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Even a creature from outer space should know you can't buy a good review on HEXUS

by Bob Crabtree on 30 October 2006, 07:42

Tags: Alienware (NASDAQ:DELL)

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Holier than thou?

All emails referred to in this article are included, in date order, on page four.

On October 25, Mat Bettinson, marketing manager of Alienware Ltd, emailed his response to our request for an Alienware G80-based system for review.

In that email, Bettison wrote the following,

I'm afraid, after the last review, our ability to send you any hardware for review is pretty much gone. When I have one of the executives in the US threatening my job on the telephone, my hands become somewhat tied in the future.

Anyway since...

"there are better and cheaper alternatives to the Alienware Area-51 7500"

... surely those would make a much better choice for a launch-day G80 review?

Certainly we'd have to have rocks in our head to come back for a second helping with the same SKU.

Paul Dutton was deeply shocked by this response (and I'd have been even more shocked if he hadn't been). He (like all of us) interpreted it to mean that Alienware was demanding that we lie about Alienware's products in future reviews and that the company was surprised that we hadn't lied in our review of the Area-51 7500 system.

So, Paul replied the same day to Bettison in a very strongly worded email that contained the lines below,

you effectively stated - and the record shows in no uncertain terms - that because HEXUS had published the honest, unfavourable truth about one ‘Alienware’ product, that ‘Alienware’ would not be sending HEXUS any products for future technical editorial evaluations…

… the only inference which can be made from this is that ‘Alienware’ will only submit products to publications which will write nice things about ‘Alienware’.

Bettison responded the next day, saying,

I'm a little baffled by your idealism on this front:

"… the only inference which can be made from this is that ‘Alienware’ will only submit products to publications which will write nice things about ‘Alienware’."

That's was and remains Alienware's global marketing strategy from the beginning. We're hardly alone. [My emboldening - Bob Crabtree]

Now, I don't know if Bettison is talking through his arse or not. Perhaps he's just a mad Walter Mitty type.

I do know, however, that I have never seen before any form of written communication in which someone just comes out and says that his or her company won't send product for testing unless it's guaranteed a good review.

I also know that if what he's saying about Alienware is true, then that must mean that a large measure of the success that Alienware has enjoyed is built on false, unreliable and corrupt foundations.

People will have been buying Alienware's over-priced, fools-gold systems as a result of corrupt reviews written by corrupt journalists.

In addition, and consequently, Alienware's new owner Dell, was, in effect, duped into buying the company - irrespective of what the undisclosed terms of the purchase were.

I'm no expert on the legal niceties that prevail in the United States of America, but I'd like to think that what Bettison says Alienware has done - and is doing - is illegal.

I'd also like to think that the appropriate authorities will now look into Bettison's allegations and, if they turn out to be true, that the full weight of the law will fall upon the people responsible for Alienware's global marketing strategy - before and after the take-over.

Any web sites, print publications and journalists responsible for corrupt reviews should also be held to account.

Bettison alleges that other companies are just as corrupt as he says Alienware is.

"We're hardly alone", is what he said. My inference it that he means that a lot of other companies provide product for testing only if they're guaranteed good reviews.

I have no way of knowing whether this is Walter Mitty talk or straight talk. I certainly don't presume that what he says is true. But if what he's saying about Alienware turns out to be accurate, then, in my view, the authorities should also then investigate that further allegation about other companies and take appropriate action against all parties if it, too, is true.

For the record, we'd only reviewed two Alienware systems before the Area-51 7500. Both were laptops and each review was reasonably positive and dished out awards. But each also pointed out in no uncertain terms that the kit is expensive.

Back in December of last year, we looked at the Alienware Area-51 m5700 laptop. Our review - written by Tarinder Sandhu - concluded,

The bottom line is that you can buy a similar DTR [desktop replacement - Bob Crabtree] laptop from other vendors for less money. Alienware, whilst producing a solid product, hasn't done enough to wow us at the £1,800 price attached to the sample model, and apart from a few signature touches, [it] is too generic to standout from the crowd. Take away the laptop's badges and it could well be a Fujitsu-Siemens; both use the same chassis. Overall, then, good but not great.

Before that, the only Alienware review we'd carried was Rys Sommefeldt's take, back in April 2004, on the Area51-m Extreme laptop. Among the things Rys said in his conclusion were,

Personally I love it. I'm a geek, I appreciate a £650 server CPU in my laptop. I appreciate being able to swap the GPU. I like having a 4x DVD+RW on the move with 1GB of memory and a 60GB HDD to feed it. I like 108Mbit WiFi without even having the means to use it.

My personal feelings aside, it's an obvious bit of niche hardware. Is it the fastest gaming laptop on the planet? Yes. Does it cost an absolute fortune? Yes. Do people who'd actually buy one care? Do they hell.

It's both fantastic and pointless at the same time.

You'll either love it or laugh, it's as simple as that.

So, let me end this idealistic article (as Bettison would doubtless think of it - among other things) by making some statements of fact and intent.

First, it has to be understood that you can't buy a good HEXUS review - the product itself must earn it.

According to Bettison, the equivalent does not apply to all web sites or magazines - and may be he's right and may be he's wrong. But it's true of HEXUS, as our regular site visitors already know.

And all makers and suppliers - not just Alienware - absolutely do need to believe it, too. If they fail to understand and, like Alienware, attempt to force us to write corrupt reviews, they, too, will be outed - even if these attempts are more subtle than Bettison's and don't come in emails but, instead, on the phone or face-to-face.

Read the emails for yourself - dive over to page four...