In computer hardware, a white box is a personal computer or server without a well-known brand name. For instance, the term applies to systems assembled by small system integrators and to home-built computer systems assembled by end users from parts purchased separately at retail. In this latter sense, building a white box system is part of the DIY movement. The term is also applied to high volume production of unbranded PCs that began in the mid-1980s with 8 MHz Turbo XT systems selling for just under $1000.
Because form factors like ATX and connectors such as IDE, SATA, PCI, and PCI Express are industry-wide standards, a whole range of cases, motherboards, CPUs, hard disk drives, RAM and other parts can be obtained individually at many computer shops and assembled at home with a minimum of tools and technical skill. Alternatively, the shop itself may assemble components into a complete machine at a modest additional cost. Similarly, the less-common term "whitebook" denotes a notebook computer assembled from off-the-shelf parts.
Computer professionals and intensive computer users (especially gamers) often prefer white box computers constructed with higher quality components that they specify, as opposed to lower cost generic components often found in general purpose PCs. For these users, performance, longevity, expansion capability, and compatibility with non-Windows operating systems take precedence over achieving the absolute lowest cost through the use of the cheapest possible components.
In 2002, around 30% of personal computers sold annually were white box systems. Although saving money is a common motivation for building one's own PC, today it is generally more expensive to build a low-end PC than to buy a pre-built equivalent.
While PCs built by system manufacturers generally come with a pre-installed operating system, white boxes from both large and small system vendors and other VAR channels can be ordered with or without a pre-installed OS. Usually when ordered with an operating system, the system builder uses an OEM copy of the OS. Self-building white box PCs are still popular among users of the Linux operating system to ensure hardware support and avoid the Microsoft tax, though some manufacturers such as Asus, Lenovo, and Dell offer Ubuntu pre-installed.
Intel Corporation defined form factor and interconnection standards for notebook computer components, including "Barebones" (chassis and motherboard), hard disk drive, optical disk drive, LCD, battery pack, keyboard, and AC/DC adapter. These building blocks are primarily marketed to computer building companies, rather than DIY users.
On a $500 budget, PC manufacturers have a clear advantage: By ordering in bulk and maintaining direct control over their supply chain, they can buy components at lower prices than can an individual user shopping for parts online.
Woot had a refurbished HP desktop that was packed to the rafters with high-end hardware -- all for $469.99. There's simply no way you could piece together a similarly equipped machine for less money; rather, it would likely cost you hundreds more -- and you wouldn't have the benefits of a whole-system warranty or tech support.
Buying a PC from a manufacturer like HP, Dell, or Lenovo can be very cheap. Prices have been driven down to all-time lows (basic desktops and laptops now start at around $300) and you will have a device that just works, in most cases, out of the box. Not to mention that these computers also come with tech support and a warranty.