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I am not a regular reader of this magazine as at the prices they charge for computer magazines you would have to take out a second mortgage to be a regular subscriber to more than one. However, as PC magazines go, this is one of the longest established in the genre and is generally a very interesting and informative read.
For you £4.99 you get the usual news, reviews etc. but what sets this magazine apart from the rest that would encourage you to part with your hard earned cash in favour of this as opposed to its many, and often less expensive brethren?
I think these are always much of a muchness. If you check out all the magazines in a particular month then you will find that the games, utilities etc. that can be found on the cover CDs are pretty similar if not almost identical. However, you do get more for your money with some of them so its worth looking around if this is your main reason for purchasing the magazine. To be frank, the quality of the CD on each magazine varies from week to week and therefore its worth looking around to see what’s on offer, although the PC Format Cds (for there are often 2) are always packed with the latest game demos and useful utilities and ‘serious’ product demos.
The ‘Gameplay’ and ‘Tried and Tested’ sections make up the bulk of PC Format, offering, in gameplay both reviews and previews of the latest game releases and early news of games in development. What you get for you money, is around 30-40 pages of game reviews in this section, which constitutes reviews spanning 3-4 pages for those games which the magazine has adjudged to be of most interest to its readers whilst others only receive a smaller share of the allotted space - sometimes only a few sentences for those which receive really poor ratings. The reviews themselves are very professionally presented although are generally very businesslike and somewhat devoid of humour which is a real turn-off in my opinion. Games are about fun, and resultantly so should the reviews be in my opinion - otherwise is gets boring reading them...but thats a personal thing. Nobody could argue that the reviews are not well laid out, informative or generally correct in what they say in my experience, so they can not really be faulted other than on the personal preference of journalistic style. Each game comes with an overall results summary, which consists of a percentage rating out of 100, for and against points, comparative rating compared to other games in the genre and minimum/recommended system requirements. This section is excellent and basically gives you all the information you need in a nutshell and should be any reader’s first port of call before they decide whether they are interested enough in the game to read the review. You also get a number of screen shots which accompany the game and do not just focus upon the best graphics, action etc. that the game has to offer(unlike some other mags) but give a more varied view of the product which is much more helpful. Overall, whilst I like the way this section is laid out, I feel that the quality of journalism is slightly lower than that seen in the games devoted mag. PC Gamer, although, if you prefer the more professional(slightly boring) approach to reviewing then you will probably prefer this instead. Its a matter of taste.
~Tried And Tested~
The ‘other’ major section of PC Format is devoted to hardware and more ‘serious’ software reviews. I have to say that one of the main things which draws me to this magazine is the blend of hardware and software reviews which it offers, both of which are both plentiful and informative. Whereas the majority of PC magazines end to focus on one or the other whilst offering a token couple of game/hardware reviews, PC Format manages to incorporate both in equal proportion and for this it is to be applauded.
Hardware reviews are good, offering around 4-6 paragraphs of information pitched at a level which most PC users will understand, or at least understand enough of to make an informed decision. You also get a percentage rating along with For and Against points as with the games reviews in a summary box which again is most helpful. Each month, there is also a group hardware spotlight on a particular type of peripheral, be it scanner, graphics cards, mice etc. whereby a number of similar products are tested against each other in order to enable you, the buyer, to make a more informed choice which I think is extremely useful. Whilst these reviews are not as in depth as those seen in magazines dedicated to the more serious side of computer use, they are more than adequate to inform the average PC user of the advantages and disadvantages of each without blinding them with jargon and burying you under hoards of useful facts and stats.
The software section is laid out in almost exactly the same way as the hardware section, incorporating both standalone reviews of the latest software necessities as well as having group tests of available produces related to one particular area of the software world such as surfing filters for instance taking February’s issue as an example. These reviews are again very professionally presented and once more informative without going too far into the realm of ‘techy-dom’ if a little dull. I tend not to read this section too closely unless there is a particular product I am looking for, looking only at the overall percentage score and for and against points which again accompany the review in the final analysis.
PC Format always includes a number of special feature stories which focus upon a particular aspect of news in the computer world, or just something which they feel may be of interest to their readership. These are a couple of pages long and are generally of interest and one of the sections where it would appear the journalists are able to have a free reign on humour etc. which leads to a much more interesting read.
This section comprises a number of hints and tips on how to do a variety of different things with your PC which you may have been itching to find out or had no idea was possible. Generally, this section is very informative and has a nice mixture of things for the novice user combined with those for more experienced users as well as in recent months having a programming ‘tutorial’ on programming a game in C++ with the help of the Bitmap Bros. These aren’t just one-liners either, but full page walkthroughs which go into the hows, whys and wherefores of the subject under suggestion which is more than other mags offer. I like this part of the magazine and its generally one of the main reasons I buy it on the rare occasion that I do so as some of the info. is very useful here.
Got a problem? No, they don’t want to know about your haemorrhoids and neither do I, but if your problem is PC related then this section devoted to a readers Q&A session is for you. This is basically a letters page but with all the requests being related to PC problems and possible solutions to these. The feedback is good as you would expect and sidebars go into more depth over commonly encountered problems offering advice which could be invaluable should you ever run into the same difficulties - or otherwise completely useless of course.
The usual news section greets you at the front of the mag., although strangely, very little attention appears to have been paid to it. Admittedly, other magazines tend to fill up the space with stories which are frankly uninteresting and a sentence long, but I still can’t decide whether I prefer this or PC Format’s approach of having 5 or 6 slightly more detailed news stories - which are incidentally none the more interesting and do not seem to have been particularly carefully selected. Considering the magazine covers a rather broad base in featuring just about every aspect of Pcs in its pages, it is strange that the news section should be so bare and uninformative.
The PC Format net section is well laid out and a model which I feel all other computer magazines which incorporate such a section ought to follow. Basically, this section focuses upon a particular idea, such as Elvis Presley, Surfing or whatever, talks about it over the space of a page and then gives a top 5 of sites to visit if you are interested in whatever the discussion is about together with a brief resume of why you would want to visit them. This, I feel, is far better than the higgledy-piggledy hotch-potch of URLs that other mags splatter about their particular internet related sections.
PC Format is one of the oldest and best PC magazines on the market today. If you are looking for a magazine which incorporates a mixture of hardware and software reviews, together with some extra bits and pieces then you can’t go wrong in purchasing this magazine as in my opinion it gets the balance just right between the two and is very informative in both sections as well. The reviews are not only very good, if a little too professional to the point of being dull, but also rather plentiful as well so you certainly get your money’s worth here and they strike the right balance between being too technical and not offering enough information which some of their competitors have yet to learn.
I used to like this mag until after they ran a feature slating PC World and then the following month retracted most of what they said. Corporate bullying by PC World maybe, but everything they said had been true. Cheers - Craig