The recent criticism of Linus Tech Tips, explained

Linus Sebastian of Linus Tech Tips reviews Billet Labs Monoblock watercoolers
(Image credit: Linus Tech Tips (YouTube))

Update (August 16): Linus Tech Tips has posted an apology video, suspended video production for a week, and says it's investigating allegations from an ex-employee. Latest story here.

Original story: Linus Tech Tips founder Linus Sebastian has admitted to "sloppiness" in the hardware review channel's handling of controversy that erupted over its recent review of a high-end watercooling system, but says what really bothers him about the situation is "how quickly the pitchforks were raised."

The trouble began with a June 24 video in which Sebastian and an assistant put together a watercooled PC using Billet Labs' Monoblock, a system designed to cool both the CPU and GPU simultaneously. The Monoblock is not actually in production at this point: It's available for preorder at the Billet Labs website for $841. The device tested by LTT was apparently a unique prototype.

The build did not go smoothly. The installation of the cooling block was difficult, and the GPU they used wasn't a proper match for the cooler: The unit Billet Labs sent was meant for GeForce GTX 3090 GPUs, but LTT tested it on a 4090. According to Linus Tech Tips writer Adam Sonedergard, who assisted on the test, the manufacturer said the device would work with a 4090 card, but it "didn't know how well." Not well at all, as it turned out.

"The best-case scenario for this thing is, the temps are slightly better [than other coolers]," Sebastian said in the review's conclusion. "But the experience of building with it is a nightmare, and the advantages over literally any other solution are negligible."

That review led to an August 14 call-out of Linus Tech Tips by channel Gamers Nexus, a direct competitor, which questioned LTT's "accuracy, ethics, and responsibility" and accused it of "rushing content out the door" in order to achieve "quantity over quality." Gamers Nexus editor-in-chief Steve Burke also said in the video that LTT "sold" the one-of-a-kind Monoblock prototype after it was finished with the device rather than returning it to the manufacturer as it had promised to.

The Gamers Nexus video prompted a lengthy written rebuttal from Sebastian, who actually stepped down as Linus Tech Tips CEO in June but said he "needs to own" this particular incident because he was still in charge when it happened.

"To my team ... I stressed the importance of diligence in our work because there are so many eyes on us," Sebastian wrote. "We are going through some growing pains—we've been very public about them in the interest of transparency—and it's clear we have some work to do on internal processes and communication. We have already been doing a lot of work internally to clean up our processes, but these things take time. Rome wasn't built in a day, but that's no excuse for sloppiness."

Although he cops to some general sloppiness, Sebastian also defended LTT's commitment to, and record of, getting it right—including in the case of the Monoblock cooler. The problem wasn't in the "accuracy" of the review, he wrote, but in the handling of the reaction to it, including his refusal to re-test the cooler using the video card it was actually designed for, even when some other members of the LTT team advocated for doing so. "I just read the room wrong," Sebastian wrote.

"I got the community's priorities mixed-up on this one, and that we didn't show the Billet in the best light. Our intention wasn't to hurt anyone. We wanted no one to buy it (because it's an egregious waste of money no matter what temps it runs at) and we wanted Billet to make something marketable (so they can, y'know, eat)."

Sebastian also disputed Gamers Nexus' language, replying that LTT "didn't 'sell' the Monoblock, but rather auctioned it for charity due to a miscommunication." It's something of a split hair, although I suppose the point is that the money from the same is going to a charitable cause, rather than Linus Tech Tips. Sebastian also said that LTT has agreed to "compensate Billet Labs for the cost of their prototype."

That didn't make much of an impression on Burke, who argued in a follow-up video posted today that Sebastian's response was "inaccurate."

For its part, Billet Labs paid tribute to the "integrity" of Burke in a message posted to Reddit while suggesting that it holds LTT in somewhat lesser regard.

"On 10th August, we were told by LTT via email that the block had been sold at auction," Billet Labs explained. "There was no apology. We replied on 10th August within 30 minutes, telling LTT that this wasn't okay, and that this was a £XXXX prototype, and we asked if they planned to reimburse us at all.

"We received no reply and no offer of payment until two hours after the Gamers Nexus video went live on 14th August, at which point Linus himself emailed us directly. The exact monetary value of the prototype was offered as reimbursement. We have not received, nor have we asked for any other form of compensation."

Billet Labs also said that it will not "mourn our missing block," and is now working on developing another one: "Yes it sucks that the prototype has gone, it's slowed us but has absolutely not stopped us. We have pre-orders for it, and plan to push ahead with our first production run as soon as we can."

The videos posted by Burke and Gamers Nexus criticize LTT for more than the Billet Labs review, also accusing the channel of "significant and frequent data errors." In his response, Sebastian argued that LTT has been transparent about correcting errors that appear in its videos.

"We know that we're not perfect," wrote Sebastian. "We wear our imperfection on our sleeves in the interest of ensuring that we stay accountable to you. But it's sad and unfortunate when this transparency gets warped into a bad thing. The Labs team is hard at work hard creating processes and tools to generate data that will benefit all consumers—a work in progress that is very much not done and that we've communicated needs to be treated as such. Do we have notes under some videos? Yes. Is it because we are striving for transparency/improvement? Yeah…"

With 15.6M YouTube subscribers, Linus Tech Tips is the most popular PC hardware focused YouTube channel. The current top post on the LTT subreddit, an unofficial forum for discussion of the channel, criticizes Sebastian's response, asking, "Why didn't Linus just own his mistakes, apologize, and work to improve LTT's processes?" There and in a thread about the Gamers Nexus response video, public opinion strongly sides with Billet Labs and Gamers Nexus. The response in the official LTT forums is more mixed.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.