Feature Articles

Shopping online: Are you really getting what you paid for?

By Vijay Anand - 31 Jan 2015

Shopping online: Are you really getting what you paid for?

The new retail therapy

Amazon. Alibaba. Taobao. Newegg. Lazada. Qoo10.

You probably have a few more to add on to this list of popular and growing trend of consumer eCommerce platforms, or otherwise simply referred to as “online shopping”. Browse at your will, and in a few clicks, you could complete your purchase (granted that your credit card details are stored on their records) and even have them delivered to your home for free (sometimes). Shopping cannot be any more convenient. Truth be told, it’s actually even more convenient than even having a 3D printer and creating what you need.

Newegg, once a US/Canada-only online tech gadgets super store, they are now steadily branching to Europe and Asia.

For some people, online shopping can even be contagious as you can effortlessly order several products in quick succession without totaling the expenditure you’re committing. While that’s a story for another day, are you exactly sure what you see is what you’re buying into? Sure there’s the product description and a photo that usually has a fine print or in some terms and conditions of the eCommerce site to notify you that the photos used are just a representation of the product.

Okay, whatever. You probably are going to buy it anyway out of the trust for the eCommerce site and the product’s brand. But what if you think you got played out once you received your purchase?


A case of the misunderstood Gigabyte motherboard

We first got wind of a member in our forum warning other readers to stay cautious of Gigabyte boards as his purchase didn’t seem to match what he had been expecting to get. Simply put, he had been expecting a GA-B85M-D3H revision 1.0/1.1 board but he had landed himself a revision 2.0 board. The product names and model number are officially identical, but there are different variants over time and in this case - they looked somewhat different. Gigabyte’s website has clearly listed two versions and aren’t hiding the fact that two variants of the similar named product exist.

Gigabyte's GA-B85M-D3H revisions compared - Revision 1.0 (left) vs. Revision 2.0 (right).

Minor updates to the motherboard are fairly common as time passes from the first day of its production. These updates could be either for better reliability, stability, cost effectiveness or a change in supplier component agreement. Also motherboard revisions often occur in the low and mid-tier product segment to fulfill certain requirements from OEM vendors and other inputs from their partners that might not have been addressed when the product first launched. That and the fact that this segment of boards are targeting price sensitive markets, motherboard vendors do make an effort to optimize the product as they see fit for their intended audience group and the ever changing market landscape.

What extent the updates are visible and apparent to the end-user is another issue, but in this case it was apparent (since he was looking at the wrong version to begin with), the concerned forum user was not sure if he’s being shortchanged as he was expecting the original revision. Remember, both versions are identically named and marketed from the retail packaging, price lists and even the billing of the product - GA-B85M-D3H. This practice however, isn’t uncommon in the industry.

So while the member rattles off that he noticed reduced capacitors, surface mount transistor (SMT) components, differing heatsinks, power chokes, inductors and more, Gigabyte has in no way misguided or mis-marketed the GA-B85M-D3H motherboard. Almost all features promoted are intact with the respective product revision pages showcasing both board models for detailed personal comparison.

The commonly noted areas where revision markings for motherboards are made known are on the product sticker and on the PCB and these were intact for this model of the board. Clearly, motherboard revisions and how they are propagated in the channel aren’t very clear matters to this member as more senior members (including the Editor) familiar with this industry have pointed out otherwise to state there’s no reason to be concerned and he has no case for complains.

Also, take note that this was purchased from a brick-and-mortar store – not online. That means he failed to conduct his own checks at the point of purchase and to ensure he’s getting what he needs. If this was purchased online, there would probably be another barrier to overcome and we’ll get to that aspect in a later section.


Does the newer version of the board underperform?

As iterated earlier, features-wise, both motherboard revisions are intact. Will the newer board with ‘missing’ components perform any worse? From our professional user experience, such changes hardly bring about any real-world impact. We’ve been testing and reviewing components of various forms from DIY-grade to server-grade equipment since 1998 when HardwareZone began. Motherboards of all sorts have passed through our labs and we’ve toyed with revisions of the same boards too.

Of course for the sake of this article and to quench curiosity, the next step is to personally verify both versions of the GA-B85M-D3H motherboard. However, that’s a tall order because even revision 2.0 of the board has been in distribution since mid-2014. That’s more than half a year ago. Tracking down a revision 1.0/1.1 version would be next to impossible given the age of this product SKU. This brings a side ramble as to why this concern has only surfaced now since it has been in circulation for a very long while. Sounds a little fishy to us.

Back to the motherboards in question, we’ve tracked down a tech hardware site that managed to conduct such a performance test – but on a different edition of the board. They’ve compared the GA-B85M HD3 revision 1.0 and revision 2.0. While Hardware.info sort of overstressed that performance differences exist, we would like to stress that the delta between both boards are as good as negligible. No one can differentiate a 100 points difference in a 3DMark test run for example. Testing for the sake of presenting numerical differences and testing to objectively address what the figures mean are completely two different things. HardwareZone believes in the latter camp.

Gigabyte's GA-B85M-HD3 revisions compared - Revision 1.0 (left) vs. Revision 2.0 (right). Note that this board isn't available locally.

The authors from Hardware.info further stress tested the board more aggressively to see what sort of operating temperatures the board’s MOSFETs hit before the CPU throttled performance. It’s simple math that the more MOSFETs available to share the workload would mean lower operating temperatures, but that doesn’t mean Revision 2.0 with less components is automatically at a disadvantage. These power delivery components are rated to operate at high temperatures and there’s also the question if the Revision 1.0/1.1 boards are over-provisioned/over-designed and if Revision 2.0 actually swapped a bunch of components for a more efficient ones, thus requiring less physical components. One needs to examine all these aspects before drawing a conclusion. In fact, there’s actually a newer revision of this board that actually adds more features.

Finally, one needs to consider the use-case scenarios of the boards – low and mid-tier boards are for mainstream DIY users and for OEM deployment. They aren’t designed to the same standards as a high-end enthusiast board and subjected them to the same sort of stress tests doesn’t really mean anything.

We called up CDL Trading, the local distributor for Gigabyte motherboards, to check if they’ve had any issues or complaints between these various Intel B85 motherboard models. As the HD3 variant isn’t sold locally, they told HardwareZone that to-date, they’ve had no such issues relating to board reliability for either revisions of the D3H model (this is the model our forum member was concerned about). Could they be covering for their partner, Gigabyte? That’s quite unlikely because we even spoke to a few retailers and they’ve not had any issues either. Wenxie who runs Infinity Computer, one of the many Sim Lim Square (SLS) PC component retailers, told us that he hasn’t faced any problems with his customers related to this Gigabyte board.

So at this juncture, there are no validated performance or reliability setbacks to be concerned about the revised motherboard. As far as Gigabyte is concerned, the motherboard in question officially meets the bill of requirements from the marketing and sales perspective.


Stock keeping at the shops and the EAN product code

While this ruckus came about to scrutinize the board, the more interesting aspect is how these motherboards are listed and classified. Let’s focus on what we’ve pointed out earlier:-

“Remember, both versions are identically named and marketed from the retail packaging, price lists and even the billing of the product - GA-B85M-D3H. This practice however, isn’t uncommon in the industry.”

As far as Gigabyte’s motherboard listing pages are concerned, they capture the relevant feature details among different boards and revisions. The case of the GA-B85M-D3H doesn’t really qualify here as there are no feature differences between revisions other than technical details that support these features. However another model, the GA-B85M-D2V, is available in more revisions and has a few small feature differences between them. The reasons for revision changes have been discussed earlier, so we won’t debate on that any further.

While the differences between revisions are captured on Gigabyte’s website, misrepresentation can occur at the shop-front when the differing revisions sport the same name. Sales representatives will most likely not be aware that there are revisions and changes. On top of that, it’s also noticed that Gigabyte uses the same EAN product code for the differing revisions of the board.

Here's a side-by-side snapshot of another motherboard model, the GA-H81M-DS2. (Source: Manilla Bulletin)

The European Article Number (EAN) (which is now also referred to as the International Article Number) is a string of digits for a universal bar code system that will uniquely identify retail goods. This product identification number is how stocks and inventories are kept in check all over the world. To the retailer, he thinks he’s continuously receiving the same product since it’s the same name and it uses the same EAN product code.

Some SLS retailers we spoke to are actually fine with this because the differences between the revisions of the product are minor. Inventory management is actually easier for them. Such differences are usually not a concern for most customers unless they are either very technically savvy or have very specific needs. These folks usually do their homework, such as referring to the manufacturer’s product pages and making their own decisions on what to purchase. They would also check their goods to ensure it’s the right model/revision they are seeking, prior to making a payment at the shop.

So far, this is all standard operating procedure (SOP) – none of the above aspects have differed in the decades since retailers have been selling PC components in SLS.


Wait, what about the online retail equation?

What actually disrupts the unwritten SOP is the booming online retail business as people increasingly rely on the convenience of armchair shopping.

Your typical online electronics retailer creates a product inventory page and grabs the specifications from the manufacturer’s product page when the product is first made available for purchase. But if new revisions of the product are now made available and continue to sell under the same name and EAN product code, the retailer has no way to tell there has been a change and the online product page would never reflect the change in specs or the availability of different revisions. That’s when you buy a product online and don’t receive it as you’ve expected. Here's an example of mismatch in expectations, but thankfully, it's just a change in visual appearance folllowed by the corporate identity change at Seagate:-

Notice how the product images differ even on the same product page on Newegg? This particular example is a non-issue since it's just a change in visual appearance following Seagate's new corporate identity. However it illustrates the problem where details, specs and images may not be updated on the online retailer page because the old and new product ships by the same product code.

Gigabyte’s way of pushing product revisions while still using the same name and EAN code has to change if it is to avoid any mismatch in expectations. It may be borderline acceptable once upon a time, but in this day and age of online retail, we think it’s time they update their practice to avoid any consumer misunderstanding as there’s no way to check the product physically prior to making the purchase

Its competitors, ASUS and MSI have none of these concerns because they utilize different product names for different editions of the same board and thus automatically use a different EAN product code.

For example, while Gigabyte markets their product as "GA-B85M-DS3H" and attaches a revision edition as small labeling in the product description sticker. MSI however has a brand new model name, branding, retail box, EAN product code and more - everything required to identify it as a truly different variant. Take for example this MSI B85M-E33 and the MSI B85M-E33 V2 motherboards and take a careful look at them. The V2 edition has a an added PCIe X1 slot, angled SATA ports and a larger PCB – about the same number of changes we’ve seen on some of the revisions between the similarly named Gigabyte boards.

Notice how MSI markets its motherboard revisions? Here you have the B85M-E33 on the left and the B85M-E33 V2 on the right.

ASUS has also approached motherboard changes in a more visible manner opting to rename, re-lablel, re-package and use a different EAN product code for their motherboard changes. For example, you can check out the ASUS B85M-G and the B85M-G R2.0 where the differences between them are close to negligible and features are pretty much intact, yet ASUS has clearly distinguished them to prevent any misunderstandings.

Here you have the ASUS B85M-G on the left and the ASUS B85M-G R2.0 on the right.

We’ve reached out to Gigabyte in Taiwan to clarify of the situation and it seems that thus far most of their partners preferred the use of the same EAN code for easier product inventory management. Since these EAN codes have thus far been a back-end matter, there really hasn’t been a concern until the online retail scene exploded for PC components. It will certainly cost more for Gigabyte to follow in the same vein as its competitors, but they’ve assured us that they would take more caution to improve the clarity of their motherboard revisions.


Always do your homework when shopping online

The purpose of this article isn’t about the differing motherboard revisions – that’s not new and most DIY pros are aware of that. For the rest of us, it’s certainly interesting to know what’s going on in the motherboard retail scene but at the end of the day, it is just an example. The mismatch in expectations could happen to any product, especially while shopping online.

Ultimately, we wanted to inform readers of the inventory management system used by retailers and online retailers, as well as for readers to take more precaution when purchasing electronic products online. It certainly pays to do your homework from the manufacturers’ website and to follow-up on the online retailer’s feedback or product page to clarify on revision/edition of the product on offer - if it’s not clearly stated when you’re aware that other variants exist.

Happy shopping!

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