More on buying electronics in Hong Kong, part I

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I've spent large chunks of a couple of recent weekends geeking about with electronics.

(Incidentally, Mr B is well aware of this, as he wasted much of a precious Saturday afternoon on the telephone counseling a cranky and frustrated Mr T, who was unable to configure his new wifi router without professional help. It turned out Mr T had done everything right except for one minor detail: how was he to know the stupid password his ISP expected of him?)

Anyway, I thought it would be a good time to post a little update/expansion of our previous material on buying electronics in Hong Kong.

First, let's draw one distinction. That is, when buying 'electronics' it's very helpful to think in terms of two sub-categories -- i.e. 'computer stuff' versus 'other' electronics such as audio-video equipment and cameras. Although these categories overlap in practice, you're likely to want to buy most items from each category at different kinds of places in Hong Kong.

Let's tackle 'computer stuff' here in part I of this article, and 'the rest of it' later in part II.

On several occasions, we've mentioned 'computer centers' in Hong Kong where you can find just about anything you could imagine needing for home computing. These computer centers are hard to describe if you've never been in one. The best comparison I can make is that they're something like beehives for techies. Typically infesting three or four floors of otherwise run-of-the-mill commercial buildings, Hong Kong's computer centers can be a bit intimidating at first. They're crowded, airless, cluttered and confusing (with one exception; more on that below). There are so many little shops jammed in together you're often not sure where to begin.

So first, allow me to offer some general encouragement: as a rule I'm not at all fond of this kind of shopping, and I often hate the thought of actually going to a computer center, but usually once I'm there I find it's not so bad after all. Even if you're just visiting Hong Kong, you shouldn't shy away from computer centers if you've got some products in mind.

You might still be thinking you want to play it safe and buy from an ordinary store, since questions about computer centers inevitably arise: Are things really that much cheaper in them? Is it worth the time spent comparison shopping? Do you need to bargain? Is the merchandise solid? Are you going to get cheated?

Let's address these one by one, and then you can make up your own mind whether it's worth venturing into a shopping center that feels like it's catering to the Borg as customers.

Are things really cheaper in Hong Kong's computer centers? Yes, with a few exceptions. For most name-brand products, and 'assemble to order' PCs, you're not going to beat the prices computer centers offer by shopping around at chain stores or going straight to the manufacturers. Computer centers really are discount outlets. One major exception is Apple products. (But isn't that always the case, fellow Appleonians? We suffer for our dignified loyalty, we do.)

Is it worth comparison shopping? I'd say it's worth doing a looking about in a computer center in moderation, but definitely not worth spending hours and hours on it. You will go crazy if you try to price a common item at every shop that sells it. Computer centers are intense microcosms of free enterprise, and since most shops post their prices openly on signs, fliers, and often the products themselves, a 'going rate' emerges for just about any item, as you'll quickly discover. That said, the individual shops do have sales and specials, so a bit of wandering around totting up prices may well be rewarded. But I've found that the price differences within a single computer center are often minimal, and I can't recall ever finding out in retrospect that I'd grossly overpaid for anything. The exception to this rule of thumb is to remember that each center forms its own little economy; some centers therefore are just cheaper in general than others. More on this below.

Should you bargain? Sure, if you like, but I've not noted a lot of price flexibility of late. It seems to me in the past it was easier to get routine price breaks, but now, especially for smaller items, you're likely to pay the stated price. This may be a case of me just not wanting to bother with haggling, or of a gormless gwailo getting taken advantage of, but I doubt it. The exception: if you're buying a whole computer system or other expensive items, I do suggest making a real go at bargaining. You may be able to get a lower price, or better throw-in features/software, or both. Readers, any thoughts/experiences on this topic?

Is the merchandise 'the real thing'? Yes, again so far as I know. Most of the products you'll see in Hong Kong computer centers are completely legitimate. They'll be in their manufacturer's packaging, and will come with warranties (although see Mr B's article for some cautions in this area). The only caveat to this I've heard is that sometimes the cut-rate blank DVDs and CDs may be 'factory extras' that could be slightly more likely to be flawed than those sold in mainstream stores. That said, I've bought hundreds of blank CDs and DVDs in Hong Kong computer centers, and can remember only one genuinely bad disk, so I don't even bother worrying about this.

Am I going to get cheated? It's doubtful. My impressions of most staff in these shops is that they may lack some of the social graces, but few are out to get you. In fact, on my most recent trip to 298 in Wanchai, I shopped in at least half a dozen places, and everybody I talked to was civil and at least reasonably helpful. Another anecdote: earlier this year I bought some blank DVDs in a shop in Mongkok Computer Centre. For reasons too tedious to recount, it turned out they weren't the type I needed. I'd discovered this before I opened the package, so I decided I'd try to take them back to the shop and exchange them (I did have my receipt, too). I presented my situation to the young woman running the shop, and was all ready to pick out some other merchandise in exchange, but she cut me off and insisted that I take a cash rebate, straight up. She then offered to break up a package of ten blank disks from a different manufacturer if I wanted to buy just one to try it out. Good customer service, that, and I've been buying blank disks there ever since.

Now, let's finish with a quick rundown of the main computer centers in Hong Kong.

I'm going to list just five of them, as these are the ones I've been to and heard of. If anyone knows of any other places where it's worth looking, do let us know.

All of these places are broadly similar in that they've got lots of shops, a wide selection of products, and internally-competitive prices. They aren't identical, however, so I'll try to mention salient differences so you can choose the one you think best suits your needs.

Golden Computer Arcade / Centre. In some ways, this is the Mothership of Hong Kong computer centers. It's big, cheap, and has the most, uh, informal atmosphere. Disadvantages are its slightly out-of-the-tourist's-way location (although it's very easy to get to via MTR) and its mild seediness. To get there catch the MTR on the Tsuen Wan line to Sham Shui Po station, then take exit D2. As you come up to street level, you'll see the building across the street diagonally to your left.

The first entrance you'll see is on the corner facing you, and leads into the Golden Computer Arcade. As you walk in you have the choice of walking up to the Ground Floor (G/F), or down to the Lower Ground Floor (LG/F). LG/F is the place to go for computer consumables and accessories, including printer cartridges, blank CDs and DVDs, speakers, cases, and books. If you head up to G/F you'll find most of the gaming stalls (Xbox, PSP, PS2), and lots of cables and cabling accessories.

If instead of entering the doorway to the Golden Computer Arcade you keep walking straight (so the building is on your left), a couple of shops along you'll see an entrance on the left marked 'Golden Computer Centre'. Walk up the staircase to the first floor and you'll find a whole new selection of shops. These specialise in all the parts needed to build PCs (RAM / drives / motherboards etc, as well as printers, scanners, notebook PCs and custom-built PCs.

Mongkok Computer Center. All the standard current computer stuff on offer in the throbbing heart of Mongkok. You can reach it by taking MTR or other public transport to Mongkok, then working your way over to Nelson Street -- go straight out of MTR exit E2, and it's a couple of blocks up on the right (it doesn't really have a street number on the outside, but it's on Nelson Street in the block between Tung Choi Street and Fa Yuen Street). This is the center I frequent most, and I find it's almost indistinguishable -- literally; it looks just the same inside -- as . . .

298 Hennessy Road. Very convenient for those staying/living on HK Island, 298 is still pretty cheap and cheerful, although a notch up in price from Golden Arcade. It's not hard to get to -- the name is the address -- but it's actually about midway between Wanchai and Causeway Bay MTR stations, so it's a bit of a hike from either one.

Wanchai Computer Center. This slightly more upscale computer center is a bit smaller than some of the others, but still has a good range of products and is very convenient to get to. Simply take exit A4 from the Wanchai MTR station, and the entrance is just on your left. Map & directions.

Windsor House. On the upper floors of Windsor House in Causeway Bay, right across Great George Street from Ikea (use MTR Exit E), you can find the 'upper class' option amongst Hong Kong's computer centers. It's physically much more pleasant to shop in, with roomy aisles between shops. You also pay for the privilege, unfortunately, as prices here are definitely higher than the other options.

There are also of course many, many computer shops scattered around town, but for most of us these five computer centers will do the job best.

Below I've included some more specific tips and notes on shopping in computer centers from one of our readers, and from Mr B.

Dave says:

Another great place for computer stuff (and surround sound systems) is the Golden Arcade in Sham Shui Po (across Cheung Sha Wan Road from the Ap Liu Gai market).

This is probably the cheapest place in Hong Kong for computer hardware, but check around first -- prices vary around the shops. The main hardware section is on the second floor -- turn left from the MTR and walk down towards the McDonalds, then turn right until you see an entrance which goes up a few steps and then has an escalator going up. This will bring you up to about 100 small shops selling the latest hardware and a small amount of software. (More software, and especially the *ahem* 'cheaper' software is available downstairs in the basement.)

There's a middle floor which sells playstations and similar as well as some really odd stuff, which is definitely worth a browse if you're a geek.) i.e., if you want dual Xeon boards, PC104 boards, redundant power supply hardware, Barcode readers, etc, this is yer place.

Centralfield is pretty representative, although it's not the cheapest there.

If you're nervous about going up there, Wanchai Computer Center, which is just above the Wanchai MTR, is a small bit more expensive (maybe 5%), but has more or less the same things. It's a bit more mainstream, though, so you won't find the really way out stuff, but for PC stuff, it's fine. Not much Mac stuff, though.

If you want to get Linux, *BSD stuff, you can find it in Sham Shui Po, but broadband connections are cheap, and it's usually easier and cheaper to just download it.

All the centres have PC makers who will build you a PC to your specs. They usually have paper fliers detailing their models, but you can always request different disks, memory, processors, graphics, case, etc.

And don't worry about whether or not they speak English. They speak MoneyStuff: they have Stuff and want Money, you have Money and want Stuff. A deal will be made. If they don't speak English, they'll call someone who does (a schoolboy), or just do the old numbers on a calculator trick. A Hong Kong shopkeeper will not let anything trivial like a lack of a common language come between him and a deal.

You should have a good idea of what things cost. Wander around the center before deciding what to buy and where to buy it. Don't be afraid to be baffled by what's on offer. Your best bet might be to look at all the motherboards (for example) and then go away and look them up on http://www.tomshardware.com to see how they all rate before making a decision. (Not that tomshardware.com is the best site, but it's reasonable.)

And, you can *always* bargain, or try to bargain. They may not always bargain, as their margins are really tight, especially for PC hardware, but it's always worth a try.

Them: 'This, 500 dollar.'

You: 'Wah! Yam mo gow chou ah! Hou Tsin ah! Tse bak M-sap man-ah! (You're kidding, that's too expensive! 450 dollars)'

Them: 'Your Cantonese sucks and it's still 500 dollars.'

Mr B replies:

Dave,

I was thinking we needed to add something about PCs -- so thanks for doing such a great job. A couple of extra odds and ends...

I had a PC made a couple of weeks back, and was originally thinking of buying the parts and building it myself. I found they only charge HKD100-150 extra to assemble all the parts, so I was happy to let them do it. I used ICE Computer Company, shop 168 in Wanchai Computer Centre. The guy was slightly (1 or 2%) more expensive than the other shops, but very helpful and speaks good English. (Compare another shop on the floor above where I stood for sometime until, after their mumbling about who would have to deal with the gweilo, someone picked the short straw and came over to deal with me.) The machine was bought to burn DVDs of baby B (next purchase will be the video camera), so I was glad to be able to spec out what I wanted.

If you're going to be buying the *ahem* 'cheaper' software' that Dave mentions, you'll probably be asked to hand over money and come back in 20 minutes. The 20 minutes usually turns into 40, but I haven't heard of anyone being ripped off (indeed you might even be surprised by the service - I took a friend there to buy Mac software last week, and they even told him not to buy one disk as it didn't support his OS version !)

If you're looking for Notebook PCs or PDAs, Wanchai Computer Centre probably has a better selection than the Golden Arcade.

If you're staying on HK Island and are looking for the Golden Arcade experience, head along Hennessy Road to number 298 and go up the escalator. The little shops there are between Golden Arcade and Wanchai Computer Centre in price. You'll also find shops selling dodgy R-rated DVDs, the 'cheaper software', and recently some shops have opened up selling second-hand business equipment (Intel Servers, Sun, routers, etc).

Cheers, MrB

Finally, one note for Apple aficionados: I don't know the current situation in Golden Arcade or Wanchai Computer Center, but right now the Mongkok Computer Center has no shops selling Apple products (other than Ipods, of course -- they're so ubiquitous here you can probably buy them from stinky tofu hawkers). 298 and Windsor House each have at least one Apple-oriented shop. You'll also now find Apple machines on sale at Fortress, one of Hong Kong's biggest mainstream electronics shops, but more on that scene in part II of this article.

Comments

Don't forget the little stuff

I just took a friend from the US along to 298, the computer center at 298 Hennessy Road, and they were amazed at the low prices on accessories. They said that although computer prices aren't wildly cheaper here, small add-ons like USB hubs and card readers are. eg she had been looking at a USB memory-card reader in the US for around USD25, where here they are just USD8.

Something to think about if you'll be visiting, and need to buy some small peripherals.

MrB

A couple of good computer shops

It was a geeky day today. First was a visit to ICE Computer Company, Shop 168 in the Wanchai computer centre. I mentioned them above in the original article, when I bought a PC from them in 2003. That's starting to have some problems now, and since I've wanted to get a faster PC for a while, now seems to be the right time.

They are still there in the same shop, and I was served by the same man I spoke to in 2003. That's a good sign in itself, as there is a high turnover of the smaller computer companies. Anyway, the same helpful and knowledgeable service as last time, so I'm looking forward to collecting my new PC on Sunday (it will be ready tomorrow, but we're away for a couple of days). When friends or family ask for advice on getting a new PC, I usually head over to the Dell website and choose one that seems like good value. But if you prefer something custom-built, ICE is worth a visit.

Next was a visit to 'Let's Go Computer', shop 220 one floor above ICE. I was expecting problems, as I wanted to return something I'd bought last month. It was a set of Creative Travelsound I speakers for the iPod that I'd also bought last month. Given that the iPod was a new model, I'd asked the salesman at Let's Go if it was compatible with the Travelsound."Sure, no problem!", and so I paid up.

Later it turns out that they are compatible if you only want to listen to music, but not if you want to play movies from the iPod on TV via the Travelsound. That took several rounds of email with Creative, but finally they confirmed the two products just aren't compatible.

When I took the product back today and showed them a copy of the email from Creative, they first tried out some similar products from other vendors, to see if they could offer an alternative. Unfortunately they all had the same incompatibility. Finally they said "sorry we sold you something that wouldn't work", handed me a cash refund, and sent me off with more smiles and apologies. Remarkable. I'll keep an eye on the Creative website, and when there's a new model released that is compatible, I'll head back over to Let's go and buy it.

MrB

298 and WCCC are nice but it's hard to find specialty things

As a long time silent PC freak, I must confess that I am a bit frustrated with buying parts in HK. In the US, I could find and order even the most obscure specialty items with a bit of googling. I admit to not having gone off the Island for stuff yet (will do now that I have read this article) but finding those non mainstream items is hard. Between 298 and WCCC there is only one store that really specializes in silent cooling. They are on the top floor of WCCC. But even they don't have SilenX and Scythe S-Flex fans, hard drive silencers or fanless power supplies. When I mentioned this they simply smiled and said "those expensive". Without the really silent stuff, my HTPC is making more noise that my desktop, and that won't go down well with my wife. Who wants to watch a movie with a background hum?

Since I can't order online and can't find in the stores, I remain frustrated. Here's hoping that Mongkok CC or Golden Centre have what I want.

BTW with the weak dollar electronics are on average cheaper in the US than they are in HK, at least if you order from NewEgg or the like.

top floor 298.

http://www.pcbulb.com/index.php?language=en

Try this. I got most of my silent stuff from him but I haven't been a modder for a long time. My purchases were mostly vantec and zalman's. If he doesn't have it, ask him to order it for you.

Silent stuff

Thanks bronney. I did in fact buy some stuff from that exact store. They have a nice selection. However when I asked about some other stuff I really "need" he didn't want to order it. :( I don't think he understood just how silent I want my PC to be. ;) Check out my webpage http://quietpc.rosboch.net for an idea. That computer is inaudible at 3 feet.

If they don't have the stuff at the Mongkok CC I'll buy it at Newegg.com and have them ship to a friend in the US, who can then ship to me.

Found the good stuff

I ended up going to the Golden Computer Arcade today. Wonder of wonders, one store actually had one (1) FSP Zen fanless power supply. HKD 1070 is steep for an item that normally costs less than a third of that, but this one has no fans and my HTPC is now blissfully silent.

When I asked about second hand stuff they pointed me to the nearby New Capital Centre, which holds a couple of dozen repair and second hand hardware shops. Rhe main entrance is on the corner of Yen Chow Street and Un Chau Street, just one block north of the Golden Computer Arcade. This is clearly the place where badly performing shops go to die. It's almost an indoor flee market, with lots of unused storefronts and piles of ancient controller cards and such. But if you really need a 12 year old SCSI-2 controller, this is the place! ;)

I still haven't found an internal hard drive silencer, but at least I got the PSU. Thanks all for a great resource.

Re: Apple stores

As of the moment, there are around 2-3 Apple stores/resellers in Mongkok Computer Center. Same prices as that in Fortress though no available monthly installments.

Have I been cheated?

I went to the WCC today looking for a decent sound card that wouldn't break the bank. Now, the concept of sound cards were completely alien to me and the only reason I wanted one was because I had heard one of 'em in action at a friend's house. After wandering around for the best part of an hour, I stopped at a shop which name I couldn't remember and asked them how much the PCI Express X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Pro Series cost. The clerk told me $2200 HKD, but that was out of the question. So I pointed to a smaller box with the Sound Blaster logo written all over it.
"How much would the X-Fi XtremeGamer cost me, then?" I asked. He told me $850 HKD. That was great, as my budget was about $1000 HKD and that would leave me with a little bit of extra money to spend on something else that caught my eye. So I handed over the money and he looked at me with wide eyes and said "You buy? Just like that?" Now, at the time, I didn't really notice anything off with that statement and i just gave a succinct "Yep!" in reply. So I handed over the money and scurried home excitedly.
When the excitement had died down, I was left with a sense of curousity to see how the XtremeGamer compared to the higher end ones, and so i visited Creative's web store. To my horror, the card was listed at $600 HKD, and I felt so stupid that I actually bashed my head against a wall quite hard (something i regretted doing after the swelling had gone down). And, on top of that, apparently they didn't stamp the box with the dealer's chop, thereby rendering my warranty useless. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't think I'm going to go shopping at the WCC again anytime soon, or at least until I learn enough Cantonese to convince them not to give me the "Gwailo Price". I think I'll continue shopping at Windsor House.

Jello. >:(

You aren't the first...

...and you won't be the last. Schoolboy error that was - NEVER accept the first price they give you and always research what you are buying so that you know what prices you should be expecting!

Thanks

I live in Hong Kong, and I was planning on building a computer, and tried on Amazon. I then realized most of the parts i wanted were only deliverable to the united states. This really ticked me off, so i considered buying a name brand PC. Thanks you so much for this, without this i would currently be sitting at home with a name brand PC. I much rather to build my own computers.

Hi all, I just recommend

Hi all,

I just recommend everyone buying a computer in the centre to be careful. The one in ShamShuiPo is pretty good but the one in Mong Kok and Wanchai is also a tourist trap. I bought a laptop there and insisted on an English version. Well, the pre-installed Widows Vista was English but the update DVD they gave me was Chinese which I only realized back home. 

So I'm still trying to get the English version but the shop (strangely called "Wise" computer albeit not being Wise at all) is not very helpful and told me "there are no English Windows 7 versions in Hong Kong"... Oh really? What is annoying though is that after you paid your money they don't care anymore (they made their business and don't expect you to come back anyway)..... 

I'd personally not go to the Wanchai centre anymore, unless it's just for some CD/DVD or USB sticks. Go to ShamShuiPo. And ALWAYS check the stuff before going home.... 

Question about laptops, tablets and accessories

Cost of laptops and are any of the laptops in English? Also how much is an Android tablet over there, or some sort of equivalent? Also looking to pick up an external hard drive, anyone know the average cost of them?

re: Question about laptops, tablets and accessories

Here's the Centralfield website via Google Translate - the translation isn't 100%, but you should be able to find most of what you're looking for.


Regards, MrB

Price of ASUS EEE Pad Transformer TF101

I will be in Hong Kong next February and would like to buy me the ASUS EEE Pad Transformer TF101. Anyone could tell me what would be the price of that tablet in Hong Kong shops. And could you recommend me in which shop to buy it.
Many thanks,
Henk van Holsteijn

printer cartridges

Thanks for the great article on computer centers, someone mentioned them to me the other day and I didn't know what they were talking about (only been here a couple of months). We are having a lot of trouble buying a replacement cartridge for our Dell printer (3130cn colour laser). Do you think any of these places would have them?

Also, in case anyone is interested, I got the screen on my iPhone fixed the other day for $380 (in 4 hours) at a shop on the corner of Johnston Road and O'Brien Road in Wan Chai, opposite the A3 exit of the MTR.  (It was only the screen that was cracked, the phone still worked).

Computer Peripherals From HK

Hi guys ,

Can anyone assist me about buying computer components from HK.

I'm doing import and export business. I would like to import computer components from Hongkong, like HDD,Processors,Ram,Motherboard etc....... Is it good to buy from Hongkong. Are these items cheaper in Hongkong. Or shall i try it from Singapore / Malaysia.