TANSTAAFPCB (or is there)

“If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold”

blue_beetle (see https://bryanalexander.org/digital-literacy/you-are-the-product-one-interesting-source-for-the-meme/)

Go to PCBShopper.com and unless you’re wanting teensy PCBs well under an inch by an inch, or PCBs with other than bog standard basic specs, you’re likely to find JLCPCB has the lowest price. Still fairly cheap, but not as cheap as JLCPCB, will likely be AllPCB. But there’s another difference too: JLCPCB has a user rating of 4.1 out of 5. AllPCB’s rating: 2.6.

And yet I ordered boards from AllPCB earlier this month.

For one simple reason: They were free.

AllPCB has an offer: Register an account and once a month you’ll get a coupon for a free PCB order. Of course there are limits, and I can’t find any place that spells them out, but I think it has to be under 0.075 m2 (width times height times quantity). Everything has to be default specs including the color, green mask with white silkscreen.

That beats JLCPCB’s $2 for five 100 mm x 100 mm boards, but wait, there’s more: Shipping is free. Shipping as in DHL, 3–4 days, or UPS, 2–3 days. For a typical 50 mm x 200 mm, 5-board order those would normally cost $19 or $44 respectively on top of $9 for the boards. One such order every month for a year, opting for UPS, would otherwise add up to $636 but instead is $0. So, WTF?

There’s that quote up above and there’s the more familiar “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. It’s hard to see how AllPCB can justify such an offer. One has to assume right off that they’re going to be selling your email address, but for $636? Or even a tenth that? Doesn’t seem likely.

Are they honestly believing you’ll be so impressed with the free orders you’ll start sending them paid orders too? That’s also hard to swallow.

I really don’t know what their scam is, and the wise course probably is to walk away, but if I were wise I probably wouldn’t be here. Anyway, I decided to give it a shot.

The ordering process is baroque. You sign up for an account and I thought something flashed by about emailing me a coupon, but if so, I never got such an email. Never mind, there’s a coupon in your online account. It seems that to use it you have to click on the coupon, then fill in the order details (including PCB size), and last upload your Gerbers. In other words, entirely backwards from what I’d expect.

I did absent mindedly give them my mail email address, instead of the spam-trap address I normally use for this kind of thing. But gmail’s spam filtering seems to work quite well, so I have little worry over that.

I ordered five corrected potentiometer boards for the output module about which more you will hear when working it is, but for now just this: There are three PCBs in the module, including one for the rotary pots which I somehow managed to get backwards in the initial design. So that was the next small board I needed to have made.

Once I managed to navigate the order process it all went as expected, if not better. The boards shipped four days after my order. They arrived five days after that, not 2–3, but maybe that’s 2–3 business days and weekends don’t count. Who cares, at $0?

They look okay. There are six of them, one more than I ordered. Packing was fine, similar to JLCPCB’s. Nothing to complain about.

I guess I’ll probably order another board in August.

But I’m not about to send them a paid order. Even if all the free orders go as smoothly and as satisfactorily as this one… JLCPCB is cheaper, once you get past the one free board per month. So I really don’t see how AllPCB can afford me. But that, I hope, is their problem, not mine.

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