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

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.

Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson is Editor-at-Large of Tom's Hardware US.