Monday, March 15, 2010

Computers with Bogus Heart

Junior student Huang Jing of the Beijing Capital University of Economics and Business was released after spending 10 months in jail. Her crime then was complaining a buggy computer she bought from ASUS, a prominent computer maker. The computer kept crashing, and couldn't be fixed after repeated service requests. One of her tech savvy friend opened up the case, and noticed the CPU was an 'engineering edition'.

An engineering edition CPU is not meant to be installed in any computer, but used for testing purpose only. Many computer makers in China use these kind of CPU to lower cost. There are two channels an 'engineering edition' CPU can be acquired: Intel often gives some of these chips to computer manufactures before a production model is available so that the vendor can have something to test their motherboard and design. Each vendor usually receives a handful of engineering edition CPUs for each model they are going to build a computer upon. They are most likely used up during the designing and testing process. The second channel is through smuggling from overseas. For whatever motivation, humongous amount of CPU produced in the normal production phase but found to be defect were dumped into a junk market, marked as 'engineering edition' for testing purpose. Intel prohibit usage of such chips in any computer. However, there is no way to regulate where they will end up once they are released to the market. Many Chinese computer makers find these chips a great way to reduce cost, and use them primarily in domestic market where they are 'escorted (as in explicit written legal language)' by a strong pro-business justice system. A few years earlier, a consumer WANG Hong in Shijiazhuang complained a computer he bought from a domestic maker was 'as delicate as a cartoon of toufu'. The (Beijing) Haidian District Court fined him more than $40,000 on defamation (1999-MinChu3538).

In Huang Jing's case, the prosecutor changed their mind and released her after 10 months in jail. Huang also received $5,000 compensation from the government for her jail time. On the annual National Consumers' Day of March 15, 2010, her lawyer filed a complaint to the (Beijing) Xuanwu District Court, asking the court to find the 'national consumers association', a government agency, non-act in her case. Law suits against ASUS will be followed.

In the first ever Online Consumers' Rights survey last year, Huang's case was voted No. 1 in the country as the most severe offense to consumer's rights with 50,255 votes.

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