The Review Process
Once we've acquired the product, we decide which engineer will conduct the review. If the product is typically installed by the customer, we will also install it ourselves, even if the vendor offers to install it for us so that we have a realistic test. However, if the vendor typically installs the product for the customer, then we'll allow them to do so. If a VAR or interconnect typically performs the installation, then we usually work in tandem with the vendor, because VARs/interconnects represent a large chunk of our readership.
Installation remains one of our five main evaluation criteria. The other categories are documentation (printed, online and technical support), features, operational testing and room for improvement. We grade each of these categories from 0-5, 5 being the highest. After testing all of these items, we determine a letter grade A-F, and in general, any product that earns a B+ or better receives our Editors' Choice award, although a B+ is not an automatic qualifier.
Depending on the product, we sometimes remove or add a category, and we often consider one category more heavily than another because different products require excellence in different areas. When we finish the review, we send the product back to the vendor, unless the vendor decides to donate the product to our laboratory as a benefactor. Either way, we take pride in maintaining our objectivity, whether the vendor is a small start-up or an industry titan, whether they will never advertise in our magazines or advertise every month: at TMC Labs, all we care about is the performance and value of a product to our readers.