Anand Shimpi is one of the most influential tech industry figures you’ve never heard of.
From his start as a teenager building PCs for students and faculty at a college in his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, he’s become one of the semiconductor industry’s most closely watched reviewers. His website, AnandTech.com, is all about product performance, plain and simple.
Mr. Shimpi measures exactly how fast the latest Intel processor really is, how quickly that graphics chip will render the latest video game, how long that laptop battery will last.
At age 30, Mr. Shimpi is courted by technology executives and followed by Wall Street analysts keen to hear his well-informed product views. He briefs Intel executives, dines with Asian PC executives and commands a loyal following of tech enthusiasts, with AnandTech.com drawing 12 million unique visitors per month.
His workbench at his home in Raleigh is cluttered with high-end storage drives, laptops and recently released tablets, one of them playing a Harry Potter movie in an endless loop. A storage room is filled with hundreds of other products shipped to him over the years, and he says UPS drops more gear off almost every day.
“All of this is used in one form or another,” Mr. Shimpi says, gesturing toward the stacks of equipment.
Poor marks in one of his so-called benchmark reviews, focusing strictly on performance data, can mean trouble for a new product.
And because Mr. Shimpi amasses performance data on a wide range of chips and other products, he sometimes has more insight in certain areas than companies’ own design engineers, said Alex Mei, chief marketing officer for enterprise storage vendor OCZ Technology.
“His criticism carries more weight,” said Mr. Mei. “He really has a bead on what his readers are looking for.”
Indeed, OCZ altered the design of a solid-state drive a couple years ago to take into account Mr. Shimpi’s suggestions about how customers would likely use the product.
AnandTech is not alone in the benchmark review business; sites including The Tech Report and Tom’s Hardware have a similar obsession with performance data, though smaller followings.
But many chip executives, Wall Street investors and technically minded consumers see Mr. Shimpi’s meticulously collected test results as the most authoritative and highly trustable.
Dozens of widely read blogs write more subjective – and often more easily digestible – reviews of laptops, phones and tablets based to a large degree on how much the reviewer likes the product. Increasingly, those reviewers conduct limited tests of their own, using “off the shelf” benchmark tools.
Still others make mention of Mr. Shimpi’s data, painstakingly collected using proprietary tests he has developed over the years.
“We have known Anand for a long time,” Jonney Shih, chairman of the big Taiwanese computer-maker Asus, told Reuters by email. “We definitely share a passion for technology and we respect his in-depth knowledge and the thorough testing that he does.”
Hobbyists go pro
Today, reviewers are turning to benchmark tests to evaluate the chips, touch screens and batteries in the latest tablets and smarpthones, a fast-growing market in which Apple, Samsung, Intel, Qualcomm and others are competing fiercely.
But the niche business made its mark during the personal computer boom of the 1990s, when chipmakers fought for bragging rights about everything from clock speeds to latency.
Developing scientific ways to verify manufacturers’ claims and compare the performance of motherboards, processors and other components became a hobby among a small group of tech enthusiasts.
Data was compiled in reviews and posted on websites where they were read by legions of other technophiles, who in turn have become an important target for tech industry marketers.
“They’re the decision makers, influencers, guys who work in IT jobs during the day and play games at night, that people go to for advice when they have questions about technology,” Chris Angelini, who started reviewing PC parts while at college and is now editor of Tom’s Hardware, said of his readers.
As they gained attention in the industry, the benchmark reviewers grew more sophisticated – and attracted yet more attention from industry watchers.
Stock analysts, for one, have come to rely on the data when projecting product sales.
“We don’t have tools to go out and measure these things ourselves, so we depend on independent third parties to take the devices and tell us things like what does the performance look like and how does it stack up relative to the competition,” said Shawn Webster, a chip analyst at Macquarie.
This year, stock analysts have cited AnandTech measurements in more than 70 reports about Intel, Nvidia and other chipmakers.
With AnandTech attracting a large, specialized audience of cutting edge techies, it has plenty of advertising. The website has more than a dozen reviewers and editors, and has done well enough to make Mr. Shimpi a wealthy man.