Random: Tech Shopping in Hong Kong – A Treasure Hunt?

When many people go overseas, one of the things they most look forward to is to do some shopping. I’m generally not like that – I absolutely abhor shopping. But there is one exception – tech shopping. This year, I’ve been to Hong Kong twice, and one of the things it is good for is to do some tech shopping. I’ll talk about where to go, give some tips, as well as show off some of the random bits that I managed to obtain.

The Pilgrimage to Sham Shui Po

For the best variety, biggest competition and best prices, there is no place better than Sham Shui Po. Accessible by the Tsuen Wan MTR Line as well as by a large number of buses, it houses several locations worth visiting for your tech needs.

Exit out of MTR Exit D2 at the corner of Fuk Wa St. and Kweilin St. and you will reach the almost famous Golden Computer Arcade. This is a place that every computer nerd and game console enthusiast would want to visit.

Inside the centre are two floors of individual stores doing business in close-proximity, ensuring competitive prices and a wide variety of products. However, beware that Hong Kong-ers don’t like to open up early, so if you come too early (say, before about 11am), then you will be greeted with closed shutters (as above). Note that some stores have stated opening times, but they’re also taken pretty loosely, so don’t expect them to open when they say they will!

Most of the stores deal in brand new products, with only a few shops offering services and second hand products. It is the ideal place to go if you’re wanting to buy a new computer or upgrade parts, but beware – Hong Kong still very much prefers cash, and you can often get a better “cash only” price if you dare to ask.

Since I was mulling over whether to get a new workstation or not, I decided to do a little homework and take the Australian prices, subtract GST and perform the currency conversion (roughly HK$6 = AU$1). Unfortunately, for most parts for my new build, the price in Hong Kong would be slightly more expensive, I’d have to carry it home and forego the warranty, so I decided against it. For the parts that were cheaper (mainly, the RAM), sadly, they were out of stock so it couldn’t be helped.

But that’s not to say I didn’t have a good time walking around, comparing prices and buying a few things. It’s a good place to pick up a decent microSD card at a good price, as well as charging cables. Rarely will you have any counterfeit products being sold here.

Once you’re done, walk around the outside, where there are some assorted shops at street level for camera buffs. Continue along to the corner of Un Chau St. and Yen Chow St. to meet New Capital Computer Centre. I didn’t even know about this place until discovering it by accident on walking around the area for an entirely different reason.

New Capital is a completely different kind of computer shopping centre. With three floors, it’s filled with a mixture of shops, mostly specializing in the second-hand market. It seems like this may be where a lot of ex-business and e-waste recycling machines end up. The prices are surprising – even above, the cash price for the HP 6300 SFF with a 3rd-generation i5, 8Gb RAM, 500GB HDD, DVD-RW drive and Windows 7 Pro 64-bit is AU$350. The Lenovo E8400-based ThinkCentre goes for under AU$85. Quite reasonable prices, but you wouldn’t buy one to take home because they weigh a proverbial tonne!

Instead, this is your mecca if you’re interested in old stuff. It’s almost a bit of a computer museum – where else might you come across a good-looking Macintosh PowerBook 170?

The Mac Classic and Colour Classic are machines I haven’t seen since I was in primary school, and yet, they look pretty good sitting on a shelf here.

You can also catch a glimpse of the all-important ST-506 that was the first mainstream hard drive from Seagate, and the ST-412 that came soon after.

Gloriously large Intel Pentium Pro CPUs (complete with a decent amount of gold), old RAM and CPUs are still for sale. RAMBUS can be seen in the background, whereas registered DDR2 in the foreground and even a 5Gb Seagate ST1 CF MicroDrive. It was utterly amazing to see all these old tech products around.

Walk a little further, and you’ll find old tape drives – surely these will come to save someone’s bacon one day.

There are also earlier networking equipment, as well as an ill-fated iomega zipCD 650 external CD-RW drive.

I also spotted a boxed copy of Windows Me, Chinese edition, and a few old Cisco routers and wireless gateways. The box on top may well be a dial-up modem capable gateway with a serial port to provide a “failover” WAN link. The drive below the stack, however, is a Phase Change Dual drive compatible with PD-ROMs. Can you feel the excitement? Oh how I wished the shop was open, so I could ask how much it was for sale for.

There are also some other shops, selling products which look almost-as-if-new. Instead, these are semi-professional pull-operations which take OEM products from recycled computers, test and repackage for sale. As a result, some lesser-seen odd-ball drives can be seen – a 2.5Gb Green drive didn’t ever sell on the open market from memory, and a look-up of the serial number seems to be invalid even though the drive has an “obvious” WD body and is not a fake.

Shopping at New Capital is not for the inexperienced. If you’re after something in particular, you’ll probably pay too much for it. Many items have no prices at shops, and they operate almost like a car-wrecker dealer where parts are “as is”, untested, chucked into piles and the prices are “as they say”, so don’t be afraid to haggle. Almost universally, it’s cash only, but if you’re not after anything in particular, you might come away with a lot of nice retro-goodies.

If computer stuff is not your style, there’s a large variety of electronics on the other side of the station at Apliu St. (Exit C2 of Sham Shui Po station). This street has many stalls on the sides selling electronics items, new and old. This ranges from cheap novelties, to batteries, remote controls, second-hand test equipment, scrap Hi-Fi equipment, LED globes and torches, plumbing fittings, watches, souvenirs, components, etc. Some of the gear are “reclaimed” from waste, and are “recycled”. Behind the stalls are more traditional shops selling new AV equipment, camera gear, LED torches, hardware, SIM cards etc. However, it’s best to have a cautious eye as many counterfeit products from China often get sold here. I saw some impossible non-Xiaomi power banks sporting the Mi logo, and fake Li-Ion batteries that were way too light. If you’re somewhat technically inclined, you could buy genuine by spotting the obvious “too cheap” offers and atypical packaging.

If you come too early, you’ll find the streets are somewhat empty. Instead, you might only see a few store owners setting up … along with a little bit of help …

This place is best left to the afternoon for a visit.

When it’s busy, it bustles with action. It’s a bit of a market-style shop where things are laid out in close proximity, hoping to catch your eye. Unfortunately, some things might not have sold for years, so … you never quite know if those batteries you buy are already dead or not. And yes, there are some counterfeit Panasonic cells too – I saw them with my own eyes. It’s amazing that carbon-zinc style cells still live on, in so many varieties.

It’s also bright and flashy with a lot of LED stores, although I didn’t sample any of their products.

Of interest is the wide amount of lighting technologies that still persist in Hong Kong – PL fluorescents never took off in the home in Australia, and yet, they’re widely available in Hong Kong. Fascinating.

Other Places to Visit

Say you can’t make it to Sham Shui Po, where else is worth a visit? One of the places is Mong Kok Computer Centre, which is nearest Exit E2 of Mong Kok station. This is a smaller center, and sadly the variety and prices are not as competitive as Golden, so expect to pay more. The positive side of it is that it’s not far from Hollywood Shopping Centre, so you can pay Mi Home a visit too for Xiaomi goods. As it turns out, Xiaomi also opened a second store in Causeway Bay at Hang Lung Centre, so you can go there too.

Another popular place is the Wan Chai Computer Centre which is closest to exit A4 of Wan Chai station, but it too suffers the same issues with competition and pricing. I did visit it as well, and it was under some renovations at the time making it a little inconvenient to get around.

Of course, if you’re just a normal shopper, there’s always the local Broadway or Fortress, which are practically everywhere, but not particularly competitive on price or variety. I don’t even bother visiting them anyway.

The Treasure Haul

What follows is most of what I managed to take home, although a few items will be reserved for their own posting in the future. Regardless, I’m pretty pleased with the haul – I didn’t spend too much on it either.

We kick off with not one but two iomega Jaz 1Gb internal drives. This was a bit of an interesting buy, as I saw them sitting in a window at a vendor and asked him how much he wanted for it.

At first, he was taken aback and said “Well, these are Jaz drives you know? You’ll need Jaz cartridges to use them!” to which I replied, “Yes, of course. I know.” Then he continued with “But you’ll also need SCSI to use them …” to which I replied “I have that.” Obviously somewhat confused, he told me I could get one for HK$200 (or about AU$34). I told him I’d have to think about it … and so I left.

A day later, I came back. I asked him again about buying the drives, and I said that I would be taking them back with me to Australia so I needed an assurance they would function. He couldn’t guarantee it … so he said I could take two of the four at my choice for the same price. I was sold. So that’s how I ended up with two Jaz drives. Of the whole lot, I chose the youngest ones, made in 1997. It’s interesting how they’ve been kept well for all of 20 years … and in the end, sold to me at just AU$34 for the pair. That would never happen on eBay.

Unfortunately, as they’re put together with a tape sealing the edge, I can’t take it apart without risking at least some damage to the tape. So thus they will sit with me, until I have a need to use them. They did come with 3.5″ to 5.25″ adapter caddies, but due to weight reasons, I disassembled them and disposed of them in Hong Kong.

The next haul item was an LG GGW-H20L, specifically an OEM version drive. Why would I opt to buy a second-hand pull 6x Blu-Ray writer drive? The reason is that I already have two retail versions of the H20L, and they are one of the only SuperMultiBlue drives which read HD-DVD. If you still have HD-DVD and want to rip them, your options for drives are relatively limited. So to have one of these with their unique features was a bonus – and it was sold to me for HK$220 or about AU$37. By comparison, fairly fresh pull DVD-RW drives go for about HK$30 or AU$5. Who said optical drives are expensive?

The next buy was actually a pair of HP NC360T dual-gigabit PCIe NICs. These use an Intel chipset and have been quite reliable – best of all, they’re also cheap even if they’re not the latest and greatest. It’s quite common for the “better” pulled cards to be individually wrapped and hung in cello bags (no ESD precautions here) and priced “competitively”.

This had been marked down from HK$180 to HK$120, so about AU$20 for a decent dual-gigabit card is hard to turn down.

This one didn’t quite make it intact – a ceramic capacitor got knocked off in transit, but luckily saved by the cello bag.

As it turns out, C200 was the culprit (top right), so I fired up the soldering iron, and soldered the non-chipped side of the ends onto the board. The capacitor tested okay, so I suppose it’s good enough to go back into service. I gave C245 a touch-up as well.

The heatsink suggests it’s an older generation controller which might put out some heat, but that’s no big issue for most.

The above items are most of the “nice” items I managed to purchase. The items below come from the bargain bins, sometimes more akin to garbage bins, where absolutely nothing is guaranteed and what you see is what you get. No ESD precautions, cards stacked haphazardly and larger components getting knocked around is the expectation. On the upside, they’re normally priced at HK$10 per card, or about AU$1.70, but sometimes with a discount – six cards for the price of five. They really want to move them … so I helped them out.

The first item is a Zoltrix Phantom FM-1789 PCI Modem with a PCtel PCT789T chipset and all-silicon DAA dating from Week 51 of 1998. This is not one I have previously featured, so I was quite excited about it.

It featured some taller jacks, so the PCI bracket is only supported on one edge and has warped over time. Interestingly, Zoltrix still exists, but they’re not quite the same company they once were. I tried this out on a Windows XP machine with the WHQL driver only to have it freeze up and then fail to respond. Trying it using the driver packages I could find online resulted in Code 10. I tried Windows 98SE but even with an older driver, it was too interested in creating resource conflicts and never managed to run. I suspect its PCI configuration is really messed up. What a shame.

The second modem was an Ambient Technologies MD5628D-L-C based modem, with a traditional relay-and-transformer based line interface. The card has CPCMOP9022-01 on it, and is dated Week 10 of 2002. The card did have some corrosion on the PCI connector which I sanded away, but worked absolutely fine with the drivers in Windows XP. It actually came up as an Intel modem, as Intel acquired Ambient. The calls it makes? Nothing unusual and identical to the Ambient/Intel HaM modems that I have otherwise used.

As there was a deal going on, I grabbed this ESS Teledrive from Practical World, named Thunder ESS. It is based around an ES2838S, which I have used before but couldn’t be bothered to check at the time. It has an FCC ID of H52PT-3523 suggesting it may be a Puretek product. This card is pretty grotty but also works just fine with absolutely no surprises.

Something that was abundant in the bargain bins is TV tuner cards of the analog variety. While Hong Kong still has analog transmissions, they won’t be around for long and don’t offer the high-definition of DMB-T. The over-representation of cards in the piles seems to suggest the media centre PC concept sold well in Hong Kong, as most of these are OEM cards. There probably wouldn’t be that much of use for a card with solely RF input, but I decided to grab it anyway as it seemed to have the most recent media chip – it’s NXP branded (not Philips) and BGA rather than leaded. This one recognized in Windows XP and installed drivers just fine, probably as it was an HP OEM card included in a good number of machines.

This card is older, an Asus TV7133/4 which was also OEM for HP. However, this card seems much more useful with composite and S-Video inputs. It doesn’t seem to deal with audio, as it passes it out via the CD-audio line. It does, however, have drivers that work under XP as well, so might do better than the rubbish USB capture cards that I have.

This Conexant/Brooktree BT878A-based card is OEM for Acer, and has a strange S-video and RF input with no composite input. This is a card very similar to the Lifeview Flyvideo TV tuner which was the first tuner I ever used in a PC, so I expected it to be supported but ironically, there were no drivers included in XP. At least, the card was detected.

Finally, I came across this SCSI card in the pile in rough shape, but thought I needed to buy it anyway in case it worked as a backup. In the worst case, I could still salvage the termination resistor packs.

Conclusion

I don’t like shopping, possibly with the exception of tech shopping, but even the thrill of buying new wears off especially if the prices at retail aren’t better than getting it at home or online. However, what I can’t get are good deals on older retro-tech, and it’s these strange loose ends that provide me much joy. Walking through some of the shops was like going to a computer museum, although sadly, some of the shops never seemed to be open when I visited. I could probably clear out the shop, given enough money and luggage allowance – so many things caught my eye, but I suppose it’s for my own good that I didn’t buy any more than I did …

About lui_gough

I’m a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!

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4 Responses to Random: Tech Shopping in Hong Kong – A Treasure Hunt?

  1. wd says:

    wow you haven’t censored 2.5gb (sic) disk’s serial number.

    • lui_gough says:

      Yes, Mr. Pedant with nothing better to do than to comment on my censorship of serial numbers is back. This was deliberate – as:
      1. I didn’t buy this drive
      2. It’s not going to cause me to get in trouble with local distributors or computer shops
      3. To show the strange situation where in HK, you do find lots of OEM pull gear where the serial number cannot be verified leading to uncertainty as to whether the items were stolen, fake, or otherwise relabelled/modified. It’s not far from Shenzhen, where these things are known to happen.

      If you didn’t already notice, I didn’t censor the MAC address on the network adapter either that I did buy either, so I’m glad you didn’t bring this up at all.

      – Gough

  2. sparcie says:

    Seeing retro gear being available is always nice, unfortunately I’m unlikely to ever visit Hong Kong. Did you see any more esoteric systems like a Sun SPARC, HP PA RISC or SGI machines?

    • lui_gough says:

      Sadly, I didn’t. I would have loved to see more of them, but alas, it seems they’re probably a bit too niche for them. Anything before the (roughly) mid-90’s was in very short supply, some are only for “window dressing” and are not intended to be sold, but more as a statement of the heritage of the shop. The “second hand market” resembles more of a dumping ground, and space in Hong Kong is always limited, so I was surprised to find some of the things I already did. Unfortunately, some of the even older stuff may well have been a victim of the “gold reclaimer” market.

      – Gough

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