? The definition has changed. These days, the “enthusiast” frowns upon the enthusiast of yesteryear, finding the pursuit for ultimate performance to be a complete waste of time. The term enthusiast has changed from someone who went what would be considered far above and beyond the “norm” of today into someone who purchases sound cards and mousepads with RGB LEDs glued around the edges.

The average enthusiast today (and this doesn’t necessarily apply to you guys reading this – if you’re here you’re there’s a chance that you’re above the average enthusiast) couldn’t tell you primary memory timings off the top of his head, but he’ll be able to tell you exactly which case and LED strip can sync with which motherboard, or which RGB control suite offers the most comprehensive package.

The enthusiast of today appreciates appearances above all else, even if it is at the expense of engineering. I challenge you to find a typical enthusiast who would choose a workstation H270 board over an H110 board with RGB lights in every nook and cranny.

Formula One is where we got advances such as active aerodynamics, energy recovery systems and more, yet nobody calls it a waste of time. Athletics is the field where we find technology pushing to find the best spikes, the best track material, the best diet and the best training regimens. These are all things that don’t necessarily matter to the average person, although they eventually trickle down to consumer products. Neither of these activities are called a waste of time and resources, even by those who have no interest in either, and these are just two examples.

Why then, does overclocking and physical modification get frowned upon today? Why are they called a waste of time and resources? Why are they shunned as activities for the nerd or geek? The advances made in these fields are what brought us the cases, motherboard, CPUs, graphics card, RAM and more that we have today.

That isn’t to say that this level of engineering hasn’t been worked into many, if not most, boards that you will find on sale today. The enthusiast of yesteryear gave his input to vendors as to which setting was being applied erratically, wasn’t actually changing the registers regardless of what was set in the BIOS, or whatever the case might be. This information has been heard by the vendors and many issues worked out, with those changes being carried across to today’s boards.

With all of this in mind, does the enthusiast of today actually deserve anything more than RGB lighting? In short, he doesn’t. It’s all good and well to complain that we don’t get engineers pushing the limits in ways they once did, but the enthusiast is what killed off such engineering feats. Without a demand and appreciation for such feats, what motivation does a vendor have to pursue such advancements?

Do you remember how Abit and DFI (and to a smaller extent a few other companies such as EPoX and Chaintech) were once redefining limits with each successive board? Other than DFI adopting UV reactive plastic, these companies didn’t follow the market trend of appearance over engineering, and where are they now? Unfortunately the change in the definition of the enthusiast and what he or she demands from a board has changed to the extent that the vendors who were once pushing the envelope got pushed right out of the game.

Giving the enthusiast anything other than the RGB lighting they demand is nothing short of a recipe for disaster. Hopefully one day the definition of enthusiast can return to its roots and we can see the crazy engineering we once did (by companies and users alike), but for now we have to ride out this wave of RGB demanded by the masses. Asus and GALAX are exceptions to this rule and still pushing the limits, but there was once a time that it was what separated an average board from an exception board.