First-time notebook buyers are flocking to sub-$1000 multinational brands, with the whitebox market virtually conceding that particular market segment.
Hope for the channel lies in mid- to high-end whitebooks with higher-specifications, strong branding and Intel's common building blocks (CBB) program pointing the way.
Synnex product manager, Jason Lee, said first-time notebook buyers were being drawn to sub-$1000 machines from multinationals. But he said they weren't staying there.
"Whitebooks can't compete with multinationals at the low-end. A first-time buyer is always going to go and buy a Compaq Presario from a retail chain for $899," he said. "But later they will come looking for more power."
While the low-end was tough, Lee said Synnex saw about 40 per cent of notebook sales at the higher end of the market going to whitebook manufacturers.
"At the high end, people often want a machine that's tailor-made and our built-to-order machines only take 2-3 days. The multinationals take around 7-14 days," he said.
Pioneer managing director, Jeff Li, who has tried to continue the budget fight with multinationals, agreed opportunities were disappearing. The local assembler recently launched a $799 notebook running Linux and has plans to release a $699 notebook powered by a Via processor.
Li said the budget end of the market made up 20-25 per cent of his notebook sales with a very narrow body of buyers.
"From our technical support, we know that [budget] buyers don't know much about notebooks. It's the first time for some of them," he said. "Schools tend to buy them due to budgets and if it's damaged, it doesn't cost much to replace."
Altech national sales manager, Kevin Hartin, said the budget market wasn't worth playing in. Despite being a PC builder in its own right, Altech had turned its back on the whitebook market and elected to carry Samsung notebooks to cover the mid- to high-end market.
"Altech doesn't deal in [the budget market]. You look at the specs of a $999 or even $799 notebook and they're not what you would call state of the art," he said. "You won't see latest generation Centrino or Napa platform. It's just not possible to build them into those entry-level models."
IDC hardware research manager, Mike Sager, thinks whitebooks can bounce back with the support of Intel CBB program.