The insatiable demand for microchips amid a global supply crunch of semiconductors is perhaps behind the following smuggling capers in China that just happened to catch our eye.
In one case, on June 16, customs officials noticed the driver of a truck on the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge was suspiciously shifty as his vehicle was searched. No dodgy goods were found in the truck itself, though after the driver was questioned and patted down, something felt odd about his body.
It turns out 256 Intel Core i7-10700 and Core i9-10900K processors said to be worth roughly 800,000 yuan or $123,000 were attached to his calves and around his torso. The chips were held there with cling film, according to Hong Kong hardware news site HKEPC this week.
Ten days later, 52 Intel chips were spotted in between the driver and front passenger’s seat in a truck traveling along the same route, PC Gamer noted. Also this week, Hong Kong customs said officers found “over 2,200 central processing units, over 1,000 computer RAM units, about 630 smartphones, and about 70 items of cosmetics, with a total estimated market value of about $4 million” hidden among electronics on a truck.
While we can imagine chips have been smuggled in and out of China long before the semiconductor drought, the high demand for parts may have convinced bootleggers to concentrate on bringing in processors and other hard-to-come-by components rather than their usual fare of gear.
Not all chips are scarce, however. GPUs are now easier to buy, thanks to Beijing’s ruling elite and its hard-line stance on crypto-coins. Cryptocurrency miners in China are getting rid of their graphics accelerators as the communist government continues to crack down on Bitcoin, Ethereum, and the like. Mining plants have been shut down across Sichuan, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang, at least, and the digital dosh has all but been banned. As such, there’s no need for miners to hang onto GPUs, and so they’re flooded onto the market.