Intel embraces generic computer makers

In a big win for so-called "white box" computer makers, Intel this week joined the North American System Builders Association (NASBA) as a corporate partner.

White boxes are generic computer systems that do not carry any particular brand name.

Intel's entry into NASBA, an organization of more than 7,800 white box makers, puts white box manufactures on a more level playing field with name-brand computer vendors in terms of Intel products, services, and technologies, according to NASBA officials. "We recognize the tremendous influence systems builders have over users' purchasing decisions, and we know we have to keep them up to date on Intel's products and programs," said Frank Ramondi, the strategic channel alliances manager for Intel, in Santa Clara, Calif.

But instead of joining NASBA with a strategy to sell more Intel chips into the white box channel, Intel has simply taken the next logical step following a recent uptick in the use of Intel processors in white boxes, explained Dean McCarron, an analyst at Mercury Research Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"A lot more of [Intel's] chips have been going into white box systems," said McCarron. "Intel saw this happening and I imagine joined NASBA in response to this, figuring they needed more contact with the channel."

The growth of the white box market has been less than stellar, increasing by only 4 percent last year, according to estimates by Reality Research in Jericho, N.Y.

But the component vendors that sell the chips, boards, and memory to white box makers are seeing more and more white box builders ordering tier one parts like Intel processors, said McCarron.

Many more computer buyers may be catching on that agile white box makers can deliver customized servers and PCs faster than name-brand vendors that are mired in the task of shipping large volumes of only a few product models, suggested McCarron.

White box makers "are smaller vendors, and they are more quick to react to a customer's needs as opposed to a big OEM who builds in large volume," said McCarron.

McCarron also pointed out that the increase in Intel-based white boxes were "not displacing" white boxes loaded with chips from Intel competitor Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Instead, the Intel-based white boxes were "taking more share from the tier one OEMs" such as Dell Computer Corp., Compaq Computer Corp., and IBM Corp., he said.

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