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Purchasing Computer Parts: OEM vs. Retail

Purchasing Retail vs OEM Products

Most people are not familiar with what an OEM is let alone what an OEM product is, these products are becoming more and more available to the consumer. This is due to a combination of the fast evolution of computer technology and online shopping. Some will say it is better to purchase retail only while others will say it is better to purchase OEM. Personally I agree with both; so I am going to fill you in on the differences and the benefits of each so you have the information you need to decide for yourself.


What does OEM stand for and what is an OEM product?

OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. These are companies that manufacture and sell computer systems; for example DELL, IBM, Lenovo, Asus, etc. An OEM product is any product that is sold in bulk without retail boxes, software or any accessories to OEMs and system integrators. These products are purchased to be included with or installed into a computer system that will be sold to consumers.

How are OEM products different?

At the minimum an OEM product does not include the fancy retail packaging that you see in your local Best Buy or electronics store. In some cases an OEM product will not come with cables, software, accessories and documentation. For example when you purchase a hard drive that is retail packaged it will include mounting hardware, cables, installation instructions, software and a warranty card. The OEM version of the same drive will normally just be the hard drive in a sealed anti-static bag; which some people would refer to as a bare drive.  Another example would be graphics cards. A retail packaged graphics card will come with cables for your monitor, adapters, and software while the OEM version will normally be just the graphics card in an anti-static bag.

Retail vs. OEM

When shopping for anything the first thing a lot of people will compare is pricing and this is where OEM parts have the advantage. Due to not including the packaging and accessories and offering only a limited warranty the OEM version will normally be priced lower than the retail version. Now you ask yourself; why should I even look at the retail version if the OEM version is so much cheaper.

The biggest advantage to purchasing a retail product is the warranty. A retail product will come with a well-defined warranty in case there are any issues with item and the manufacturer will also provide support in case you have questions using or installing the item. OEM products will normally have a shorter term warranty and will come with limited support from the company selling it. This is because these parts were meant to be installed in a system and where meant to be covered by the warranty for the system whey were installed in.

You need to take all this into consideration when you are purchasing. Are you experienced and do not need assistance when installing the part or are you a novice and will need a lot of support? Are you building a new system or are you upgrading or repairing an old one? Do you need the accessories that are included in with the retail version or do you have them?

Is it safe purchasing OEM products?

Normally the only difference between the retail and OEM versions of a product are the warranty, packaging, and included accessories. You need to make sure you are comfortable with the terms of the warranty and that you do not need any of the extras that come with the retail version. If so then the OEM would be better for you because of the savings. If you are more concerned with the product warranty and technical support then you should purchase the retail version.

As a last bit of advice; I want to remind you that you should always research any part you are purchasing and if you still have any questions before you purchase it you should contact the company selling it with any questions you may have.

By Al LaPeter

Al LaPeter on Google+

2 thoughts on “Purchasing Computer Parts: OEM vs. Retail”

  • Evan

    I routinely buy both retail and OEM, and both are fine, but this helps clarify the difference.

  • Allan

    I always assume the OEM part has been built to the purchasers standards. Those standards need not be the same as the standards "retail" parts are manufactured. Just a thought as to why I normally look to by retail over OEM.

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