I have designed a few boards on a consulting basis. Some of them have been manufactured in China in +10k unit volumes. One of the complains I have gotten from my clients is my boards can be a bit expensive. (These clients have no real experience with electronics, so I take it with a grain of salt). This is even after taking short cuts and "simplification". This made me consider, I have heard some ST parts, unbranded SMPS controllers etc. are dirt cheap in China.

When I put an 80 cent ATTiny micro-controller, or a TI LiPo charger on a board, even if it is one of the cheapest chips in its category on distributors like Digikey, is it still really cheap in China?

Short of having a relationship with local Chinese manufactures to ask what chips, capacitors, SMPS chips they commonly use, is there a better way to gauge true BOM cost once a board moves from engineering to mass production with respect to other options?

Any advice on how other small scale US designers handle this issue?

I should add, I'm not usually involved in the manufacturing, I just pass off a finished design to someone running a Kickstarter etc. Then called back when/if they have issues.

  • \$\begingroup\$ As an absolute certainty, with pretty much any part, it's possible to get a cheaper version out of China that is just fine, even possible to get the same part re-tagged. The problem lies in the ability to differentiate a "legit" knockoff from a repackaged or rebranded lesser part. Ultimately, developing a relationship with a few manufacturing houses might be your best plan. \$\endgroup\$
    – K H
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 0:16
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ If this question could be answered in 4-5 (or even 40-50) paragraphs, all our lives would be much easier. \$\endgroup\$
    – The Photon
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 0:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ My solution: look for a product space where $0.50 difference in BOM cost won't make or break the project. \$\endgroup\$
    – The Photon
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 0:18
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ We stopped buying Chinese made polypropylene capacitors and went back to a bit more expensive Panasonic brand. The Chinese versions did not seal properly at the miniscus so they oxidized within 6 months of shipping products made with them. Returns showed capacitors were down to 1% of their normal value. Just a heads up. \$\endgroup\$
    – user105652
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 0:20
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ If your customers ask specifically why you aren't trying to work in cheaper, unverifiable parts, explain MTBF to them and how hard it is to predict when all you have is your own measurements of the part. What you want to do is far from impossible, but may require more interaction between you and some manufacturers, and really doing things well may require the involvement of someone who speaks Chinese. If you order some small electronics things from aliexpress you will find that some of them have excellent manufacturing quality with mysteriously small prices. Have to buy it to find out =P. \$\endgroup\$
    – K H
    Commented Jan 4, 2019 at 0:25

1 Answer 1


All depends what kind of quality you want.

I'm doing assembly in China for about 10 years.

The truth is China doesn't really have a silicon industry in the likes of the US or Japan so finding chip equivalent with equivalent performance is gonna be a hard time.

You can take a look at lcsc.com that is a Chinese reseller that has some chinese brand components.

Also be expected not to trust the datasheets given.

You will find basic chips, knock-off chips, fake chips... but you will have to pay a very, very high cost in reliability.

Most of PCBA manufacturer in China does NOT order parts from China and use Digikey, Mouser, etc..., because they (and their clients) don't trust suppliers in China. (Ironic)

I personally would not go down that road, unless you are trying to do dirt cheap boards at 10 cents a piece. I used to use passive components like ceramic and resistor from China and even this I stopped because I had often the case where it was the wrong values and when you will find out you have to rework your 10'000 boards because of a faulty chip / wrong components you will regret the 1$ you saved by board.

If you need to go down in cost, you can review your design, your BOM, order components in large quantities directly from the manufacturer, this is usually more effective and less risky than saving a few cent over a knock-off component.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.