Cheaper to buy computer parts when in Asia?

I’m thinking of upgrading my computer. I need some more RAM and a new battery. However, I’m thinking of holding off until I get to Taiwan in the Fall to do it. My girlfriend bought her iPod when she went home to Taipei last year, and it was about half the price of an iPod in France, and it had certain capabilities that I heard once are/were illegal in the US (she can put documents and pictures on it).

I’ve heard this from a lot of Chinese friends as well, but the conversation usually happens when we’re talking about MP3 players. I’m wondering if anyone knows if computer parts like RAM and batteries would be cheaper if I bought them in Taiwan. I know that most of my computer was made there, anyway.

Can’t speak for Taiwan, but in HK and China, RAM and parts are generally much cheaper. Not so sure about name-brand stuff, but no-name hardware is dirt cheap. That said, last year I got a (real) Pentax 5 megapixel camera in HK for less than $250, and the guy threw in a 1Gb memory card for free. In Shanghai they were selling memory cards in the street, for about $5 pre-bargaining.

Caveat emptor: with the paucity of IP rights in Asia, some of the namebrand stuff might not be what it says it is.

About Taiwan specifically, it depends. Sometimes upgrades are cheaper, sometimes not (depending on the manufacturer and the type of item you’re getting). The store also makes a big difference: Any store that looks halfway decent (by US standards) will almost always have high, near-or-at-retail prices. A lot of the computer stores there have merged into big electronic shopping malls over the past few years, increasing both their appearance and prices. Gentrification, I guess.

Is your girlfriend still there? You could have her check prices for you before you go.

Basically, the more generic something is, the bigger the difference you’ll see (compared to here). RAM is somewhat cheaper, cables are dirt cheap (none of that $30 Belkin crap), and software can often be cheaper. Compared to China, however, Taiwan is still relatively expensive.

On the other hand, non-generic things are often more expensive. Name-brand graphics cards (i.e. ATI and Nvidia-based) are about the same or more expensive, even though they’re often made there.

As for iPods, last I checked they were significantly more expensive there than in the US. Being an Apple product, the prices don’t seem to fluctuate all that much and you have to pay sales tax unless you can find a shady tax-dodging store – but that’s not entirely too difficult. You’ll also likely end up with Chinese documentation and software, if that matters to you. Add in the currency conversion rates and I dunno if you’ll be able to find a good deal there.

On the other hand, crappy generic MP3 players are a dime a dozen there.

And about your GF’s experience… that’s probably because France is more expensive, not because Taiwan is cheap. It’s not illegal to put pictures and documents on your iPod (at least not the latest ones). They’re intentionally designed to be usable as portable hard drives (you just click a checkbox in iTunes).

FYI, stores there usually don’t have return policies so you have be careful about your purchases. It’s also likely that the manufacturer warranties won’t carry over to the US.

And, technically, you are proposing to illegally smuggle these parts into the US, and not pay the required customs duties & import fees. (That’s one of the reasons they’re cheaper.)

Your chances of being caught at this are probably pretty small, but it is still legally (and possibly morally) wrong.

But what about the whole free trade thing? Aren’t import fees and customs duties a thing of the past? I know I’ve been taking stuff with me accross the U.S border without bothering to declare any of it. I think if it’s for his own personal use and not for resale, he should be ok.

As far as smuggling goes, (I am not familiar with the US) my basic rule of thumb is that anything that is obviously personal or used is fine, anything that is still in wrapper, or for computers, as base components, would probably attract the attention of customs.

We regularly go shopping in neighbouring countries, and just cut the price labels from all purchases - not that customs ever asks us, but if they did this - why no sir, I have had it for years, it is not new (on a day trip we are only allowed to bring goods to the value of $50 back with us - we ALWAYS exceed this)
Living in Singapore - white box / generics are super cheap, my most recent purchase was a 3.2 gig processor, 60 gig HDD, 1024 ram, DVD R / RW, 17" screen for SG$1200 (inlcuding XP home).

I have purchased HDD for less than SGD$100, 512 RAM modules around SGD$60 each.

If you go to older technology I have seen computers as cheap as $650, including CRT monitor, that can run office applications competently.

Here, you can buy the componetry and they will build it for you free (if buy all from the same store). Of course not getting the components you paid for is always a risk, but I did get a decent warranty THAT WORKED from one store (I went back three weeks later with a blown motherboard and they replaced it FOC)

If you really want good deals - shop where the locals shop, ask at your hotel where to go, or better still, find an internet cafe and ask the owner / clerk where they shop.