Friday night topic: What constitutes a product?

— 7:08 PM on April 30, 2004

I guess that's one way to phrase this question. The issue at hand, folks, is low-volume, high-priced products that exist almost entirely to "capture the flag"—to stake out the highest performance ground for manufacturers. We've seen many incarnations of this kind of thing in the past couple of years among PC components. There was the Athlon XP 2800+, original revision, which was a "Thoroughbred B" part with 256K L2 cache sold exclusively, in small volumes, through high-end PC makers like Alienware and Falcon Northwest. Now, the range of exotic PC parts has grown noticeably, with CPUs priced between 700 and 1,000 bucks—Athlon 64 FX and Pentium 4 Extreme Edition—pulled into the desktop space from the workstation market. Graphics cards, too, can now cost as much as $500 and have gobs of super-expensive RAM onboard. Famously, some of these products have shown up to rain on the other guys' parade, as the P4 Extreme Edition did during the Athlon 64 FX launch.

With their insanely high prices, not many of them seem to sell. Sometimes, even fewer are actually available for purchase than the market demands. They do, however, help boost their makers' names to the top of the benchmark charts. Plus, they give us all a little taste of the future, and perhaps a chance to own a bit of it.

What are we to make of this practice? Does "technology leadership" or "performance leadership" count if you're only gonna sell a handful of 'em? Auto racing has volume production quotas for cars. Should TR have 'em for chips and cards? Discuss.

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