Computing in Southeast Asia

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First of all, a short introduction… I’m a 19 year old French computer
enthusiast living alternatively between Phuket, Thailand, and, for the past
five years Penang, Malaysia, where I was studying in a boarding school.
I’ve been in the region for almost ten years now, and this is where I learned
most of that I know about computing.

Allow me to show you through this article the state of computing in the region, the availability and relative
prices of products and services, and lastly, the hardships of overclocking
in this tropical paradise. By the way, sorry if this all sounds real boring,
but five years of writing an average of two essays a week leaves its mark on
you.

Computing took off real fast around here. In Malaysia, it started earlier,
as Intel and other companies began investing quite early, and the businesses
and population followed fast. As many of you know, a lot of Intel and AMD
chips are marked with the inscription MALAY.

Well, call me lucky or not, but every six weeks I had the pleasure of flying over the actual factories
that produce the chips we all love, as the industrial sector is right next
to the airport in Penang. With this level of investment, computing gained influence quickly,
especially in the more advanced areas such as Kuala Lumpur, the capital, and
Penang, the other major technological hub of the country.

In Thailand, though, the story’s a little different. Malaysia is a better
place for technological investments because of an already established base
and the development of the Multimedia Super Corridor, a quite incredible
project of creating a kind of Silicon Valley in Malaysia. Thailand, though,
is quite behind. The computing revolution started in Bangkok, the capital,
and has had a tough time spreading to other provinces until about three
years ago.

This is not to say that Thais are less computer-savvy
than Malaysians. It’s just that a lower percentage of the population is
computer literate at the moment. In the future, though, there are plans by a
Swedish company to turn Phuket into a major technological hub. Good
luck. They’re going to need to fix up a lot of the infrastructure,
especially the phone lines. But the potential is there; we already have some
fiber optic links between the main business town and the main tourist town
(where I happen to live).

Nonetheless, the last two-three years have literally seen an explosion of computer
usage in Phuket. This is probably linked to the fact that Internet access
has become a lot more affordable and fast (before that, you had to call the
ISP all the way to Bangkok, costing a whopping 18 Baht (about 75 cents at
the time) plus the ISP charges (not too sure what that cost at the time)).
So net access was only for the more fortunate and patient. Ordering and
installing phone lines was also a real pain.

Now, almost every single
little business on the island has an email address, most of them a site.
Today, the typical cost for a connection to the Internet is 3 Baht (7 cents)
per call to the ISP, plus an average of 20 Baht (46 cents) per hour of
connection. Relatively stable connections at 40Kbs can be
achieved, which is not too bad. Pretty expensive in comparison to the US or even France, but a
lot cheaper nonetheless.

In Malaysia, instead of paying a flat rate for the phone call, it is billed 30
sen (7 cents) per minute, while the ISP charge is fixed at 50 Ringgit
(US$13) per month. I’m not 100% sure on those Malaysian charges as it may
have changed since then, and I am not too sure of the current exchange rate
for Malaysian currency. Connections are generally faster in Penang too. So
Phuket still has some way to go to catch up.

What about broadband connections, ISDN, cable and the like? Well, last that I heard, there is a
new, supposedly affordable ISDN@home solution in Malaysia. Phuket has ISDN,
(it’s a rip-off), and Bangkok has DSL, which is not too expensive, I think
it’s 2000 Baht (US$46) a month for the cheapest option.

As for computer shopping, if this were a competition, Penang would win flat
out. Excuse my language, but Phuket SUCKS BAD in terms of computer shops…
Want to have a laugh? Check out www.allforpc.com , it’s one of the most
advanced computer shops on the island. But don’t tell them I sent you, I
worked there for a while 😉 Play around with the currency calculator…
would you like a Pentium III 600 for US$290? Creative GeForce (not GeForce
2) Pro for about the same price?

Penang, on the other hand, is close to
heaven. Within walking distance from the school where I studied is a large
shopping mall, whose sixth floor seems to be completely devoted to computer
shops. They may not have the latest and greatest stuff, but it’s about 20%
to 50% cheaper than Phuket, and they can also order specific equipment from
the capital.

There’s even better, though: Pantip Plaza in Bangkok. Every time I go there (not too often), I
wish I had a lot more money. You can get almost EVERYTHING there, some of it
at a price, though. The whole commercial centre is devoted to computer
shops, everywhere you look. I could spend hours in there and not get bored.
On a side note, software piracy, in this part of the world, is pretty much
omnipresent. As Mr. Shato was saying in his depiction of Russian computing:

“No one will buy software. No one will buy games. A CD with Win2000,
Win98SE, Office97, Full Photoshop, and some other stuff will cost you about
$3 in Moscow. Come to the market and buy 10 CD’s with newest games, soft,
films etc. You will spend 30 bucks. (DVD a little extra, of course.)”

Well, it’s the same here, except it’s even cheaper! Penang has the lowest prices, CDs being
sold at a little less than US$2, whether they are games, programs,
hundreds-of-warez-on-a-CD, Video CDs, music, etc… Only DVDs are more
expensive too, as they only recently arrived. I remember, five years
ago, when CD drives became more affordable; CDs were being sold at more than
10 bucks apiece. But the absolute record goes to Playstation games in
Bangkok: 25 Baht apiece, that’s almost 60 cents!

I know, I know, piracy is bad, the developers don’t get their money, the CDs
might contain viruses (some do, unfortunately, but so far, only three out of
the maybe 400 CDs I have bought did). But I am not a completely unscrupulous
bastard! If I really like a game, Half Life for example, I’ll buy the real
one, give my contribution to the cool people who made the game!

What is it like to overclock here?
Well, easy it is not. First of all, the conditions are not favourable. It is
hot, right now we are in the cooler months, it is 1:45 am, and the outside
temperature is probably not much below 25C. Thus, the efficiency of heatsinks
and fans is reduced, making watercooling and peltiers a very attractive
solution. But besides being hot, it’s incredibly humid! 90% relative
humidity is not uncommon. It feels dry when it dips below 75%! So the key
word is insulate, insulate, insulate. Necessity is the mother of invention,
so I am creating a wood-based waterblock with a very good friend of mine
(more info on my site!).

Another disadvantage living here is that overclocking
“equipment” is not readily available off the shelf. I was surprised to see a
Golden Orb in Penang two weeks ago when I went to visit (and pick up my new
baby, a Celeron 600 running at 930MHz). I also saw a shop selling Peltiers.
Really weird, though, it was a serial Peltier assembly from Melcor, but the
shop owner had no idea of its characteristics. Sold for 175 Ringgit
(US$43).

Nor are there shops such as the Home Depot or
Radio Shack that I see so often referred in other peoples’ cool case
modification projects. Just standard electronics and woodworking tools. A
great many thanks goes to my old school Design Technology teacher who has
helped a lot to punch and grind and smooth holes in my case. Not easy to cut
a 80mm blowhole with a jigsaw, I can tell you that.

“Why don’t you buy stuff over the Internet, then?”, I can hear you ask.
First of all, let me laugh: Ha ha ha ha ha. Any idea how much that costs???
I’m very tempted to buy a Peltier, cold plate (good luck finding small
amounts of thick copper sheet) and mounting shim. Cost of the goods, about
US$40. Cost of shipping: US$24… And seeing as the US dollar is rising and
rising and rising (ten years ago, it was about 25 Baht per dollar, in 98,
during the economic crash, it went up to 50, then dropped to a low of 35ish.
Now, especially with the upcoming elections, the S with a stripe costs
around 43 Baht. So I’m patiently going to wait until it goes back down, and
order the stuff when the dollar has dropped below 40 Baht.

Email Thomas


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