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Buying a Non-Branded "White Box" PC

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A "white box" computer (house-brand or no-name system from a non-major vendor) can save you some money and give you control over what components go into your new system. But there are some important issues you need to consider when deciding to go with a white box versus a name-brand box. Daniel Dern provides a rundown in this article.

You're thinking about buying a new desktop computer. But you're not sure you can get what you want from big-name vendors like Dell, HP, Gateway, IBM, Sony, etc.—directly or through a store—or from "house brand" systems from stores like Micro Center, PC Connection, etc. You could get the box you want by buying the components and doing the assembly yourself—but you want support for the whole system. Fortunately, you have another choice—or rather, lots of choices—namely, buying a "white box" computer from a white box vendor.

What Is a "White Box"?

According to white-box computer vendor MyWhiteBox.com, "A white box computer is a custom-built computer with name-brand internal components...White boxes are generic computer systems that don't carry any particular brand name." White boxes typically come from computer stores that build their own systems from parts, like you could do, but (hopefully) providing more service and support than you'd get if you did it yourself.

White box vendors include the small storefront run by family or friends in a town near you, whose ads you might once have seen often in the (increasingly defunct) local newspaper, or local instantiations of computer tabloids. Vendors also include mail/web/phone-order companies such as AMS, CyberPower, Everex, IBuyPower, and Systemax—advertisers whose magazine ads once plumped up the then phonebook-thick Computer Shopper (and occasionally still do so), but which these days primarily grace publications like MAXIMUM PC and Computer Power User (CPU).

The white box category arguably also includes some of the computer store franchises, like Computer Renaissance, with a few or a few dozen branches across close to as many states. In addition, to muddy the waters, established PC vendors like Dell may still be trying to get into the white-box market, offering unbranded versions of their systems. (See this August 2002 CNET news story, for example.)

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