Musing #44: Shipping from US to India (eBay GEB, Amazon, HopShopGo)


Despite rampant globalisation, there are always a few things that are seemingly out of reach. On the flip side, you can almost get anything you want if you are prepared to the pay the price for it. Custom duties make importing a financially challenging decision, perhaps rightly so, and hence there must be a need rather than a want for those items. However, as human nature goes, it is always the latter and that is mostly the case with me as well.

I am of course not new to importing items that I deem to be worth their price. However, importing anything was not under consideration until eBay launched its Global Easy Buy service in India several years ago. Since Flipkart or Amazon were not in vogue or even existence back then, this service was quite useful in getting hands on some products that are easily available today. However, the major international reseller on eBay, i2cworld_inc is extremely unreliable as their order acceptance rate is around 1 out of 5. Most of the times, the excuse is that the item is unavailable with major retailers when in fact it is listed on every major retailer's site. While I was able to use coupons with this service a couple of years ago, they no longer work with GEB products, even the ones issued by banks. There is no major appeal in using this service, though it is still useful for some items that are only listed on eBay.

The other major and extremely reliable option is to use Amazon. However, there are in fact two import services that are independent of each other. The major one is the International Shipping option offered directly by Amazon.com. The inventory of items is limited but is far greater than what is offered by the other service - the Global Store on Amazon.in. Also, the USD payment is usually cheaper on account of lower conversion rates offered by the credit card provider in comparison to what Amazon charges. The INR rates on the Amazon.in Global Store are on par with the Amazon converted ones and hence a bit more expensive. However, on the flip side, one can avail of the cashback offers that can make the INR purchases cheaper than the USD ones on Amazon.com.

Lastly, there are the forwarding services that allows one to purchase anything under the sun, at least as long as it is not perishable. I had registered on multiple sites but never used any of them since I never quite liked the uncertainty of not knowing how much I will end up paying. However, I finally bit the bullet a couple of weeks back and decided to have a go, if for nothing else than to take in the experience.

HopShopGo had a new user offer which included free Express shipping upgrade along with $10 and 20% off on shipping. I decided to go with two relatively lower priced products to check out whether consolidating packages results in any savings in comparison to other services. The finance didn't quite work out the way I had hoped as I barely ended up saving anything in comparison to purchasing from international resellers on Amazon or eBay. However, the HopShopGo service itself delivered as expected. I would sum up the experience using the following salient points:

1. The unique "c/o" identifier may not be included by the merchant shipping the product, in which case it is opened by HSG and you have to provide the tracking details to confirm the same.

2. If the product arrives without an attached invoice, then the onus falls on you to declare the value of the goods.

3. I had ordered 2 items weighing less than 150g each but HSG rounded each one to  0.5 kg resulting in a 1 kg shipping weight. No repack is allowed for such lightweight items.

4. On the other hand, DHL declared a total shipping weight of 0.45 kg, which means the added weight was to HSG's benefit.

5. When calculating the CIF (cost, insurance, fright) value, HSG used the shipping cost value exclusive of their discounts. Due to this, the CIF value ended up being more than twice the value of the goods.

6. The Indian customs added 10% customs duty on the CIF and then another 28% IGST on the cumulative value of CIF and Customs. ED and SHE cess, though not amounting to much, were added as well.

7. The biggest kicker is DHL's handling fee of ₹500 along with another 18% GST, even though they cleared my package together with 10 others.

Looking back at all the experiences, I would certainly say that Amazon's Global Shipping is the best option available, if you are indeed able to find what you need. Forwarding services hardly save much, though some benefit can be realised by combining packages and picking out the odd items that Amazon wouldn't ship. Anyway you cut it, there is no small price to pay for protectionism.

Tutorial #15: How to get official licenses (Windows/Office) for cheap


There was a time when piracy was considered to be a necessity. The unavailability of the software locally along with dollar pricing made it impossible for anyone to even contemplate purchasing the software. However, things have changed a lot since then. Local availability along with local pricing has made these products far more accessible.

But, and the big but, is affordability. The pricing is certainly competitive from a commercial perspective but personal users would still find the price prohibitive, especially when the usage is limited to writing personal documents and filing income tax returns. Piracy can't be condoned, so what other valid options are available?

By valid, I refer to the ability to download and register the software using official sources. I remember getting a Windows 8 license for less than $10 during its launch due to a Microsoft promotion and I wish they were generally generous in their pricing in developing countries. However, I presume Internet anonymity has made it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Hence, it becomes necessary to take recourse to other options. One of the most prominent ones is the Microsoft Software Swap Marketplace on Reddit, though there are other forums available. The prices are certainly competitive compared to retail pricing but still on the expensive side for those not dealing with USD as local currency. Hence, the best option is to head to good old ebay.com. The price fluctuates from seller to seller and availability is entirely dependent on timing. However, if you are in luck, then the prices range in low single digits, as far as USD is concerned. Local credit cards might not work directly with ebay.com but PayPal comes to the rescue. Do keep in mind to use your bank conversion since the fees are usually much less than PayPal's, the premium mostly being less than 5% depending on the size of the transaction. The proclamation is that these codes have been salvaged from scrapped machines and hence it is legitimate to resell the same. What I can confirm is that the codes work fine with office.com and are instantly redeemed along with the download links for any Microsoft account. Similarly, Windows activates just fine with the supplied key, if used with a fresh installation.

If you prefer Office 365 instead, then there are Educational subscriptions available that offer multiple year access for about the same price. This one certainly feels a bit dodgier because you are restricted to an academic email address being governed by administrators. However, it offers multiple installations and 1TB of SkyDrive space, though it is difficult to trust an address you are not entirely in control of.

Whatever be the case, there are certainly legitimate options available that if nothing else help protect from options that are untrustworthy and laden with malware, at a significantly affordable price.

Review #19: Zotac GTX 1060 Mini (6 GB)


This purchase was never on my radar until the day I made the purchase. My existing GPU - GTX 660 was serving me well enough for the few hours I spent every weekend on gaming. It is true that I was using Medium to High details on recent games and perhaps not hitting 60 FPS, but it was not that distractingly visible as compared to the experiences one had more than a decade back with an underpowered GPU. However, the 660 made the decision for me when it simply burnt out at the stroke of midnight on Independence Day (the irony!). It was strange to see burn marks on the PCB along with broken capacitors, but I wasn't too perturbed because I guess I secretly did want to upgrade. I have been sheepishly keeping an eye on the AMD RX480 and the Nvidia GTX 1060 since their launches, unable to convince myself to jump the fence, so the (un)timely demise of the GTX 660 wasn't much of a shock, especially as I was at the sweet 3-generation gap between GPU purchases.

When it came to deciding between the RX480 and GTX 1060, I feel that the only thing the RX480 really had going for it was the price which isn't a factor at all in India due to some absurd pricing. The RX 480 does seem to have better DX12 Async performance as per current benchmarks but it has a much higher power consumption and certainly runs hotter even as AMD has apparently fixed some issues using drivers. This was important for me as I have been using the same Corsair 450W power supply for 8 years now and was in no mood to change it. The GTX 1060 in fact has a lower TDP than the GTX 660, so I was in fact reducing my power consumption while getting much higher performance. Another thing AMD has going for it is CrossFire support but I never have and never will get a dual GPU setup. It is simply unrealistic to do so at this price point. Keeping objectivity aside, I must admit that I feel Nvidia is more invested in PC after losing out to AMD in the console arena. The driver support is much better and features like Ansel and Simultaneous Multi-Projection technology indicate that they are totally invested in PC. Also, I have borne allegiance to Nvidia for over 17 years now starting with the Riva TNT2 M64 and then subsequently moving on to FX 5200, 9600 GT, GTX 660 and now to GTX 1060. So perhaps, the decision was already made even before I started to make it.

Coming to the GPU itself, the form factor is indeed small compared to the GTX 660 I discarded. It has a single fan with a direct GPU contact aluminium heatsink which on the face of it seems to be a downgrade compared to the dual fans and copper cooling pipes I had on the GTX 660, though looks can be deceiving. On the flip side, it meant much better spacing in my cabinet which I hope will afford better ventilation throughout. It might seem illogical to go for the mini-ATX form factor with an ATX cabinet, but to be honest, I have been on the lookout for the cheapest GTX 1060 I could find and the Zotac Mini at about 3k less than the AMP edition filled the bill perfectly. Also, the 2 + 3 years warranty on registration is simply phenomenal and I can certainly have some peace of mind knowing that I am covered should anything go wrong like it did with my GTX 660. The packaging is barebone and comes with literally nothing, so make sure you already possess any screws needed for installation. It runs on a single 6-pin power connector, so almost any decent power supply unit should have you covered. The card itself has 1x DVI, 1xHDMI 2.0b port and 3x Display Port 1.4.
Since the package doesn't come with a disc, you have to rely on GeForce Experience for the drivers until which Windows shows something generic like 'Microsoft Display Device'. Zotac makes its own GPU tool called Firestorm and I decided to give it a go before trying out something else like MSI Afterburner. Firestorm seems to have the tools needed for some basic tweaking but doesn't look to be the most elegant. On idle, after installation, my GPU reported a temperature of 35 deg. Celsius with core clock speed of 139 Mhz and memory clock of 405 Mhz. The base (1506 Mhz), boost (1708 Mhz) and memory (2002 Mhz) frequencies are at reference values, so there is no overclocking out of the box, unlike the AMP edition. 
While I have no need to run benchmarks since I have nothing to compare against, I decided to give 3DMark a go to see how the combination of this GPU and my CPU (i5-3470) performs with respect to some review rigs running this GPU. The Graphics score of 13,123 for Firestorm - Performance compares favourably with the GTX 1060 Founder edition scores that can be found on the web. The Physics score of 6120 indicates that my CPU (i5-3470) may be the weak link in my setup. However, the combined score of 4592 is only about 2-3% lower than reviews with much beefier CPUs, so I wouldn't deem the CPU to be much of a bottleneck as far as gaming is concerned. Taking a quick peek at games, it was simply a pleasure to see the Geforce Experience optimisation turn up all the settings to 'Extra High' on MGSV: The Phantom Pain. I am one of those who has a huge backlog on Steam because of which I don't purchase any big ticket games on release, but there was no way I could resist not pre-ordering Deus Ex: Mankind Divided and am salivating at the prospect of maxing that one too using DX12. 
A key point of this card is the single fan setup, so it is imperative to keep an eye on the temperatures. I decided to stress test the GPU using FurMark to see how well it copes with the pressure. From an idle temperature of 35 deg. Celsius, the card hit 80 deg. shortly after 3 min, but thereafter it stayed stable at that temperature till the 5 minute mark when the fan was running at 72% of its max. speed. Interestingly, the core clock was constantly over 1800 MHz at full load which is higher than the stated boost frequency of 1708 MHz. A custom fan profile that bumps up the fan speed at higher temperatures ought to reduce the temperature compared to the "Auto" mode used by me and will mostly be essential on overclocking. As for me, I can't justify a need for overclocking at this moment considering that all my needs at 1080p are taken care of.
As you can tell, I am extremely pleased with this purchase. I think Nvidia has hit the nail on the head with the release of the GTX 1060. It felt great to be able to purchase it just a month after its global release, something that was unheard of when I made my GPU purchases in the past. The price may be a bit all over the place at the moment depending on the seller, but I got mine for a shade less than 20.4k through a local seller on eBay, taking advantage of eBay's high value 12% discount coupon. When you think over it, the premium paid with all the import duties isn't as obnoxious as it used to be in the past. Hence, I can heartily recommend this to anyone looking for a VR ready card that is going to max out absolutely anything at 1080p (and may be at 1440p) for years to come.

Update (Aug 29): I ran the DX: MD benchmark and it yielded the following results:

Very High preset (DX11): AVG: 45.1; MIN: 37.4; MAX: 57.4
Geforce Experience Optimal (DX11): AVG: 39; MIN: 30; MAX: 50

When compared to the results available online for a GTX 1080 with the same CPU, the 1060 offers 80% of the performance which is simply phenomenal. Also, for those interested in the temperatures, the card hit a maximum of 69 degree during the benchmark with the fan at 61%. Idle temperature was 34 deg. and the average was 49 deg.