You've surely heard of personal computers churned out by the likes of Dell (NASDAQ:DELL), Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), IBM (NYSE:IBM), Gateway (NYSE:GTW), Sony (NYSE:SNE), and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL). There's a good chance, though, that you haven't heard of "white box PCs." And, no, they're not made by White Box, Inc.

There's no official definition of what is and isn't a white box PC, but it is essentially one not made (or at least branded) by any of the big-name makers. Instead, it's likely put together by one of many thousands of small computer companies that exist in neighborhoods all over America. And it's probably got an Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) microprocessor in it, not one made by Chipz on the Fly Inc.

There are a surprising number of white box machines out there. According to CBS MarketWatch, the research firm IDC reports that in this year's third quarter, out of some 14.2 million computers shipped, a whopping 25% of them (3.6 million) were white box PCs. Apparently, even some of the big-name companies, such as Dell, are making white box machines that don't bear their brand to sell in places such as Asia.

If you're thinking to yourself, "Hmm. interesting, but I think I'll just buy a big-name computer, because I want customer service and tech support," think again. Not all big-name makers offer outstanding support, and those that do sometimes charge a pretty penny for it.

White box companies, meanwhile, often offer very good service and support, and they're sometimes right around the corner. Here are some things to look for in a white box machine (which you might locate simply via your Yellow Pages):

  • The price. Some big-name machines are pretty inexpensive. Don't just assume that a white box is your best bet.

  • The features. Make a list of your requirements and make sure the machine has them. (You may end up with more features or power for your money with a white box.)

  • The company. Make sure it's been in business for a while.

  • The details. Find out what kind of support and service is included or offered, and what kind of warranty comes with the machine.

If the white box biz continues to grow, it may end up causing some headaches for the big-name PC makers.

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