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What is a White Box?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated May 16, 2024
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A white box is a personal computer or server that has no brand name. Many white boxes are home-built computers, built by people who enjoy the DIY ethic or simply want to make sure their computers have the exact specifications they want. Some white boxes are built by a system integrator or a company that produces mass quantities of unbranded computers. Similar to the term “beige box,” which used to refer to the kinds of Macintosh and IBM computers consumers purchased in previous decades, white box generally reflects the common color and style of the home-built computer enclosure, although it does not necessarily represent the limits. As with most DIY ventures, there are both perks and drawbacks to building white boxes.

Building a white box requires a thorough knowledge and understanding of the different kinds of computer hardware a computer requires. In addition to the required hardware, the builder must also understand how that hardware works together. Examples of such computer hardware include the motherboard, hard disk drive, RAM, CPU, and the computer enclosure cases. Some people who build white boxes take classes to learn how to build desktop and laptop computers, and others are self-taught. For those who want to brush up on their knowledge or get started, there are many websites and print publications dedicated to the subject and practice of building personal computers.

A person who builds his own white box enjoys certain perks. For example, he can choose his own hardware to meet his own desired system requirements. If he chooses the proper parts and correctly builds his computer, it will function exactly how he wants. He can also choose his own software. This includes the computer’s operating system, which people who buy pre-built computers do not usually get much freedom in choosing.

The drawbacks of building a white box include the time and effort involved. Also, there is no singular technical support department to help if something goes wrong, as white boxes are composed of parts that might come from various manufacturers. The cost to build a white box varies depending on the parts, but on average building a white box costs more than purchasing a pre-built personal computer. Of course, for those who enjoy the DIY ethic, these are not necessarily drawbacks. Plus, many people who build computers have a thorough enough understanding of computers to render a computer company’s technical support staff unnecessary.

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Discussion Comments
By Feryll — On Dec 31, 2014

@Animandel - My friend and I worked together on a science project when we were in high school, and we never got the device we built to work properly. Still we learned a lot.

You should definitely encourage your son to build a computer. I know several people who construct white boxes as a hobby. The goal for them is to get better with each creation until they finally get something that somewhat resembles a computer you buy from the store already packaged and ready to go.

I don't think I would have much luck building a operable white box, but your son and his friend might surprise you. I imagine they know more than you think they know about the technology behind computers.

By Sporkasia — On Dec 31, 2014

@Animandel - As suggested in the article, there are many websites online that can help with putting together a white box computer. Some of these will provide step by step instructions that most people can follow without too much difficulty.

This being said, simply because you get all of the pieces of hardware in the right places and you get them connected to one another does not automatically mean that you are going to produce a fully functioning computer that you can get any practical use out of.

So to answer your question, getting a white box assembled is definitely doable. You might need some expert help to get the do-it-yourself computer up and running, especially since you have no knowledge of the workings of computer hardware.

By Animandel — On Dec 30, 2014

My son and one of his classmates want to build a computer for a school science fair. All of the students are required to do projects and put them on display. How difficult is it to build a computer, a white box computer, when you have little knowledge of computer hardware and how all of this stuff actually works?

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