Of Geeks, Modders, And Overclockers

Illustration: Laurent Cilluffo

”The B3-stepping Q6600 carried the S-Spec SL9UM, while the new G0-stepping part has the new SLACR S-Spec.”

--Anand Lal Shimpi, technical writer and CEO of AnandTech

This cryptic snippet comes not from a technical manual or an electrical engineering paper but from a mainstream computer magazine called Computer Power User (known, inevitably, as CPU). What's such geeky gobbledygook doing in a magazine that's available in grocery stores? I think it's a reflection of a surprising fact that's recently come to light: geeks are big business. Magazines like CPU, Maximum PC, PCXL , Australia's Atomic , and even some sections of good old Popular Mechanics are aimed at the hard-core geek market. These mags, and their online cousins, such as AnandTech ( http://www.anandtech.com) and Tom's Hardware ( http://www.tomshardware.com), don't even pay lip service to beginners.

It's a fascinating genre, particularly for the language watcher, because the alpha geeks who write for these magazines and sites, as well as the beta geek civilians who chime in with their letters and forum posts, have a unique, fun vernacular. The focus is on people who either put together their own computers--the builders --or customize the physical or electronic characteristics of existing computers--the modders.

Many of the latter spend countless hours tweaking their computer systems to increase the standard processor clock speed (known as the stock clock ), so they're often called overclockers . They regularly use overclock (or just oc) as a verb and will describe an easily tweaked system as overclockable . If they manage to crank up the gigahertz to some extraordinarily high (and probably dangerous) level, these extreme overclockers say that they've superclocked the system. Another popular mod is to overvolt the processor for faster performance, a practice often called volt modding . Of course, if you go too far with all this, you'll kill, or brick , the part.

A less dangerous practice involves painting, etching, Dremeling (yes, your favorite rotary tool is now a verb), and otherwise tricking out a computer's outsides, a practice called case modding . Specific case mods include the paint mod (a custom paint job; if you paint just the front, it's a bezel mod ), the case tattoo (an image etched into the case or an appliqué stuck to the side panel), the window mod (cutting a hole in the side panel and covering it with acrylic or some other transparent material), backlighting (adding interior lights so you can see through your window mod at night), the blowhole (cutting a hole in the top of the case so that you can add another exhaust fan), and the case badge (a 2.5-centimeter-square piece of metal with a logo or other image that you attach to the case).

In this world, a computer isn't a ”computer,” no, sir. It is instead a box or, more often, a rig , as in ”I overclocked and overvolted my processor, and now my rig is melting. Please help!” Got a particularly exciting game that you like to play? Then feel free to describe it as rig-rocking . Did you cobble the machine together from scavenged parts? Then call it a Frankenrig (or a Frankenbox ).

As hackers have always done, builders and modders shed syllables as easily as dogs shed fur. So a CPU, or processor, becomes a proc ; a motherboard becomes a mobo , or just a board ; product specifications become just specs ; and next-generation is always next-gen . Not surprisingly, initialisms abound in this world: CPU (central processing unit), GPU (graphics-processing unit), PPU (physics--or physx --processing unit), and PSU (power supply unit), to name just those that involve the word unit .

The world of hard-core builders and modders is one in which fanboys (also fanbois --overly dedicated fans of a component or manufacturer) endlessly debate the merits of their favorite parts, sysspecs (system specs) are the most common signature in forum posts, and mod galleries show off outrageous designs. It's a world in which the positive adjectives of choice are sick, killer , and monster . It's a world that's occasionally incomprehensible but always passionate and creative--an endless source of mods of the linguistic variety.

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