CPU: The Magazine

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I happened to find the August issue of this magazine the other day, so I picked it up and read it.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, the magazine is Computer Power User and you’ve likely seen an ad or two for it promoting itself by talking about its lineup of online superstars.

Ironically enough, the famed cast of characters are at best a wash. The strengths of the magazine lie elsewhere.

What’s Good About This Magazine

If you can imagine such a thing as a geek Today Show or an “easy-listening” geek show, you have a good idea what this magazine is like. Tech light.

No, that doesn’t make it a magazine for newbies. It’s a magazine that tells you interesting (if sometimes tangential) things you probably wouldn’t run across on the Web in an easy-to-take format for when your brain is a little too mushy to deal with hardcore material and presentation.

If you’re the “nuts-and-bolts and only nuts-and-bolts” kind of person, you will not like this magazine. If, on the other hand, a big article about how computers are used in cars sound interesting, or technologies we’re likely to see in a few years, or demographic Internet data, you will likely like this magazine.

The magazine is professionally arranged and usually well-edited. There are relatively few ads

They do product reviews. The selection reviewed is a bit hit-or-miss, but the reviewers aren’t usually afraid to say something’s lousy.

The all-star when it comes to reviews is a staff writer named Kylee Dickey. She didn’t give anything she reviewed in this issue more than three stars (out of five). I liked that. 🙂

The reviews aren’t entirely consistent, though. The Falcon Northwest Mach V gets five stars despite outrageous price tags. Occasionally, you’ll see a mediocre rating without the reviewer making it very clear why the prodcut got what it got.

The technology blurbs and factoids are well done, and show intelligent and careful selection by the editors.

What I Don’t Like About the Magazine

As a general rule, the more the columnist is involved in a website, the less likely you’ll find the columnist’s article satisfying, simply because the columnist has already covered it on his website. The “retired” Sharky Extremers tend to write better columns from a broader perspective.

I thought it interesting that Alex Ross was the only columnist who did a few product reviews, though the notion of his reviewing AMD Thoroughbred might bring shrieks to some. (He gave it three-and-a-half stars out of five, by the way.)

The most annoying thing about the magazine is the thread of self-indulgence that rears its sometimes literally ugly head at times.

I know this is like trying to stop the tide, and the pictures of columnists in magazines everywhere keep getting bigger and bigger, but the magazine takes yet another step away from “Columnists should be read, not seen.” The pages of columnists in this magazine have the left column of the page (about a quarter of the page) dedicated to an overlarge picture of the author plus a rather extended blurb about him or her.

To me, this is a waste of space. Would you rather see another hundred words, or see the same old picture and blurb again and again and again? Whatever happened to “Love me for my mind, not my body?”

Sorry, folks, but no one is ever going to pick this magazine for the pictures over the SI swimsuit issues. Nor should they, so why divert easily-diverted minds away from the subject at hand?

The whole point of these articles is for people to judge what the authors have to say, not how they look. This is an informational magazine, not AmIHotOrNot.com.

Do we really need two sets of pictures, one with the index, one with the article?

The blurbs describing the authors are more than a bit too self-indulgent; they’re not informative but promotional.

Occasionally, they backfire. When one author’s blurb speaks about boldness and outspokenness, and the article leaves you wondering about the level of editing and/or sedation required to produce a piece noticeably toned-down from the website norm, the blurb just doesn’t have the desired effect.

Technology articles tend to be on the “light” side; if you’re looking for down-in-the-trenches dirt, you won’t find them here. I found the article on 64-bit computing too light as even an overview of the compteting AMD/Intel technologies.

The head honcho is a relatively young fellow, and you get the impression at times he treats the magazine as a personal plaything. The article on smart cars is very long and gets into some very tangential material indeed (like best cars from the movies), and it leaves you wondering just who was the godfather of that article.

One of the poorest articles is a “competition” to put together a $1,000 computer system for a college student. Mr. Boss puts himself against my abovementioned hero Kylee Dickey. Mr. Boss does put together a system better than Ms. Dickey, but only by leaving out items Ms. Dickey included like printers from his system. Then he has somebody else judge the two systems, and pronounce him the winner. Please.


This is a well-put-together computer magazine that hits more than misses and will give you pleasant light computer reading, though more from the grunts than the stars.

Is that worth $2 a month for a subscription? The answer depends more on whether you like that idea or not. Right now, I’m inclined to subscribe, but those more focused on hardcore material probably should not.



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