On Whitebox Computers

Table of Contents

My five-year-old computer died the other day. This was a problem because I used this computer to telecommute and because it was where I got most of my "real" work done. I therefore had to replace it in a hurry.

I really wanted to replace it with a little net top, but I needed a bit more horsepower to run my XP and LAMP VM's. I therefore took a look at what the whitebox computer industry had to offer for the first time in five years.

Why Whitebox?

Whitebox computers are basically computers that are built-to-order and don't really have a brand name. I really like them for the following reasons:

  • I like high-quality components - HP & Dell might give you a nice CPU, but you never know what you're going to get otherwise. Most whitebox dealers give you a lot of control over every component in the computer. For example, you know *exactly* what type of motherboard you are getting so you can see if it's any good.
  • Easy To Upgrade - Unlike a lot of computers that you buy at Fry's, whitebox computers are usually very simple to upgrade and fix. You therefore don't need to buy a new computer every 2 years, which is good for your wallet and the environment.
  • I'm cheap :) - Whitebox computers are usually very inexpensive, especially if you buy one that doesn't have an OS installed on it. And since I'm a Linux user, I would rather not pay for Windows 7 any time soon.

Merchants

The whitebox industry has changed quite a bit in the last 5 years. The dealer from which I bought my last computer went out of business a while ago. Most operations today seem to be very small, and most of them seem to cater to gamers who can't imagine buying a computer for less than $1500 (which is *much* more than I wanted to spend). Surprisingly, I ended up finding a bunch of whitebox dealers on Ebay who had great prices *and* seller ratings. I have to warn you though that their search interface really isn't that great. Here's basically what I had to do:

  1. Click on the *Desktop Computers* category from the home page.
  2. Click on the *Whitebox Computers* link.
  3. Choose the *processor* and *RAM* options that wanted.
  4. Finally, here's the screwy part. My search results were littered with *barebones* systems, which are basically systems that aren't fully assembled. I wanted a fully-assembled system, so I entered  *"-barebone -barebones"* in the search text box to eliminate them from the result set.

I ended up buying a computer for an Ebay seller called allpczone, which is actually a company called ComputerLX. They were really fantastic. Not only did I like their customization page and their prices (which were the best that I found), but their customer service was also great. In the end, I got *exactly* the computer that I wanted for a great price, and it was shipped to me very quickly.

Another good-looking merchant (based on their seller reviews on Ebay) is ecollegepc. They also seemed to have good prices and a good selection for people who just wanted a fairly simple, well-built computer for a good price.

What About Dell?

While Dell may appear to be a glorified whitebox dealer, to me, they share a lot more in common with companies like HP and Gateway. Their component quality isn't really that great, you don't always know exactly what you're getting, and unless you buy their cheapest, non-customized computer, they're not a very good value.

The final straw for me came when I tried to customize one of their lower-end computers. Basically, all I wanted was a medium-sized computer with a little more RAM and a quad-core processor. So, after finding a fairly inexpensive computer that had most of what I wanted, I tried to upgrade the hard drive. The computer that I was customizing had a 500GB, no-name hard drive, and I wanted to upgrade it to a 1 TB hard drive (which also didn't appear to have a brand name). To my surprise, this *minor upgrade* added $150 to the final price of the system. Please keep the following in mind about this price:

  • I was building this computer in September of 2010
  • There are a very small number of 1 TB, SATA hard drives on Newegg.com that cost around $150, but they are very, very sophisticated drives.
  • A high-quality, Western Digital hard drive of that size currently costs around $85.
  • I wasn't asking for an additional hard drive. I just wanted to upgrade the one that came with the computer by default.

At this point, I realized that there really wasn't any point in having me customize this computer any further. These sorts of ridiculous upcharges may be the key to Dell's business model, but they really are an insult to their customers.