How to (More) Easily Source Hardware Locally

Jul. 17, 2022 [technology] [guides]

One thing to bolster your independence is being able to source goods locally. And while that is generally easier to do with things like food or furniture, digital electronics can be exceedingly difficult to find manufactured nearer to home. So much has been centralized around eastern/southeastern Asia, and specifically China. And even if you don’t care about geopolitical implications, I want to share how one can (more) easily find things made outside of China.

I’m no fan of government regulation, but sometimes they produce something useful. For the purposes of equipment procurement within institutions, they have devised the TAA (Trade Agreements Act) designation which restricts the conditions under which a good can be manufactured. (Go ahead and get your laughter out of the way, I know, I know… an anarchist that actually promotes something governmental. Hey, I can also appreciate when they ban billboards too). Generally, this means a product must be entirely made, or at least “substantially transformed”, within the US or a US designated country. Naturally, this excludes non-alinged countries like China. Despite being designed for institutional use, TAA compliance can also be useful to individuals looking for electronic goods.

Some online storefronts allow you to search by TAA compliance. It will skew things toward enterprise class hardware, but I actually find enterprise to be of better quality anyway. I have been able to source peripherals, power delivery equipment, storage, motherboards and more in this way. Many are made in Mexico, the US itself, or some other country which sits a bit closer to home. Obviously, this only really works for anyone residing in the West. Non-westerners, YMMV.

Or, if one can’t find something new made *locally, one can always turn to electronics recycling. I have always advocated for rescuing hold hardware from landfills, see The Myth of Obsolete Hardware. The monetary value of such a purchase does not find it’s way directly to China, and there are more resellers to be found nearby than with even the newly made parts. Reconditioned computers also benefit from survivor bias, the tendency for well made hardware to withstand use and abuse, so you know what you’re getting ahead of time.

Maybe one day it will become cheap enough to feasibly make computer components in one’s own home with advancements in 3D printing, or perhaps even DIY basement lithography. Until then, I’ll be leveraging the above options.

*locally, as in the extent possible considering the high costs and effort involved in semiconductor & PCB manufacture