After riding a hardtail on and off for eigth years, I'm finally considering replacing it with a full suspension bike. Were I living somewhere else, I would be comparing whole bikes- frames, forks, drivetrain, etc.
However, my LBS is an unsual one, in Hong Kong. They generally builds bikes up from scratch- any mix of parts I want, they can do. I'm not fussed about components- generally going for an XT-equivalent mix and nothing fancy. I've not decided on suspension type, but am leaning towards the single pivot approach that Marin, Santa Cruz, Canondale, et. al. use. Mainly for the reason that it looks simpler than the quadlink/Horst system. The store has a wide range to chose from- Canondales, Santa Cruz, Yetis, Kestrels and a host of obscure names that I've not heard of.
So my question is this: How much difference is there when it comes to frame makers? This suspension design looks pretty dead-simple with little variation between makers (well, the Santa Cruz VPP variation looks a little different). Do extremely minor geometry differences translate into meaningful real-world experiences? Or is the real variation created by the marketing spin on the various manufacturers' websites?
Lastly, are there any reasonably balanced assessments of bikes on the internet? MTBreviews tend to be hugely skewed depending on the emotional investment and insecurities of the reviewr!