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Why Buy a “White Box” Instead of a Dell?

On Friday, when I went to start up the main computer at our office I found it had died. I turned on the surge protector and hit the start button, only to hear none of the familiar sounds of a computer firing-up. No whine or clicking from the hard drive, no beeps from the self-diagnosis, not a noise except for an almost silent whir from a cooling fan.

This wasn’t entirely unexpected. The box was probably ten years old, and a few years ago we’d replaced a failed motherboard on it with a board that’d been salvaged from a worn out HP. The computer had served us well, but it was time for it to go.

Obviously, since we publish several content driven web sites as well as an ecommerce site, we needed a replacement in a hurry. Also, we needed something cheap as there was no room in our budget for a new computer. But we also needed something dependable. It wouldn’t do to stop by Goodwill or a flea market to pick up a discard that might work for only a week or two.

As Magnum would say, I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking that I ran to the local Best Buy or Walmart for an inexpensive branded computer. If so, you would be wrong. Nor did I fire up my laptop, get online and order from Dell. What I did was pick up the phone and called Chris at Dragonware Computers, a local mom and pop shop that’s been meeting my computer needs for years.

Again, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m one of those liberal, community minded people who avoids Wally World, Best Buy and the other national chain big box stores because I want to support local businesses and keep my money circulating within my community where it might come back to me. Although you would be right with that assumption, that was not my primary motive. The real reason why I purchase my computers from local mom and pops is because that’s where I find true value.

There was a time when buying a new white box, a no-name computer built or assembled by a local store, was actually cheaper than purchasing even a so-called bargain brand like Dell or Gateway. In recent years, however, with competition forcing the big manufacturers to price downward, that’s not usually the case anymore. But locally made white boxes are still competitively priced, especially when you consider these extras:

1. A computer built by a local retailer will often be made with better components than one assembled by the likes of Dell. Not only does the local dealer want to earn your trust, he or she is usually someone who loves computers. Besides, if a cheap part fails, that dealer will have to expend labor, which is money, replacing it under warranty. Then there’s the whole pride in workmanship thing. I’ve known a few people who’ve worked at a Dell plant. Believe me when I tell you, Dell doesn’t set up their plants in a way that nurtures worker pride, no matter what their PR department claims.

2. If something goes wrong under warranty, service is easier and more reliable at the local retailer. If you buy a computer from Dell or Lenovo and something goes drastically wrong, odds are you’re going to be forced to ship it back to the factory and sit on your thumbs until it’s fixed and shipped back to you. And this will be after you’ve already been made to jump through a few hoops by a tech support staff that tries to remedy your problem by reading from a script. They’ll have you reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling the operating system and all of your applications first.

At your local dealer, service is much more pain free. You simply drive to their location and they fix it. Since they built the machine, they know what’s in it; there’ll be no blame-it-on-the-software issues. They’ll just fix it, usually while you wait – even if software is to blame.

3. Your local dealer will often offer services free that you can’t even get from the likes of Dell if you pay. Many years back, I purchased a new computer from a local dealer that had Windows pre-installed. I would be needing Windows, but I also intended to partition the hard drive as soon as I got home and install Linux on the second partition to use as my main operating system. As the computer was built using a winmodem, which wouldn’t work on Linux in those days, I asked if it would be possible to have it swapped-out for a hardware modem. No problem. The cost, nothing. Try that with Dell or HP.

4. Most local computer shops will be happy to sell you a computer with no operating system for a discount. If you don’t need Windows because you’re going to run Linux or one of the BSDs, why should you pay the Microsoft tax?


Another reason to shop at your local dealer is because you can often find good deals on used computers. Most shops take used computers as trade-ins, then go over them and replace anything that needs replacing before offering them for sale to value minded customers.

Today, when I went to Dragonware I was specifically looking for a good deal on a “previously owned” box, since the death of the computer at our office had come at a bad time. I wasn’t disappointed. I walked out the door with an IBM branded Lenovo with excellent specs and a thirty day guarantee for a very good price. In addition, they installed the CD writer from our old computer on the one I was buying for no extra charge. And if it breaks down under warranty, we won’t have to send it back to the Lenovo factory in China, Dragonware will repair it right in their shop.

What a win-win situation. By buying your computer from a local dealer, you’re supporting your local economy and getting more value for your dollar. What’s not to like about that?

Oh, and by the way, the folks at Dragonware have been very good to me for a decade now, since before they were even known as Dragonware. They deserve the plug.

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