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As a Tech site, where do you Draw the Line with Hardware Companies?

Following the shocking and publicised allegations that a YouTuber raised against MSI, we thought it would be worthwhile to examine our relationships with OEMs, hardware manufacturers, and the intermediaries representing them. The purpose of this piece isn’t to name and shame. We won’t be naming specific companies here. Rather, we want to draw your attention to some of the situations we’ve dealt with so that you can come to your own conclusions.

As a tech website, we thrive on objective coverage about hardware and software. Since we’re “Hardware Times,” we’re laser-focused on this niche. There are only so many vendors and so many products. This makes our relationships with hardware vendors that much more important. As a newer, emerging platform, maintaining those relationships is a top priority: that’s how we get access to the hardware we review for you and our exclusives. It’s very difficult to succeed without the support of hardware manufacturers.

And that’s exactly what made the MSI allegations so troubling. Smaller websites and smaller tech influencers have a very unequal relationship with hardware manufacturers and OEMs. Getting blacklisted for review units means not being able to cover a core topic. It makes it that much more difficult to grow because every successful article counts. When a large manufacturer really tries to turn the screws on a small platform, options are limited. We applaud TechTeamGB’s bravery in going public with the issues that they faced. But we understand and empathize with other sites that haven’t been able to do the same.

This isn’t just bad for small platforms. It harms readers, too. As a review website, objectivity is of prime importance — we’re here to give you facts and experiences that you can use to make an actual purchase decision. If we’re forced to alter those facts on the ground, it’s your money, not the manufacturers, and not ours, that’s at risk. This is why we’ve made it a point to prioritise our objective and editorial importance over all other considerations. This has led to some trouble. Let’s some at some examples:

1.) A prominent graphics card OEM actively pressured us to spin a negative GPU review, with the threat of a blacklist hanging over the conversation. We didn’t give in, the review wasn’t changed and the OEM eventually backed down. However, the pressure to censor objective information about the card in question was immense.

2.) Recently, a major storage manufacturer shipped us a review unit of one of their new SSDs. We took the utmost care when benchmark the unit. The third-party delivery service we agreed to use evidently damaged the review unit in transit. The storage manufacturer wouldn’t hear it: They wanted us to pay in full for an SSD we did absolutely nothing to. After several rounds of back-and-forth, they relented, but we likely won’t be seeing any of their products anytime soon.

In both of these cases, we were fortunate in that we were able to de-escalate the situation without having to compromise on our integrity and without burning bridges. However, as the TechTeamGB scandal highlights, you never know when a seemingly innocuous request to “fix” a review can turn into something a lot worse.

We want to make it clear here that our priority is you guys, our audience. We review hardware products based on their objective merits. If we say a graphics card sucks, it’s because that’s the conclusion we came to after testing it. We’re not averse to changing our opinion if a manufacturer takes genuine steps to address the issue. But we have, and we always will call it like it is.

Arjun

Penguin-published author, and journalist. Loves PC hardware but has terrible hand-eye coordination. Most likely to be found playing Total War or watching weird Russian sitcoms.

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