Technology Explained

What Are OEM Products and Why Are They Cheaper?

Joe Keeley Updated 07-12-2018

If you’ve shopped for computer parts or software online, you’ve likely come across the 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 it’s important to know the differences.

What Does OEM Mean?

As mentioned, OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. The acronym isn’t commenting on who sells the product, but instead on who the product is meant to be sold to.

OEM hardware and software is packaged for distribution to companies who build systems, like Dell and Apple. 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 designed to 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.


These retailers know that there are plenty of bargain hunters 13 Bargain Websites That Are Cheaper Than eBay eBay is a useful site for finding cheap deals, but don't overlook these shopping sites that can be cheaper than eBay. Read More looking for the lowest price possible. Don’t worry, it’s entirely legal to buy an OEM product. But there are stipulations attached to the product which you accept by purchasing it.

OEM for Hardware Products

OEM hard drives can be bought for your PC build

OEM hardware is exactly the same in capabilities and performance as its retail counterpart. 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.

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, may 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 warranty. When compared to a retail warranty, the length offered might be reduced or non-existent. This is because it’s expected that the system manufacturer will provide it.

Since buying an OEM part makes you the manufacturer, you may find it impossible to receive direct support.

OEM for Software Products

Windows 10 license raises the cost of building your own budget PC

Windows is the most common example of OEM software, and is often snapped up by people building their own machines, but there are also OEM versions of security suites, system utilities and productivity software.


When you buy this software you are usually provided only with a sleeve that contains the software and a license key. Don’t expect to receive any documentation. In fact, most OEM licensed software comes with no tech support Top 10 Sites for Computer Troubleshooting and Tech Support Things go wrong. When it is a computer it can bring our life to a standstill. Here are the top 10 troubleshooting sites for your tech problems on the web. Read More .

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 contacting their customer service. You might need to do this to remove the Windows 10 watermark How to Remove the Activate Windows 10 Watermark Wondering how to remove the "activate Windows 10" watermark? We show both ways to activate Windows and workarounds to remove this. Read More .

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 or upgrade the motherboard.


Is Buying OEM Worth It?

Laptop with a broken screen

Buying OEM is perfectly safe and legal, but you do need to be aware of the risks.

You can usually save a decent amount of money with OEM products, but if you run into an issue then you might find yourself entirely without support. That could be fine if you’re technically minded; if you’re not, the retail version might be the better choice.

The amount of discount you can get will vary depending on product and retailer. For example, OEM anti-virus software The 10 Best Free Antivirus Software No matter what computer you're using, you need antivirus protection. Here are the best free antivirus tools you can use. Read More is usually 25% to 50% cheaper. 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 decently by going with OEM hardware. However, you might find that buying the extras missing from the hardware, like the cables or fans, makes up the money saved.

Sometimes, the OEM hardware can be more expensive than retail. This usually happens when it’s going into the end of its lifespan. Spare stock is sometimes put up for sale as an OEM part and then sold for as much or more than retail.

Do a quick price comparison before making your choice. Know exactly what is and isn’t coming with your purchase. And be confident that you’ll be able to get support if needs be.

Building Your Own PC With OEM Products

Chances are you’re looking at OEM products because you want to build your own computer.

If that’s the case, check out our advice on whether it’s cheaper to build your own PC. Then, if you’re ready to take the plunge, we’ve got you covered with the ultimate guide to building a PC How To Build Your Own PC It's very gratifying to build your own PC; as well as intimidating. But the process itself is actually quite simple. We'll walk you through everything you need to know. Read More .

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. prasad
    December 11, 2018 at 9:17 am

    Can I get Apple OEM products

  2. Tashi Gyeltshen
    July 12, 2018 at 6:41 pm

    If we share OEM product key to other is there any potential risk? Could second or third person can use it in other device after being called to costumer care? Enlighten me!

    • Me
      December 22, 2019 at 5:06 am

      No you can't. OEM's purchase volume product keys, which can ONLY be used on a single computer. If you try to use it on another computer and activate it Mickey$oft will not allow it.

      They, theoretically, could take legal action. They probably won't.

  3. Manish
    March 3, 2018 at 7:33 am

    I want to buy a Bose headphone (OEM) that oem headphones has same quality as original Bose ??

    • Me
      December 22, 2019 at 5:08 am

      Really? For crying out loud Bose headphones are Bose headphones. End of Story.

      Unless of course they are pirated copies...

  4. Ronald DM
    January 26, 2018 at 3:57 am

    how about shoes.. Does OEM shoes with the brand logo legal? or its just a replica

    April 25, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    The real question is if user buy the retail one will microsoft offer hardware warranty due to inconsistent, bug, failure os of their retail product? The Answer is No so what is the actual FACT Differences?

    • Me
      December 22, 2019 at 5:11 am

      OEM products have Windows installed at manufacture stage. Manufacturers get volume discounts. Surprise!

      Computers that you buy in retail shops, i.e. HP, Acer etc have Windows preinstalled, so, contrary to what the article says, they are OEM products. You don't have to install Windows on them.

      Writer of article should be ashamed of themself.

  6. Khoong
    January 1, 2017 at 9:17 am

    Is that mean the OEM product is same as the original product just don't provide the same service and security of the original product?

  7. 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

  8. 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

      • Tommy
        October 6, 2018 at 6:56 pm

        Actually, no. It's not Frank Spiers, Information & Knowledge Extraordinaire. Read the article again ;-) "You may possibly run into problems" blah blah blah. Yeah. I know. I have a Win7 64-bit Home Premium, SP-1. i3 540, 2-Core, 3.07GHz. Point is: I've had it literally a year now. I didn't buy it. It was used in 2012 when bought brand new by a Web Design Co (a friend of mine) and was only used for 2 weeks. Anyway, literally, brand new. Point of Post/Disagreement: After a year long of Windows Updates, roughly a month ago or I'd say since July, so 10 mos in of Updates, normal Updates. Suddenly, I have Troubleshooter that cannot be used, Access Denied/Unable to Use it. The Network Troubleshooter for Windows Updates. I've done the whole kit and kaboodle of Self-Tech Support that I've done for 20 yrs on my personal PCs since Windows 95, 300MHz Pentium I (1995-96) Compaq. So, I'm not doing anything wrong.

        After this WinUpdate issue started occurring, now for 2wks or so, I get the "You're Not Running a Genuine Windows" pop up out of nowhere. Finally, today, because of this MUO article... I get it. My Prod Key is an OEM. This HAS to be the reason for this. After a few real Microsoft Updates, eventually, those Updates internally are telling me: You're f***ed. I'm not trying to be a d**k here man, Frank. But, there's literally nothing else that this can be. It HAS to be the reason. It's all I got left. Thankfully, my bro has a i5 4-Core for me. SSD hard drives & all that jazz. I'm not a Builder and this is just what happens when you never buy your own computers from the store, and get them from other people. But that doesn't matter. It's the computer I have and I have to disagree.

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

    A really helpful article. Thanks for sharing the information.

  11. Anonymous
    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.

    • Anonymous
      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.

    • Face Inthecrowd
      March 4, 2018 at 2:47 pm

      You should probably steer clear of ACME products too.

  12. Anonymous
    August 15, 2015 at 5:04 am

    Highly information. Thanks buddy! :)

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

      Highly Informative. Thanks buddy! :)

  13. 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....

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

    Thank you so much. Very informative article.

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

    Thanks for the beautiful article.

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

    Does oem products authentic? ? Confused! !

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

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

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

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

    thumbs up! additional information

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

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

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

    im not scared imma computer tech lol

  23. 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.

  24. 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...

  25. 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

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

    Now I know what OEM implies!

  27. 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.

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

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