Intel works to boost build-to-order whitebook channels

By Joel Shore, ITworld.com |  Business

It wasn't that many years ago when we first heard the term "whitebox," referring to built-to-order desktop PCs tailored to customers' specific needs and often branded with the systems integrator's house-brand logo. It's happening again, but with notebooks.

The whitebox market took off in the late 1990s when bare-bones systems became available to integrators. In 1999, Toshiba, notebook maker par excellence, jumped in with Toshiba-branded whiteboxes that VARs could easily configure. Though Toshiba is no longer a player in that market, desktop whiteboxes continue to be a strong industry.

About four years ago, whitebox began morphing into "whitebook," generic notebook PCs that solutions providers could configure, like whiteboxes, for customers' specific needs. Intel has programs in place to ensure success.

Desktops and laptops have always been very different. Assembling a viable whitebox desktop system from off-the-shelf components has been easy since the days of the 80486 processor, well before Pentium ever existed. Whether it's video, networking, or other add-in cards or controllers, the physical motherboard slot and interface is the same. RAM could come from different sources each day as market forces moved commodity prices up and down like hog bellies. The same was true for hard drives, optical drives, keyboards, monitors, and other components.

Laptops (does anyone say laptop anymore?) and notebooks are completely different. Designed to squeeze more processing power and storage capacity into ever shrinking spaces -- and to do it without the system melting from its own generated heat -- evolved into a highly proprietary process. Sure, though certain components, primarily hard drive and memory modules are largely standardized, the physical chassis in which they sit still vary widely from one manufacturer to another. Batteries are different. Optical drives may be similar, but the plastic cabinetry trim pieces attached to them are all different.

In other words, in the absence of hardware standardization, the very concept of a whitebook could not exist.

One of Intel's programs, Common Building Blocks, has worked to change that since its 2004 inception. Standardized interchangeability assures that components not only interoperate but can physically co-exist. Among the notebook component types that Intel certifies under the CBB program are LCD screens, keyboards, a.c. adapters, battery packs, optical disk drives, and, of course, the bare-bones chassis into which these all are placed.

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