Need to buy a laptop in China? Everything you need to know with as little geek-speak as possible.
This is a pretty long one so use the content table to jump around if you're in a hurry.
A couple of weeks ago I made the brave and perhaps foolish decision to buy an expensive laptop in Mainland China. What could go wrong?!
Why brave you say? After doing some quick searches online about purchasing electronics in China, I encountered a frightening number of results about fake electronics, poor build quality and being ripped off.
The overall tone of the opinions I came across was “avoid buying a computer in China at all costs unless absolutely unequivocally unavoidable.”
One individual even suggested that if you buy a PC or laptop in China, you should destroy it upon leaving the country to leave no trace. A bit extreme and paranoid if you ask me, someone give that man a tin foil hat!
As long as you install a fresh operating system onto your new notebook, I personally think there’s no risk of foul play…but more on that later.
Also, remember I said mainland China, so this does not include Hong Kong where people have more favourable things to say about buying electronics there (though fake goods are still not unheard of).
I’m a true tech geek at heart, I’ve built several computers in the past and made a number of repairs to laptops, so I like to think I know the majority of technical lingo. Due to my knowledge in this area, I decided to disregard the above “advice” and with my utmost due diligence, take the plunge and start looking for my ideal laptop.
Why Buy a Laptop in China?
To be honest, there are very few reasons or advantages to buying a notebook in China instead of your own country. Dodgy pirated software and the lack of manufacturers offering global warranties aside; in most cases you will not even save money (it may actually cost you more).
Having said that, if you just fancy upgrading your perfectly working laptop I’m not all doom and gloom like like others when it comes to buying in China.
Providing you have a tiny amount of technical know-how (spend half an hour watching some YouTube videos) then I really don’t see yourself as being at a huge disadvantage, it just will require a little more effort and attention to detail.
For many of us, buying a new laptop in China is more of a necessity over getting a new toy, or grabbing yourself a bargain to take back home.
If you’re living in China and your current laptop is on its way out, or even worse it’s already passed away, there’s not many alternatives to consider. If you’re lucky a friend or relative is coming to visit and they can buy it for you back home on your behalf, but this isn’t a likely scenario that can be applied to most people.
Where to Start?
First of all, you need to ask yourself what you want to use the new laptop for.
Knowing what you want is crucial, even more so if you plan to buy in a store. You should do a fair bit of work researching what system specifications you require based on your usage. The power you need and the price you have to pay will vary greatly depending on this.
For me, I wanted a laptop that wasn’t too heavy, had a decent build quality and had plenty of horse power under the hood to allow me to video edit and work in 3D applications.
However for most of you, a laptop that can make quick work of web browsing, office apps and watching movies is more common, with portability and battery life both highly desired traits.
Using my notebook as an example, after thorough research I worked out that I would want at least a quad core Intel CPU, more than 1 solid state hard drive (or the ability to upgrade to this myself), at least 16GB of RAM (or the ability to upgrade to this myself) and lastly a dedicated graphics card.
For an average user, the following specifications would offer good all round performance at a relatively low budget.
- 8GB RAM
- 4th/5th generation Intel i3 CPU
- SSD hard drive (size depending on usage)
- Dedicated graphics card not needed
Fortunately China has plenty of choices with these moderate level components.
Feel free to leave a comment or shoot me an email if you want some advice about laptops (I do enjoy to get my geek on occasionally).
The point here is that you don’t want to just be winging it when browsing online trying to decipher Chinese text, or being unknowingly suckered into paying a premium on an out-dated laptop by an extremely eager-to-close salesman.
Before you read on, you should know about software and operating systems in China...
A Word About Operating Systems
You know, that little thing that's needed for your laptop to be useable. Windows 7, Windows 8, and now Windows 10.
Unless you're a Chinese learner wanting the full immersive experience, then I recommend that with whatever laptop you choose, you ask that they do not include an operating system.
This is where a large number of people complained about laptops bought in China. The included software and operating system is in most cases pirated, with viruses and malware thrown in to boot. Not exactly ideal.
The best way to solve this is to buy a laptop without an operating system, then through the Microsoft online store, buy a legitimate copy of Windows and install it through a USB stick or DVD. The downside of this is that it requires at least temporary access to another PC/laptop if you want to do this as soon as you get your new machine.
This is a very easy procedure to do and it’s been made even more simple recently thanks to Microsoft providing a place to download Windows directly.
If in no way can you avoid having an OS installed on your new laptop, providing your copy of Windows is genuine (this may be tricky as previously mentioned) then you may be able to change the language of the OS from Chinese to English.
The Pro and Ultimate versions of Windows 7, 8 and presumably 10, all allow you to switch the language, while the Home Premium version unfortunately is restricted to the default language, which to my knowledge is the most common OS to be included. Bummer.
My Opinion on Laptop Specs in China
Fortunately there's not too much difference between laptops here and laptops back home, though there's a few things important to point out.
CPU (Central Processor Unit)
There are so many different CPUs to choose from, and in China's electronic stores I have noticed that many will keep around older models with older generations of processors, so you need to watch out here and be clear on what you want.
There are 2 main processor manufacturers, Intel and AMD. I’m personally a fan of Intel, as are the majority of PC/laptop owners if you are to go by sales, reviews and stock prices (AMD is in trouble at the time of writing this).
With Intel, the newest generation is generally always better.
Currently the 5th generation called Broadwell is the newest, which you’ll often see written as 第5代.
The new 6th generation of Intel processors known as Skylake are very close to being released. If you can hold out until then you definitely should, as there are significant new changes coming that may really appeal to you (such as wirelessly charging your Wi-Fi enabled devices).
Solid State Drives
If there was just one piece of advice you take from this entire article, it's this.
If you haven’t made the leap from a traditional mechanical hard drive to an SSD then you’re really are missing out.
In my opinion a solid state hard drive is an absolute requirement for a new laptop or computer to feature, regardless of what it will be used for.
Even taking your ancient computer or laptop and swapping in an SSD will give the poor old thing a new lease on life (consider trying this first if your laptop is dying from a faulty hard drive).
The trouble with buying a laptop in China is that you can be hard pressed to find one with an SSD inside, especially in your typical shopping mall store. I cannot stress how much more enjoyable it is to use a system with an SSD, everything just feels faster and you’ll never want to go back to those dark, dark times.
For those with some technical background, it’s not a difficult task to replace a mechanical disk with an SSD, but for a lot of people the thought of tearing apart and exposing the innards of their brand new laptop is terrifying. (Though for the braver souls you should take a look, it’s pretty simple!)
RAM seems to be one area where budget to mid level laptops do not differ from their foreign counterpart versions, however for higher end systems it seems a little harder to find many models with 16GB or more of system memory.
8GB is now the most common amount of RAM you’ll find in modern notebooks which is usually fine for the average user.
If you use your laptop a lot and like to multi-task (I’m looking at you guys and girls with 50 tabs open in Chrome/Firefox right now) then I’d be inclined to go for 16GB.
Anything over 16GB is generally a waste of money if you are not a content creator or streamer.
If you have plans in the future to edit videos on your laptop, it might be wise to find one that has an extra slot inside for another stick of RAM that you can add later (or take to a shop/knowledgeable friend to do for you).
If you have any questions about the above or another related laptop component query just leave a comment.
Now that's out the way...
Laptop Specific Vocabulary
Here's a list of laptop specific vocabulary you can use to write down and/or learn how to say exactly what you need for when the time comes to shop.
I highly encourage you to get the Zhongwen Firefox or Chrome plugin if you don't use it already. All Chinese learners should have this installed as it's a super useful tool to assist with reading Mandarin online.
Cores (no. of)
No. of slots
chā cáo shùliàng
Solid State Drive
Optical drive (e.g DVD)
Where to Buy?
Now you’ve decided what you want and how to read and speak this in Chinese, it’s time to choose whether you'd like to shop online or do it the old fashioned way.
For Apple fans that want a Mac/Macbook, it’s a pretty simple process and in fact if you are getting yourself a Macbook most of this article doesn’t apply to you.
Ordering online from the Apple official website is recommended, though in the bigger cities there are some official Apple stores too which is a bonus and pretty much the same as buying online.
(Reminder: Be absolutely sure the Apple store is official, or at least an officially approved reseller, if you’re not sure or can’t find out, buy online or elsewhere).
For the rest of us…
Just like back home, you can either choose to buy online or in a physical store. However in my opinion as a foreigner in China, making the purchase on the internet is the superior option, providing you shop on a well-established site.
This is for a number of reasons:
- Greater number of choices, easier to find exactly what you need.
- No discrimination based on your appearance
- A powerhouse like Amazon or Jd has a much less likely chance of closing or disappearing if you need to exercise your right to return faulty goods
- You can take your time
- no badgering store employee following you around
- Windows OS less likely to be included
- Competitive pricing with no bargaining required
- Fake goods or products not matching their advertised specifications less likely
You might say, “but I want to try it out before I buy it! “
Admittedly this is the biggest advantage buying from a shop has going for it.
If you insist on trying out the notebook before you buy, why not head to the stores and have a play with a bunch. Once you’ve found one that meets your requirements and that you like, head back home and look it up online for reviews and online pricing/details.
I’m not completely against buying from a physical store if your Mandarin is up to the task, or if you bring along a tech savvy Chinese speaking friend that knows the value of things and what to look out for.
What’s my gripe with the shops down the road?
I’ve seen a number of electronics stores that share a large space with other electronics providers, (often found on 1 or 2 floors in a multi-storey shopping mall).
To me this just doesn't seem so safe but I could be wrong, I’d be very weary of handing over a lot of my money to someone that might not be there 1,3 or 6 months down the line if something goes wrong.
I don’t have experiences with shopping for a laptop in a tier 1 city like Shanghai or Beijing, but a good tip would be to head to the laptop manufacturer’s website (providing you know which brand you want) and seeing if they have a list of authorised resellers.
For example, Gigabyte (a laptop brand) will show you a list and map view of both physical stores and online retailers that sell their hardware and notebooks..
The other thing some people may think is an advantage is the opportunity to bargain and haggle the price down. For me personally, this sounds terrible and if you’re recognisably not a local I can’t see how this can go in your favour when trying to negotiate. If you're a haggling master then give it a shot though!
Having freebies thrown in like a case and a mouse doesn’t really make up for the rest of the benefits that buying online brings with it.
I’ll give you some quick tips to buying on amazon.cn and jd.com, the two sites I’d highly recommend for buying expensive devices.
For both - always be cautious about who you are actually buying from. With Amazon you can check the reviews of the shop if it is not directly sold by Amazon, I would even go one step further and investigate if the store is an authorized reseller of the laptop brand you're checking out.
Buying a Laptop on Chinese Amazon
What’s great about Amazon is you can switch some of the site’s interface into English, which makes navigating around and the order process quite a lot simpler, though the categories in the left hand sidebar will remain in Chinese.
Another point to mention is that you can use credit and debit cards from your home country, which might be a deal breaker for those that don’t have a Chinese bank account or a trusted friend to help them make the purchase. (Ideally you want the payment in your name and from your account in the event that you need to return the laptop).
As you’d expect, Amazon.cn works in exactly the same way as you’re used to. There’s a wide selection of laptops available, with all the major manufacturers present, though Lenovo, Dell and Asus have the biggest selection at this time.
I did notice however there's a large amount of older models still for sale on Amazon, so check the manufacturer's site to know when it was released. Older as you'd expect is a bit cheaper, so weigh up if that saving is worth it for you.
If you know the exact model you are on the hunt for, searching for it first will likely work. Note that for a quite a number of laptops the model name/number may differ on a by-country basis, so do some Google searches if necessary.
If you aren't dead set on a certain notebook, a good way to start searching for a suitable laptop is to just throw into the search box a specific criteria you require, ideally the most important to you first, then add ’笔记本‘ after it.
More often than not, in the left side-bar you'll see categories to apply your general search to. If you see 笔记本电脑 you're good to go.
If that doesn't return the results you want, try another angle.
When I did this, fortunately for me it was easy as I just needed to search for a specific CPU I knew I wanted. 'i7-5700HQ'
Buying a Laptop on jd.com
jd.com, known as 京东 in Chinese, is a huge site that is in many respects similar to Amazon in the way it operates. The range of notebooks they have is impressive, probably outnumbering the international e-commerce giant.
Though before considering buying from here, you need to know that you probably need a Chinese ID card number to do so, which might rule out the viability of the site entirely if you do not have a friend to help.
I've seen this "cash on delivery" term thrown around a lot, but I have a feeling you still need to use a card/ID number to secure your purchase first, or in the event that you need a refund, they need a card to give back your money. I hope someone can set the record straight on that.
As I have not seen an option for paying by Visa/Mastercard, I assume this means a Chinese bank account and Chinese residence permit ID number is still required.
EDIT: I've read that foreigners can set up Alipay which would work on jd, though it seems like a very complicated process.
jd is definitely less "foreigner friendly" however it doesn't take long to get used to the interface as it's pretty intuitive.
Don't be fooled if you see an 'In English' version. This will take you to a site with far less choices and it presumably exists for buying from outside of China for international shipping.
So with this said, if you have a way to pay on here. Let's look at how to register.
How to Register on 京东
It's not too difficult to do. Click here to go to the registration page where you will be presented with following fields to fill in.
Do not bother with trying 'International Customers' tab, it's not the same site or products.
The way I browsed jd.com was by first searching for 笔记本. You'll then get something similar to the below (you'll need to click the 更多选项 button to expand the options to choose from)
You can see there's plenty of criteria that you can filter down the results to find what you want.
On a product page you'll see the below image near the top of the screen. Click the link in the bottom right hand corner to be taken to a full list of the product specifications.
This is where the vocabulary list I created will come in handy for online shoppers, though even without it doesn't take too much brain power to figure out what means what.
多少钱? (How Much Will it Cost?)
Like I said back in the early stages of this article (congrats for getting this far), laptop prices in China are roughly the same as back in the UK.
For American readers I'm afraid you're probably going to have to pay more than you would State side.
Let's compare a few models of laptops to get an idea of the prices. These are accurate on the date of 30th July 2015. Finding the exact matching product across the 3 countries was actually more difficult than I expected, so take these values with a pinch of salt.
(I am not recommending these laptops as I am not familiar with them, they are purely for a price comparison)
Dell XPS 13 (2015)
Macbook Pro (Highest specs)
I would suggest doing your own price comparison on the electronics you are eyeing up.
Laptop Brands in China
It’s always tricky publicly recommending a laptop brand or even an electronics brand to people.
For example I LOATHE Samsung phones, but I think their TVs are fantastic.
Basing personal experiences on an entire range of laptops is not exactly helpful, and no matter what the brand, there will always be negative reviews and unbelievable tales of nightmare experiences with a certain company.
If you have a mid to low budget, I would avoid Acer, but I’ve read good things about their higher end notebooks.
Lenovo is very popular in China, unsurprising considering it is a Chinese brand. There’s lots of positive words to be had about Lenovo outside of the country, though many Chinese people consider the brand to be low quality (maybe a case of the preconceived notion here that “foreign is always better”?)
If it means anything, my personal choices would be Asus, Dell, Gigabyte and Lenovo, however don’t blame me if you go for one of these brands and you encounter problems! There are just too many variables to consider, including just plain old bad luck. These are the four brands I have had experience with, and no problems as of yet.
Apple by many is believed to produce the most reliable notebooks and provide the best customer support, though I'm still skeptical that the extra cost of them is worth it (Apple stuff still breaks too).
One advantage going with 苹果 is the international warranty, definitely a big deal if you will return to your home country within a year (or up to 3 if you splash out on Apple Care+)
As previously mentioned I went with Gigabyte, a Taiwanese manufacturer. My machine comes with a 2 year global warranty as well, but I'm guessing if something goes wrong I'd need to spend a lot on shipping the thing off to them.
Got the Laptop. Now What?
Once you have the laptop in your hands, either after impatiently waiting for the delivery guy, or if you went against my advice and bought it there and then in the store, there's some things you need to do.
I would get these things done as soon as possible, as if there's something wrong the earlier you return the easier and less hassle it will be.
Before tearing into the packaging like a rabid animal be mindful that there's a small chance you'll need to send/take it back, so go easy and don't throw anything away.
Check there's no exterior damage and if the box is super banged up after it has been delivered I would consider sending it back immediately (generally this is rare as laptops are packaged rather well these days).
Also check if there's a serial number or warranty number on the laptop and/or box somewhere. This may be a red flag if there is no sign of one. Research your brand and model online before panicking.
If the laptop looks in good shape (as in, looks brand new), I would turn it on first. If there's no OS that doesn't matter as it should still show signs of life when booting.
Turns on? Great! That's the hardest part over.
This is where I installed my new GENUINE copy of Windows 8.1. I turned off my machine and put in the USB stick, and rebooted. The install went smoothly and I was up and running in about 10 minutes.
You may need to go into the BIOS to enable booting from USB/DVD rather than the hard drive, if you're not sure how to do this have a Google, it's very simple but will depend on your manufacturer.
The last thing to do outside of having a play and seeing if anything strange happens, is to go into your system properties to check the specs of your laptop are exactly as described. If they're not I would send it back asap (unless your specs are better than advertised. Rare but it happens!)
The Device Manager in the control panel will show you all the components installed.
A lot of brands suggest or even require you to register your new PC to validate your warranty. Check the company's website for steps on how to do this.
So that just about covers everything I can think of.
To summarize, and to give some sort of action plan if you didn't start your laptop searching journey yet.
- RESEARCH! Decide what you need, investigate specs and possible models
- Operating System: Figure out how you intend to put a new OS onto your new system
- VOCABULARY: Master the words to make searching easier
- SHOP: Online or in-store? Weigh up the pros and cons
- ONLINE: Browse Amazon and JD
- IN-STORE: Be extra prepared, look in more than 1 shop
- BUY: Once your sure, pull the trigger and keep your fingers crossed
- On Arrival: Check everything works and is as advertised
- Warranty: Register on company website if required to
I can't imagine this article being of interest to a large audience, so I hope this at least proves useful to the 5 odd people that actually read from start to finish!
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