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oem productsIf you’ve shopped for computer parts of software online you’ve likely come across a three-letter acronym. OEM. This stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, and it’s usually tagged on to hardware or software that’s less expensive than normal retail products.

Which may make you wonder – should you buy an OEM product, or is there a catch that’s setting you up for trouble?  The truth is that they do differ from retail products and the differences can be a big deal.

OEM: What Does It Mean and Is It Legal?

As mentioned, OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. In this case, however, the acronym isn’t commenting on who sells the product as much as who the product is meant to be sold to.

OEM hardware and software is packaged for distribution to companies who build systems. These companies are the original equipment manufacturers. This is why OEM products are usually sold in a generic box or wrapper instead of retail packaging. They’re not meant to ever be on store shelves.

And they’re usually not. Most retail stores never sell OEM products. Online stores don’t care about retail packaging, however, so they’re more than happy to stock up on these products and sell them to customers. Online retailers know that there are plenty of bargain hunters looking for the lowest price possible.

Some users find themselves wondering if OEM software is legal for a consumer to buy. Yes, it is. But there are stipulations attached to the product which you accept by purchasing it.

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OEM for Software

oem products

OEM software is probably not as common as hardware, but there are some important products that are wildly available in their OEM version. Windows is the best example, but there are also OEM versions of security suites, system utilities and productivity software.

When you buy this software you usually are provided only with a sleeve that contains the software and a license key. In some cases you may instead receive a small plastic container with a few logos and basic documentation, but that’s it.

The lack of documentation is part of the deal. In fact, most OEM licensed software comes with no tech support. Zip. Zero. That’s to be provided by the system builder. And if the system builder is you, well, you have to provide your own tech support.

OEM software is usually licensed on a per-system basis, which means that you can’t install it on another computer. In theory this means that an OEM version of Windows is tied to the specific computer build you install it on, but Microsoft is famously kind-hearted about this. Re-activating Windows just requires a call to customer service.

But Microsoft doesn’t have to do that, and other companies might be more restrictive. It’s a risk you take with OEM products.  It costs less, but you might have to re-purchase the software if you replace your PC.

OEM for Hardware

cheap oem software

OEM isn’t hardware to find on the web. It’s often a few bucks cheaper than a retail product and the hardware itself is otherwise the same in capabilities and performance.

However, the hardware usually doesn’t ship with extra components – even those that are critical to the hardware’s operation. OEM computer processors, for example, usually do not ship with fans. An OEM video card or hard drive often doesn’t ship with the cables or adapters needed to use it.

There may also be restrictions on technical support, as with software. You may have difficulty with customer service if you have an issue and the warranty may be (but is not always) changed or reduced.

Hard drives, optical drives and some PCI expansion cards are the most common types of components that are offered for as OEM. But many other products may be offered this way in limited numbers.

Is Buying OEM Worth It?

oem products

OEM software is a risky but potentially worthwhile choice. Windows 7 Home Premium is $99, while the retail version is $179.99. That’s a big difference. It’s possible that you could be in trouble if you run into an issue, but you’re also paying nearly half the price. Personally, I’ve bought OEM operating systems for years to use on PCs I build for myself and I’ve yet to have an encounter. But I’m also the kind of person who would probably never call tech support in the first place.

The story is same with other software. OEM anti-virus software The 10 Best Free Anti-Virus Programs The 10 Best Free Anti-Virus Programs Read More is usually 25% to 50% off when purchased OEM. Some utility software enjoys similar discounts. The main issue you’ll run into is public availability. Most developers only offer a retail version of their product.

Hardware is more hit-or-miss. Sometimes you’ll be able to save a few bucks by going with OEM hardware. Other times, you’ll find that buying the extras missing from the hardware makes up the money saved.

And then there is the hardware that’s actually more expensive than retail. This usually happens when hardware is going into the end of its life-span. Spare stock is sometimes put up for sale as an OEM part and then sold for as much or more than retail.

OEM software is perfectly legal and works the same as the retail version (installation restrictions and lack of extras aside), but it doesn’t guarantee a good deal.  Fortunately, most places that sell these OEM products also sell full retail versions. Do a quick price comparison before making your choice.

  1. B. Glenn
    October 24, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    ...before i read your article i had no clue what OEM ment. This was very informative. i now understand the possible risk and rewards of these kinds of purchases. i'll be able to make future purchases with greater confidence.
    Thank you
    B. Lawrence Glenn II

  2. Noyan
    May 17, 2016 at 7:29 am

    Can I go to buy an OEM desktop pc will it work same as the orignal one.
    As I cant test it because I am going to buy it from china

    February 17, 2016 at 11:11 am


    • Frank Spiers
      March 21, 2016 at 7:18 am

      Erm... OEM is NOT A "REPLICA" OEM is the genuine article...

      OEM products are the exact same product that an "official/ brand name" labeled product is sold to you buy a company whom simply put them in retail/ brand name packaging instead with perhaps a few extras, longer guarantee etc... thrown into that retail package...

      try reading the article again... ;-)

      • babzpez
        July 30, 2016 at 1:00 am

        I was thinking the same thing. hahahaha

  4. Deepesh
    December 17, 2015 at 6:31 am

    A really helpful article. Thanks for sharing the information.

  5. Quentin Haversack Cooper
    September 24, 2015 at 10:12 am

    Word of strong warning against dealing with OEM: I ordered replacement iPhone through them aware that it would be 10 weeks (50 business days) before it was due to be delivered.

    9½ weeks later I got an email from OEM saying:
    "Your order has been updated to the following status: Cancelled & Refunded"

    No explanation or apology, and no alternatives offered when I contacted them.

    So if you want to order with confidence from a company that has some interest in how it treats its customers, steer clear of OEM.

    • Sadie Crowder
      October 9, 2015 at 8:26 pm

      You realize that OEM is a label and not a specific company, right?

    • Tyme
      January 8, 2016 at 12:28 pm

      ROFLMAO! funny did not read articular.

  6. Joshua Sham Lechemanam
    August 15, 2015 at 5:04 am

    Highly information. Thanks buddy! :)

    • Joshua Sham
      August 21, 2016 at 6:33 am

      Highly Informative. Thanks buddy! :)

  7. Malri
    March 18, 2015 at 6:12 am

    I know I buy OEM software all the time.

    • Malri
      March 18, 2015 at 6:15 am

      but then I burn it to a cd and throw it away

    • Malri
      March 18, 2015 at 6:18 am

      It really isn't hardware....

  8. Sam
    February 12, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Thank you so much. Very informative article.

  9. Vijyes Yechuri
    January 23, 2015 at 4:33 pm

    Thanks for the beautiful article.

  10. Ivy Yong
    January 16, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    Does oem products authentic? ? Confused! !

  11. Vardaan Thakur
    October 24, 2012 at 6:15 am

    ya no harm to purchase ............

  12. macwitty
    September 28, 2012 at 12:27 am

    Very informative!
    I have been a bit afraid to buy or suggest OEM software but I'll not anymore. Even if I'll check the difference in service.

  13. bonioloff
    September 24, 2012 at 6:31 am

    It's better to get Retail Version, it is a lot more secure..

    • Vardaan Thakur
      October 24, 2012 at 6:16 am

      did u got any truble with the oem

      • Boni Oloff
        October 24, 2012 at 1:56 pm

        Nope, never so far. But i know what is OEM, and i don't wanna take the risk to buy one.

  14. MerVzter Balacuit
    September 24, 2012 at 2:33 am

    thumbs up! additional information

  15. Oguz
    September 23, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    Thank you so much. This is a really informative article. Good job (Y)

  16. Elrick Browne
    September 22, 2012 at 5:06 am

    im not scared imma computer tech lol

  17. Sebastian Hadinata
    September 22, 2012 at 2:21 am

    Great article.. I know about the existence of OEM Software, but I really have no idea what that is. Well, now I know.

  18. damon
    September 21, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    OEM is big in the Automotive world also. If you need a part usually OEM parts are much better and have longer warranty. Also some of those much cheaper auto insurance companies use cheaper non OEM parts, so if someone hits you and their insurance is going to fix your car check first! Learned hard way, my 2 cents...

  19. Daniel Klein-Ridder
    September 21, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Very good article. I have bought some OEM software, but didn't know anything about OEM hardware until now

  20. Asangansi
    September 21, 2012 at 8:26 pm

    Now I know what OEM implies!

  21. Shayne Selwonk
    September 21, 2012 at 6:49 pm

    very informative, didn't now OEM hard drives didn't come the cables, i need to be wary of them then.

  22. Mark McKenna
    September 21, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    Very informative. I have purchased several OEM hard drives and haven't had any problems.

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