Chinese customs authorities have announced another instance of attempted technology smuggling of processors into the country. According to a Chinese Customs Office post on Weibo, a man attempted to smuggle as many as 160 Intel 11th- and 12th-gen CPUs whilst skirting customs verification and paying duties. The man, dubbed a "Walking CPU" by Chinese officials, caught the officers' attention due to his behavior and walking posture on camera, prompting a check. The inspection found him covered in expensive PC hardware.
The authorities found as many as 160 CPUs taped to various parts of the man's body, namely his calves, waist, and abdomen, a technique well-known by law enforcement. Besides the CPU bounty, the man was also smuggling 16 foldable smartphones, but details are scarce for both the CPU and phone models. Even so, it's easy to see why this could be a lucrative endeavor: Intel's 12th-gen Core 19-12900K, for instance, has a recommended retail price of $589.
A picture shared by the Chinese Customs Office identifies a CPU as being an Intel Core i5-12600KF part. It's unclear whether all the smuggled CPUs were of that model, but assuming they were and that there weren't any higher-tier CPUs in the mix, 160 Intel Core i5 12600KF CPUs would equate to $42,240 worth of silicon strapped to the smuggler's body. That's a substantial amount for a lightweight product that measures only 45.0 mm x 37.5 mm apiece, making it attractive for these smuggling attempts.
This is but another instance in the recent trend of high-value electronics smuggling, coming as the byproduct of the increasing market value (and market costs) of PC hardware as the world faces shortages of high-performance electronics. For example, earlier this weekend, Chinese customs identified a shipment of AMD Radeon XFX graphics cards that had been mislabeled in an attempt to reduce the overall declared value per graphics card and incur lower customs duties.
In 2021, another CPU smuggler was caught attempting to smuggle as many as 256 processors using the same technique (all of them Intel, as well). All the smuggled CPUs being Intel-based is likely motivated by pure transportation constraints and not by any sort of "selective fanboyism" from smuggler rings.
While Intel's CPUs feature an LGA (Land Grid Array) packaging and contact point design, AMD's AM4 socket CPUs feature a PGA (Pin Grid Array) design. This means the CPUs have pins extruding from the bottom, which could cause issues when smuggling (such as pins bending under pressure or upon impact), possibly adding another fault point that smugglers likely aren't too keen to explore. Perhaps AMD products too will be the stuff of smuggling headlines when AMD transitions to its AM5 socket, which has already been confirmed as also adopting the LGA form-factor.
A full transcription (machine translated) of the customs office announcement on Weibo follows:
[Walking CPU] On March 9, the gate customs seized an entry case of a passenger hiding a central processing unit (CPU). At about 1 a.m. that day, a man named Zeng entered the country through the customs “no declaration channel” at the travel inspection site of Gongbei Port. Customs officers found that his walking posture was abnormal and stopped him for inspection. After further inspection, customs officers seized a total of 160 CPUs and a total of 16 folded mobile phones tied with tape on the inner side of his calf, waist and abdomen. At present, the case has been further processed in accordance with relevant regulations. The customs reminds that the luggage items that individuals bring in and out of the country should be limited to their own use and a reasonable quantity, and should be subject to customs supervision. For those who evade customs supervision by means of personal concealment or item storage, which constitute smuggling, the customs will investigate legal responsibility according to law.
— Chinese Customs Office