Made In China = Bad?

Posted August 18, 2009 6:00 am by with 23 comments

For the observant, you’ll notice that a ton of computers are made in the nation of China these days. This is occurring so much that some people absolutely refuse to buy anything made from there, similar to the all-too-familiar MADE IN TAIWAN labels on so many products of the 1980s and 1990s.

On the computing front, many refer to Chinese-made computers as "those Foxconn-made pieces of sh*t".

The Mac mini, Macbook Air, Macbook, iMac and Macbook Pro are all manufactured in China. For those who have ever ordered one of the aforementioned direct from the Apple Store and had it shipped to you, you’ll notice the shipping process starts (the last I knew) from Shanghai.

The Dell mini 10v I just bought has a MADE IN CHINA sticker slapped on the back of it. Other Dell models follow suit.

It is totally possible (and this is a guess) that Dell and Apple PCs/laptops are manufactured right in the same city – and possibly even the same buildings.

Still think Apple-branded computers are better than Dell-branded now?

As to why so much of our computer stuff is made there, the answer is simple: Cost. It costs less to have electronics made there than in a Western nation (and yes, this also leads to serious e-waste problems in China).

The question however is this: Is a Chinese-manufactured computer "bad"? No, because it all boils down to design and manufacturing processes.

If a laptop has a bad design that’s been finalized and sent to production, the end result will be a crappy product no matter where it’s made.

Example 1: The Macbook (not the Macbook Pro). It is commonly called a Crackbook. Why? Because of a design flaw in the palm rest that literally causes the unit to crack even when just sitting there neatly on a table with it running – even if was never dropped, never abused, etc.

(Side note: Apple still sells this same model with the same design flaw. It can be fixed under warranty, but if your warranty runs out, you’re screwed.)

Example 2: The exploding batteries in Dell laptops that happened a few years ago which prompted a massive recall. It wasn’t the laptop that was the problem here, but guess where the battery was made?

Even with these examples, I don’t deem a product "bad" based on where it was made. I have owned several Chinese-made electronics products over the years. One company which I know has a major manufacturing plant in China that is Behringer – and I like Behringer products. A lot. That’s because they manufacture solid well-designed stuff.

If you’re going to blame anybody for poor quality computer stuff, blame the brand (like Apple, Dell and/or Foxconn). They don’t need to move their manufacturing facilities elsewhere, they just need to more thought into design for better electronics products.

What do you think?

Does the country of origin concerning where your computer stuff was made affect your purchasing decision?

23 responses to Made In China = Bad?

  1. namvijay August 18th, 2009 at 6:59 am

    I used to hate Chinese made products. But over the years and owning a couple of products only made me realise that the design is important rather than where it is manufactured.

    People might have this mindset that since the labour cost is low, the workers might not be skilled enough to produce quality products. It is more from the design and the good manufacturing process that a company has that makes a product good and bad.

    Good Article Rich!

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  2. Kazik August 18th, 2009 at 8:40 am

    On http://www.ProductFrom.com you can check the origin of products. For now there are informartions about 600 items, but hope that it will increase soon.

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  3. David M August 18th, 2009 at 10:52 am

    Agreed, its not where it is made, its how it is made.

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  4. Sharron Field August 18th, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Back in 2007/2008 there were Seagate hard drives manufactured in China, also pretty much the exact same models/designs were also manufactured in Taiwan: The taiwanese Seagate drives were always impeccable and up to Seagate’s usual quality standards. – However the Chinese Seagate drives were known among the white-box computer-builder crowd to fail regularly. As a result, Seagate became an avoided brand for a time, as there was no may of specifying to suppliers as to whether or not the product was manufactured in China.

    I am old enough to remember that in the 1970s (in the UK) everything electronic was made in Japan, and referred to as “Jap-crap”; so it appears that, other than the Seagate saga, and also anything similar, it just happens that anywhere that becomes a huge manufacturing base gets a bad reputation for some reason. (I’m looking right now at a faulty Sanyo colour TV set made in the 1970s in Japan that I used right up until last year when it went wrong. To my mind it’s too old to bother trying to fix; I just never got round to dumping it.)

    They still throw phrases around such as “They don’t make things like they used to.” and “You can’t beat the good old British engineering: When things were made in England they were made to last!” Around 60 or so years ago when many appliances were manufactured totally in Britain they were indeed extremely solid and, to the greatest extent possible, designed to last as long as possible: However they used up a lot of material resources by being so well made. They commonly finished their working life through electrical failure; otherwise they’d possibly still be fairly solid today. It’s a wonder these things didn’t get called “Brit-shit”.

    That was right at the start of the consumer-led society though, when material resources appeared to be infinite, and no economy was in place for the purposes of any conservation of any kind. Things have changed these days: We buy a product, either it breaks down or we get fed up with it, and we buy a new one. In those days I was talking about earlier, products were bought for life; either the life of the product or the life of the owner, whichever was shortest.

    - Which begs the question: Which is better economics: – Cheaply-made products with short-lives using less resources, which get thrown away when they’re no longer of any use. – Or top-quality built-to-last products using up the planet’s resources faster and more heavily, to be thrown away when they’re no longer of use? It all seems much of a muchness to me. What do you think? Opinions, anyone?

    (That comment was so big it was almost a blog-post’s worth.)

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    • David M August 19th, 2009 at 4:52 pm

      The first thing that came to mind were MG’s and electronics made by Lucas. You guys make great music though! :D

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    • David M August 19th, 2009 at 4:54 pm

      The first thing that came to mind were MG’s and automotive electronics made by Lucas. You guys make great music though! :D

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  5. Kazik August 18th, 2009 at 4:13 pm

    “[...] which get thrown away when they’re no longer of any use.” Thrown away? Thrown – yes, but not away. I think recycling is a key to keeping planet resources. Cheap and one-time-used products also contains valuable materials, which can and should be remanufacured.
    Another question is a speed of technological progress. 18 months ago I’ve bougt very beautiful and up-to-date LCD TV. I don’t know how many years it will work, but there is no doubt that in 2-3 years it will be outdated (and ugly too?).
    In my opinion in popular products there is no alternative for cheapness and “throwawayess”. Good or bad news? I don’t know.

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  6. Michael August 18th, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    When transferring mfg operations, usually there is an initial drop in product quality even for mature products due to process and materials failures.
    The more the process is skill dependent, the greater is the initial drop. On the materials side, improper local sourcing and qualification impacts both process quality and product reliability.
    Such a cycle is quite normal across all companies and the better ones prepare themselves better and recovers faster so as not to do long term damage to their reputation. Anyway our memory is pretty short and past mistakes are forgotten when it comes to good deals (low cost, rich features, improved quality).

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  7. Vic August 19th, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    I’ve lived in China, had goods made there and elsewhere and my wife’s company makes products there. There isn’t much difference between products made here or there, the main issue is quality control. Because of the intense pressure foreign companies put on Chinese manufacturers, it is not infrequent for them to subcontract elements of the manufacturing process which sometimes lead to quality failures. Also, without strict quality controls in place, it is fairly common to get original batches of products of good quality then find that the quality drops as processes or materials are altered to help the manufacturer increase his profit margin.
    However, everywhere in the world -China is no exception- there are well known high quality manufacturers and poor quality manufacturers and finding the right one at the right price point is a job in itself.
    From my experience, China will be the world’s manufacturer of high volume products (regardless of profit margin), smaller developing countries will manufacture high and mid volume products with low to mid profit margins while developped countries will manufacture low and mid volume products at mid to high profit margins.

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  8. David M August 19th, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    In my own experience products coming from China are gradually getting better. Maybe ten years ago, I frequently found myself saying, “they don’t quite get it”…when things did not work right or when something broke I now find myself saying this a lot less often.

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  9. David M August 19th, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    In my own experience products coming from China are gradually getting better. Maybe ten years ago, I frequently found myself saying, “they don’t quite get it”…when things did not work quite right or when something broke I now find myself saying this a lot less often.

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  10. Jase August 19th, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    EVERYTHING is made in china these days, good luck with living your life trying to avoid buying chinese made product, they’re also making things so you have to replace them rather than fix them if they break.

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  11. Dan August 19th, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    Whoa! Isn’t this the same nation that put poison in infant formula in order to save a penny?!?

    They have no scruples about cutting corners to save. Jase is right, good luck trying NOT to buy Chinese. But if we do collectively TRY, and selectively choose not to buy Chinese, then maybe there could be an impact.

    I agree that there are some good products coming from China…I own a wonderful Oppo upscaling DVD player which does a great job. But on the whole, their stuff is sub-par. I disagree that the design is wholly at fault. Manufacturing process and quality control is just as important (I have worked in manufacturing…quality can change from shift to shift).

    This is much bigger than a quality issue. The Chinese are eating American’s lunch (and Candians and the rest of the Western world’s). We are quickly becoming a service nation that will not survive…Without a healthy GNP we will lose!

    Yes, it costs a lot more to manufacture in the US, due to our lazy fat butts and the unions and outrageous executive pay. Thanks to McDonalds, Enron and BankAmerica & Lehman Bros.!

    Now that we are mired in a recession, now is definately the time to think when we purchase and TRY our best to NOT buy Chinese.

    The future we save is our childrens’. Otherwise we may as well start teaching Chinese language in schools in order to even try to survive in today’s global economy.

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    • Jim August 20th, 2009 at 9:44 pm

      Amen Dan !

      It’s about time someone spoke up for the good old US of A ! I had to read through almost all of Dave’s “replies” about how it’s “quality of product” and not “where it’s made” that counts before I found someone willing to tell it like it is….

      Maybe we should ask all those unfortunate people who have lost their jobs because their company no longer has any moral values and are “outsourceing” their products to China how THEY feel about “quality” and “where it’s made” !

      Todays corporations don’t outsource to China to benefit the consumer. They do it to line their fat pockets. America suffers as a result. Even Wal-mart puts the screws to the American public. They price their products from China just marginally below the competition and the rest of the “savings” go into the corporate coffers.

      By the time American’s wake up, it will probably be too late. China is doing more than “eating our lunch”. They are (sooner than you think) going to own this country.

      I agree that it is becoming more and more difficult to “buy American” but we all need to re-invest in our own country before it’s too late………..

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  12. Harsh Joshi August 21st, 2009 at 4:14 am

    Well, i somewhat seem to agree to what you say here. In India, there HAD BEEN a sudden flow of CHINESE manufactured electronics about 8-10 years ago. CD-Players, Fans, Toys, Torches………name it and you have it.
    These goods are still available in a huge amount in the local markets…. with some INDEX FINGER SIZED Torch-cum-Cigarette Lighter. Thats what these chinese goods are referred to as. And the cost, 10 INdian Rupees [About 2/9 of US$ as 1 $ = 45 INR]
    But what this abundance of goods has done is any and everything produced LOCALLY and CHEAPLY is sold off as CHINESE, even if it has been manufactured just in the workshop next street. Chinese goods, even if good, get a bad name due to these FORGED items.
    Bottom Line, A Bad product might be made in China…..but every Product manufactured there need not be BAD.

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  13. Greg Zeng August 21st, 2009 at 6:10 am

    All communists lack legal justice, human rights, and theft of non-communists (Nth Korea, China, etc. The legal things they do are the tip of the iceberg. My in-laws in China buy local products far inferior, very unsafe, than the few items that reach export quality.

    Ebay that I bought from Hong Kong retailers (made in Hong Kong) were cheap, fragile and easily broke. Famous brand-names that are sold on Hong Kong streets are generally forgeries, made in China.

    “Made in Taiwan”, Malaysia or Singapore are almost as good as the Japanese, made in Japan. When communist disappears there, perhaps they’ll emulate the USSR. On the secondary industries that used to be in the first world (UK, USA, CANADA, AUSTRALIA, NEW ZEALAND, EUROPE, etc) … the planet is moving into more refined industries eg Australia & Japanese ownership of USA’s mass media industries.

    India’s engineering efforts recognize this. The Chinese in Communist China are so corrupt and dumb, that they still kill the educated people (eg my grandfather & father-in-law). Her After 180 years living in Australia, they still have their very extensive secret police network spying on myself amd my families.

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  14. Saverio August 22nd, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    An excellent article. I totally agree: What counts is who designs and commissions the product, not who actually makes it. This is a very good example on how American corporations externalize their production cost, which obviously include waste, and in my opinion it’s criminal (by the way, thanks for the YouTube link). The link below gives a rather clear picture about the story of consumer products.
    http://www.storyofstuff.com/

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  15. DougSter August 22nd, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    Unfortunately, some brands end up with a bad rep based on only one marginal product. For example, we in the electronics repair trade often referred to Magnavox products as “Maggot Box” POSs, but many of their products were real tanks. My HVAC tech calls my Janitrol heatpump air/heat system a “Junkitrol”, but it’s worked perfectly for ten years.

    Let’s be careful about painting with the broad brush. I just retired a FoxConn motherboard that I simply thrashed in a testbed system and it always worked without a hiccup. Age just caught up with it (P4, AGP, etc.) as it will eventually catch up with me.

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  16. patkilby October 21st, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    When it comes to manufacturing, countries like China make inferior products. To be able to produce electronics cheaply they skimp on skilled labor, quality control processes, and fault tolerances. Most US manfacturing facilites operate within a 1/64″, while many Chinese parts loosely hold to 1/4″. If we knew more about the actual cost it took produce an inferior product just to save a couple hundred bucks would we feel less inclined to buy this garbage. We can’t afford to be ignorant when it comes to the human and enviromental cost.

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  17. Mayra November 2nd, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    I went into a website called my electronics or something like that. I found a macbook air for like $500USD, I want to know why? and is it safe to buy it from there?

    Also, they have a online chat technician and the person told me that the price is so low because the product was made in China. I kept asking questions like, does it have warranty? Will the language would be english? and all that…

    What do you all think??

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    • elcidi December 8th, 2009 at 1:51 am

      Mayra,
      the price for the Macbook Air is the same whether it is made in China or else where. I would think that most of the Macbook are made in China nowadays.

      So, the bargain is a scam I think. Please be careful, maybe the site is just trying to abuse you to get your credit card account, etc. Or maybe they sell second handed or refurbished one. As Far As I know, There are no Macbook Air for like $500.

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  18. Spies Inside Your Computer « Shay 2.0 February 10th, 2010 at 10:43 am

    [...] was just convicted this week – these things are happening.  Combine that with the fact that some of the most popular machines on the market today are all made in China, and you can see how this could [...]

        Reply

  19. Rahul March 26th, 2010 at 11:45 pm

    guys, china dosent care what the intellectuals have to say about their goods, if they sell they are good and if they dont they are bad, simple as that.
    from my past experience let me tell you the same product if made in the US, Malaysia, Korea lasts longer than in china

    and as a policy now i dont buy stuff made in china , but many a times i dont have a choice….

    its sad but lets pay a few bucks extra and send the chinese products back where they came from

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