[ch00ftech] Visits A Shenzhen Market

On a business trip, [ch00ftech] visited a Shenzhen electronics market and documented the trip. Some of the attractions included multiple Apple stores of questionable authenticity, stores selling PC components with no manuals, drivers, or packaging, and a variety of LEDs and lasers.

[ch00ftech] showed off the loot from the trip, including breadboards, perf boards, LED matrices, and an RFID reader all for very low prices. There’s also the Class 4 laser pointer that cost about $120 and has a power output of “between 500 mW and 8000 mW.” Given the 500 mW power restriction on lasers sold in the US, it’s fair to say that this thing should be handled with care. Hopefully the included safety classes actually block the specific wavelength of the laser.

The staff in these stores were very knowledgeable and knew part numbers and inventories by memory. One of the biggest surprises was just how low the prices were.  While Radio Shack has started to carry some more parts for hackers, it seems that nothing stateside can compare these Chinese electronics markets.

33 thoughts on “[ch00ftech] Visits A Shenzhen Market

  1. “One of the biggest surprises was just how low the prices were.”

    You’re making the assumption that the parts work (I was going to say “meet spec”, but since there were no specs available…) and will keep working.

    I worked on a project which the client was having manufactured in Shenzen. No specs for the components, but they were reluctantly produced when requested. Company names we’d never heard of, and had no information on and no way to judge by reputation. LEDs which had half-intensity lifetimes measured in the hundreds of hours (just long enough to get them out the door), through hole capacitors with no markings whatsoever…the list goes on.

    “You get what you pay for” is a good phrase to keep in mind as you go shopping in Shenzen, methinks.

  2. I made the mistake of ordering some bits from there a while back…won’t do that again. Got a strip of 1000 0805 caps…most were shorted, the rest were open…not one worked. Also ordered similar strips of 10 different resistor values…many opens, many shorted, and the only ones that were within 20% of spec for a strip were on another strip! Also got some trimmers…they were sold as Bournes, but obviously clones. Worse, the cloned the wrong part so they didn’t fit…or maybe that was a good thing because the ones I tried with a breadboard didn’t last 10 turns. Oh, and the transistors…don’t get me started on those crummy, mislabeled transistors. Even the wire I got was of low quality…but I shouldn’t complain about that…at least the solid core wire they sent me instead of strand wire works well with a breadboard.

    1. Your use case seems very exaggerated. It is true that most components in off-markets come from electronic waste dumps located in china. Most ICs have their brand / part number sanded down and then relabeled as different brand.
      You cannot obviously trust these components for professional use but they are perfect for hobbyists due to its very low price.

      What we should worry about is how these components are extracted from electronic waste:

  3. It’s obvious that price comes with quality. Prices that are too good to be true are those that should be avoided. Those kinds should only be the last resort and should be avoided by all means, especially when it’ll be used on some machine that needs reliability.

  4. What I find odd, is that the locals buy this crap (read: lower priced) all the time and use it in their own projects without fail. Are we just doing it wrong?

    Ive had my share of failed components from Shenzen markets too, but I also have alot of things that cost me 90% less, and are still going stronger than the Radio Shack equivalent.

  5. Did anyone notice the flashlight brand name was “UranusFire”? Maybe it comes with hot peppers…

    I know… I can’t help it… I can’t pass up an opportunity for a uranus joke. I bet they don’t sell that brand in the parts of the world where English is the main language, though!

  6. “Hopefully the included safety classes actually block the specific wavelength of the laser.”

    Hope is always good – but checking this before you put your eyesight at risk might be the better approach.

  7. If you’ve ever been to China, you’ll know that the chinese love their LEDs and lasers. Those things and the perf boards are legit (with the understanding that they make things high volume for the masses). Chips are usually fine but you are the QA engineer. Capacitors and batteries I would avoid. Of course the apple stuff is fake, but the prices are cheaper than anything you’ll find in the states (or even ebay sellers). Real apple stores in beijing and shanghai are in expensive trendy areas with other genuine name brand stores surrounding them. While you’re there, don’t forget to pick up some fake Ralph Lauren Polo shirts for which you can get for about 42 RMB without bargaining. :-)

    1. As far as fake clothing, I bought a Faulex in Bangkok years ago, nice looking build, accurate enough, but someone once commented (not when I was wearing it) that it is easy to spot a Faulex, it’ll be on the arm of someone who doesn’t look like they could afford a real one! So, now mine just sits in the drawer.

  8. Well, it is an easy way to get free marble slabs. I have received several units that had marble slabs hot glued into them to add heft. Polished marble. Lmao. Now what do you do when something goes wrong? There is no recourse. No customer service and if anything, you have the booming cottage industry of “sample” imports to get around taxes and customs. And yet we line up to give them $2.00 for an order of something that does not work and arrives 3 weeks later from a stop in Uncle Chen’s New York apartment. “You order transistor? Here this 2.5″ lcd screen with half of the pixels missing is much closer to me and so I will throw it in the box. Good luck yankee blue jeans beatles album.” Try punching a tree sometime. It gives you the same feeling of hapless freedom. I also recommend using a pay as you go card for online orders. You don’t really think that they aren’t giving the numbers to Joe Peng, who flips them for even more profit on tbm? Also we can all recall our wonderful hacking days together in cancer ward as doctors finally figure out what petrochemicals we were actually handling. Good times.

  9. I bought a variety of items at the market and found most of the items bought either didn’t work properly or fell apart. I tried to buy a SD card (all ‘namebrand’) but the 5 I tried from different vendors failed doing a format in my camera.
    Many of the vendors have a store front selling ‘good’ parts. But for the casual visitor with limited time, they’re hard to find with limited time and the language obstacle.
    The place is unique and geeky fun to visit. I’ll go back with a meter (as author suggested) and a eye loupe.

  10. i don’t think the usa has a laser power limitation of 500mW. there are many examples of online stores selling 1W lasers, so it seems unlikely to be illegal. don’t get me wrong – it’s not a toy.

    1. You can sell components to build a >500mW laser in the States legally, but in order to sell a fully assembled one, you need to have a bunch of safety features included like a keyed on/off switch, time delayed start up, etc. which my laser definitely doesn’t have.

      That being said, considering it’s totally legal to build your own >500mW laser, I don’t think there’s any problem with *owning* one, just *selling* one.

    2. The limit in the US for laser pointers is 5mW, however if they meet required safety standards, like the 5 point lock system, and are marketed as ‘handheld lasers’, I don’t believe there is an upper limit.

  11. The US power limit is for Laser POINTERS… there are things the mfr. can do to avoid it being called a pointer such as adding key switches and safety features…. Anyway, the US limit is 5mw.

  12. The parts this guy picked up seen to be much the same as the stuff on dealextreme or ebay.. the LED matrices are identical to some I picked up on ebay for pennies a while back.

    On Chinese sellers in general; I wouldn’t go buying large quantities of stuff from places like that (or online Chinese sellers on Alibaba etc) especially if I was developing a product for sale.. The Chinese have great prices for stuff that is usually good enough quality-wise but a lot of the sellers are fly by night operations and as soon as you get too comfortable they’ll start playing games.. don’t buy all of the parts you need in one go, make sure you get sample batches more than once. If they won’t let you buy samples it’s probably because the company won’t exist next week. They can be pretty abusive too. I put out a request for quotes on some parts yesterday and because I had located in Japan on the RFQ I got a ton of abusive emails from sellers demanding I give their islands back.. they still wanted to sell me the parts though!

  13. I was very disappointed in a similar building in Beijing. Hundreds of stores but they all get their items from a handful of distributors! It was the same stuff over and over again. Smaller centres in Kuala Lumpor, Bangkok, Chennai, Barcelona(!) etc. had more variety… not to mention Akihabura in Tokyo ( I. need. to. go. back. there!).

    I too found cheap in China means even cheaper quality… at least for shoes and jackets…

    Name brand electronics ( cameras, laptops ) are cheapest in Canada and the U.S. .. surprise.

  14. I went to the equivalent smaller market in Shanghai on Beijing road early this year. I bought the usual RGB LEDs, analog ICs, piezo elements… plus a few vintage items: nixie tubes and soviet-produced germanium transistors. I also bought a 20Mhz handheld oscilloscope for ~225 USD.

    Everything worked flawlessly without a single bad or fake part, although there was a scandal about a whole lot of fake Attiny MCUs a few days before I went there.

    I suggest going to the local hackerspace and making some friends first, they will suggest honest vendors (besides being awesome people). Also, if you look like a foreigner and don’t speak mandarin, some vendors will unload their defective stock on you at double the price locals pay for working parts.

    Go with a friend, bring or buy a multimeter to test, buy as much as possible at the same (preferably reputable) store to gain an edge in negotiating the price. You can find good quality and a good price if you shop around.

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