Buying computer gear

Earlier this evening I ordered a new hard drive for my Mac, one which has approximately triple the storage space of the one in there at the moment (120 gigabytes instead of 40). The total cost was about £44, including VAT and the cost of delivery, and it should, insha Allah, be here by the middle of the week at the latest. The main reason I’ve done this isn’t that I’m running out of space, but that I intend to install another operating system (some version of Linux, probably Ubuntu) and there just isn’t enough space for both my Mac OS stuff and another operating system. I’m doing a bit of software development: a blog management system called QTM which primarily works on Linux, and I’d like to be able to use my main desktop machine rather than my laptop, and the old family computer (on which I’ve also installed Ubuntu) will, as of last week, no longer switch on.

The first place I went to look into getting a new hard drive was Tottenham Court Road, which is lined with electronics shops, mostly for some reason run by Asian people. I made a very rough estimate of the size of the drive I wanted, and was quoted about £60 by one shop. That was before I’d investigated what type of hard drive my system takes (ATA 100) and looked online - the first port of call being dabs.com, and when I looked there I was shocked to find how low the prices actually were. You can’t get hard drives less than 40Gb for a desktop machine nowadays (at least, not new), and they start around £25 for that amount of storage - though probably more in the shops.

As it turned out, buying a hard disk in the shops has become entirely unviable, because they all charge a huge amount - I am talking two figures here - over the online sellers, and their range is sometimes ridiculously limited as well. I checked out the new PC World store here in Kingston today, and not only did the staff not really know the difference between ATA 100, PATA and SATA, but their selection was pretty much all Samsung and a few Hitachi and took up just one shelving unit. And they told me that was all they had in stock, and the shop has been open for about a fortnight.

No doubt the small computer shops in the suburbs might have been able to quote me a better price than that - I really didn’t have the patience to wait and find out after trying to get information about hard drives from the staff of PC World in Kingston. But at this rate, with it being impossible to get a component for a decent price on the high street, one wonders how long there will be such shops on the high street, or even in the back streets (as PC World in Kingston is), and there is no reason for shops charging more than a third over the odds other than that rents are going through the roof. Walking down Tottenham Court Road recently I’ve noticed that a number of the shops are closing down, one of them (a furniture shop) going back to its warehouse, the staff telling me the reason is rising rents. The same thing has already happened in Charing Cross Road, driving out most of the old booksellers.

For components like hard drives, that’s not such a tragedy for the consumer, particularly if you can still buy in the shops if you really can’t wait. It is, of course, likely to lead to the market being “owned” by a handful of large “name” companies, like dabs.com from whom I eventually ordered my hard drive, which is the first name that came into my head, having had it suggested it to me years back (the equivalent of Amazon in the book market). But is that such a tragedy anyway, given that the alternative means going down Tottenham Court Road to shops run by people who speak limited English and offer you “discounts” which are still considerably greater than the prices charged online? Much as I hate the “clone town” scenario that the closure of independent shops and their replacement with chain stores and wine bars produces, I don’t find it sensible to pay £60 for a component which I can buy for £40, especially on my limited budget.

(Books, on the other hand, I still buy in shops, but then I can browse for ages in a shop, with some of them even letting customers read them from cover to cover in the cafe upstairs if they so wish. I have some loyalty towards these shops, especially those that sometimes give me a discount as I’m a regular. The shop whose attendant kicked me out for reading the books has not had my business since.)

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