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Thread: Cheap China retro-computing knock-offs. Good or bad thing?

  1. #1
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    Default Cheap China retro-computing knock-offs. Good or bad thing?

    There's been some great work lately on retro computing projects meant to preserve and extend the life of existing retro-computing favorites as well as create some new ones. Most of the contributors have graciously open-sourced their hardware and software efforts for the betterment of the community. I'd like to thank James Pearce, Jeff Leyda, Eric Schlaepher, Scott Baker, Tomi Tilli, Sergey Malinov, John Monahan, Jon Chapman, Andrew Lynch, Michael McMaster, Alex Swedenberg, djos, and a lot of others for not getting paid for their work!

    But I've noticed a steady upward trend in clone cards on eBay for a great many things. First it was mostly XT-IDE clones, Amiga Vampire clones, and floppy emu clones.. then a lot of Serdashop's closed source projects like the Dreamblaster MIDI boards.. then a lot of Sergey's retro ISA boards and SBCs. Now more and more of James's and Michael's storage boards (Lo-Tech and SCSI2SD respectively) out-side of their approved distribution partners like Texelec, iTead, and Alex Perez. Eric's Snark Barkers are popping up from Russia. Alex's Hard MPUs from Portugal. And Monotech seems to be making a business out of it too in New Zealand.

    There's nothing necessarily wrong with building open-source hardware someone else designed - as long as you carry forward copyrights and attribution. Some do. Many don't. Is this trend a good or a bad thing? Does it dampen enthusiasm of potential creators? Does the lower price from SE-Asia translate into a much larger user base? Does that growth cause problems for the authors in support?

    I find it a double edged sword. I don't make any money off the jrIDE boards. I resell all materials at cost and charge $20 a board to put a kit together and test it. And I had to bulk-buy a lot of the parts like the un-obtainium side-car connectors. Frankly I wish a clone maker would do it for me. However I find myself currently unemployed and while I am eager to work, I am burning through severance looking for my next opportunity. So I'm deep diving into a project that will either produce one epic result or several small ones. I intend to fully open-source it. I also intend to complete the NetPI-IDE project - an ATA & XTA drive emulator using a Pi-zero that is already open-source, and the RGBI2USB capture project. However I would like to sell a few boards to earn a little bit of that time back spent on the initial IP investment before someone sells them for me without my permission.

    Curious on others' thoughts...
    "Good engineers keep thick authoritative books on their shelf. Not for their own reference, but to throw at people who ask stupid questions; hoping a small fragment of knowledge will osmotically transfer with each cranial impact." - Me

  2. #2
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    Perhaps part of it it is about advertising yourself sufficiently. For instance I have no idea what a jrIDE board is, presumably your product. There's no signature on your posts with a URL to your site, nor is there further info about jrIDE in your profile.
    Googling 'jrIDE board' I find two seperate sites, both describing and listing the boards for sale. They look the same, but are they? One is 'jrIDE' and the other 'jr-IDE'. Is there a github page for it? Probably, but you're having to make people actively look for all these things rather than just give them something to click through to.

  3. #3
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    It's pretty niche. It's for the PCjr:

    https://www.retrotronics.org/jride/

    But that wasn't my point.
    "Good engineers keep thick authoritative books on their shelf. Not for their own reference, but to throw at people who ask stupid questions; hoping a small fragment of knowledge will osmotically transfer with each cranial impact." - Me

  4. #4
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    The Chinese will clone anything for a buck, hobbyist cards or expensive commercial machines. They will also put their own brand on somebody elses work.

    If you just want to get a design out there for the community the best thing is for some Chinese outfit to clone your design and make it available cheap to anyone. People get paid pennies to solder parts onto boards in Asia.

    If you made something with the intent of making money then things are not so nice when somebody undercuts you. The best thing to do then is make a decent amount of boards and sell them before posting the open source docs that allow cloning. It takes time for somebody to find your product, clone it, and flood the market so you might have time to sell them off before the clones arrive on Ebay (assuming there is any demand).
    What I collect: 68K/Early PPC Mac, DOS/Win 3.1 era machines, Amiga/ST, C64/128
    Nubus/ISA/VLB/MCA/EISA cards of all types
    Boxed apps and games for the above systems
    Analog video capture cards/software and complete systems

  5. #5
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    I'm actually curious what is coming out that's a cheap chinese knockoff? Seems like every vintage retro thing I'm looking for, i find myself thinking 'gee, i sure wish that the chinese would mass produce this thing', but they never do. The only thing I've seen 'mass produced' are the Gotek drives. I actually wish I could have found some cheap XT-IDE cards, but all of them I saw listed, the cheapest was almost always Texelec. I ended up just getting some boards printed and doing it myself. I actually would like to get a floppy emu, but I personally haven't seen any that were really any cheaper than any other one... or maybe I just don't look in the right places.

    All that said, i've also seen clone type cards on ebay, but I just haven't seen them done by Chinese manufacturers.. they're usually just some small little one-man outfits (a lot of time in russia/european countries).
    -- Brian

    Systems: Amstad PCW 8256, Apple IIe/II+/Mac+/Mac 512k, Atari 800/520STFM, Commodore 64/Amiga 3000/PET 4032/SX-64, IBM PS/1 2121-B82, Kaypro II, Osborne 1, Tandy 1000 SX, TI-99/4A, TRS-80 Model 4 GA

  6. #6

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    I made some stuff available on OSHPark and no where else, and it turns up on ebay, so someone has pulled the gerbers, removed the opesource logo from the silk layer, printed their own pcbs and sell it on ebay for like 8$ (its a postage stamp size pcb thats meaningless). it was more an eye opener that someone did all that work for it and maybe sold 1.

    so not surprised that china pumps out all the stuffs.

  7. #7
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    I think the #1 problem with these knockoffs (and let's be absolutely clear here, when you take something and remove someone's name to put your own on, without giving any attribution, it is a knockoff) is that they are invariably of lesser quality than the originals. I've replaced many knockoff cards for folks, from all of the popular knockoff suppliers. In addition to wasting hobbyists' money, I think it probably helps give the impression that the original designs aren't reliable, when people don't know that they're buying a knockoff.

    The proliferation of knockoffs has gotten me out of selling XT-IDEs. I doubt any of the current knockoff folks are going to put real development effort into the design, though it *is* pretty stable at this point. I'm not running my XT-IDE CF mezzanine boards due to knockoffs, there's no way I'm investing in a run of 500 custom Keystone ISA brackets when someone is just going to undercut me with Chinesium garbage.

    I'm considering licensing everything under the Creative Commons from now on, share-alike, attribution, NON-COMMERCIAL. I know the knockoff folks will still ignore it, but at least then they're definitely in the legal wrong if they're trying to sell it to make money. I release projects as open source to the community because I think it's the right thing to do -- I've benefited greatly from open source hardware and software, and giving back is what I see as the best way to say "thank you" for that. I provide kits because I think it's fun and I want to get other people hacking on stuff, learning that they too can assemble things and get a reliable product out. But I can't afford to do runs of kits and then lose money when some knockoff person runs cheapest-possible boards and stuffs them with components of questionable origin. I can't and won't compete with that.

  8. #8

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    When they say "dog eat dog" they aren't kidding. Contrary to popular belief, at least in my own part of the world, it really is a cut-throat world out there. I'm sorry that Glitch is getting out of the business, and I would even suggest perhaps doing pre-pay, but who would wait for you to get pre-pays on the quantity that you need. The whole thing really is sour grapes and not to turn the thread into a political tirade but intellectual property respect is a big concern with a certain asian nation.
    Daniel P. Cayea - The Lyon Mountain Company - Plattsburgh, New York 12901
    Vintage Equipment: IBM 5150 * IBM 5161 * ThinkPad 770ED
    Modern Equipment: MacBook Pro 13 * Alienware M15R3

  9. #9
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    Ironically, the biggest three knockoff sellers at least for rev 4 XT-IDEs are *not* in China.

    I'm working with Henry Courbis (reactivemicro.com) to see if he wants to get going on XT-IDE stuff, the assembled boards won't be put together in the USA anymore but I trust Henry to keep the quality up.

    I will still keep doing kits for some of my other projects as long as I'm not losing money at it. I've got a real job that pays the bills, and there's overlap in inventory between my kit stuff and day-job work, so that does help keep the cost down on the kits. Maybe if I sent free stuff to YouTubers to buy some advertising share...

  10. #10

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    I guess the thing is to not make something that everyone wants, at least if you want to make a living. I'd hate to be in the position of making something that someone in China found lucrative. I'm now making my second PC design. The first was my 6532 to 6530 adapter for the KIM-1. There were a couple of others out there but they were not pleasing to me. I know Ruud made a large board design but it was not what I had in mind. I'm still expecting to put the design out there for anyone to copy but haven't taken the time. I made kits and sold 10. I found it interesting that of the 10 most found the problem with their KIM-1s was just bad RAM and not the 6530 chip. I think only one reported back that the 6530 was the real problem. Mine was the 6530 chip and a blown 6502. I probably should sell the diagnostic board separately as that is what most gotten use out of.
    There really isn't a big market for KIM-1 repair stuff.
    The board I'm working on now is even more of a restricted in use. It isn't even something that was ever sold ( at least not that I know of ). It was mainly to recover software that was written for the 4004. It was written by a couple students under Gary Kildall. They'd obviously made at least a prototype. I had to design my own board from scratch. I only had the software and a basic description of the unit. The 4004 was obsolete within just a couple years of it first being sold yet is was an inflection point in time, like the Apple-1 was. I'm not planning of making 10 of these as kits. It is a dedicated machine to be what was called a 'maneuver board' used for ship navigation. I have a run of 3 boards waiting to get fabbed, at OSHPark. It clearly isn't something that many would want to build. It would require one to get many expensive ICs that are rare and expensive collector items. It wouldn't be vary useful. After all, how may need to steer large ships with old 1970's electronics to miss other ships.
    For me it is bringing back that time when things were changing.
    In any case, I guess it is a mind set when going into making something. I think it is a mind set when starting such a project. I am lucky in that I also can make a living and get payed well. Most of it is being in the right location at the right time. Anything I do for my hobby is just extra.
    I know that anything that has a large market will find someone that can make it cheaper than I can. It is frustrating that such things go on. Still, I wonder how much those that are copying things like the XT-IDE cards are making. It is a limited market that gets smaller as time goes by. Glitch has done a fine job in creating something that is desired but maybe just a little too desired. I suspect, he like me started it because he wanted one.
    I was thinking, there was one other thing I started that I'm glad that someone made better the second time. I originally set out to make a hole punch for 10 hard sectored disk out of 360K disk. My original design was too expensive for the market as I thought it was (actually it wasn't ). The first run were not as good as I thought they'd be because they were redesigned to be in the price range I thought the market could take. Since then it was redesigned that seems to be better It was priced about the range it should have been in the first place. Still, it was for a market that is getting smaller with time. It did work though but tended to dull the punch because of slight misalignment.
    Dwight

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