White Box PC Definition

A white box PC is a personal computer that is assembled from standard, widely available components1 and does not bear the brand name of a major computer manufacturer or seller.

Most white box PCs are built by small companies, often retailers who specialize in selling computer parts and software. Many are also built by end users, including individuals.

There are several reasons for the popularity of white box PCs. The most important in many cases is that they can be cheaper than purchasing a brand name computer. Another is that they allow the user to fully customize the computer. In addition, many people build their own computers from parts as a learning experience or hobby.

With brand name computers, it is often difficult to obtain the exact configuration that one wants, or to even be certain which components are used. Good white box assemblers, in contrast, provide a greater choice of components, including some of the most advanced and specialized devices, as well as extensive information about them.

White box PCs can be less expensive than comparable brand name computers because the user is not paying for the perceived value of the brand (e.g., improved performance or reliability), advertising expenses, etc. They are also cheaper because they can be obtained without an operating system preinstalled2, and thus they can avoid paying the so-called Microsoft tax.

The Microsoft tax is a software license fee levied on major vendors of personal computers by Microsoft for each unit sold. This fee is included in the retail prices of the computers and generally must be paid by purchasers even if they want to remove the Microsoft Windows operating system and run some other operating system, most commonly Linux.

1These components can vary somewhat according to the intended applications for the computer, but they typically include an outer case, power supply, motherboard, CPU (central processing unit), memory modules, HDD (hard disk drive), graphics card, sound card, network card, floppy disk drive, CDROM drive or DVD drive, cooling fans, internal speaker and various cables.

2When purchasing a white box PC, the buyer should always be sure to specify in advance if an operating system is not desired and to confirm that the final price reflects this absence of an operating system. Otherwise, some white box assemblers may just install a Microsoft operating system by default and add it to the total price.

Created October 2, 2006.
Copyright © 2006 The Linux Information Project. All Rights Reserved.