What Are OEM PC Parts/Hardware?
As well as refurbished and used parts, with the former being a potentially smart buy and the latter of which I would generally avoid when it comes to PC hardware, you also have OEM parts which you’ll occasionally see from time to time whilst browsing around for your components. Keep in mind that OEM products will either list “OEM” or “bare” in the product listing.
OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer, which for beginners can be a confusing term as it doesn’t really explain what they’re all about. The name comes from the fact that these parts are typically sold to computer companies (usually in bulk) for them to integrate into their computers that they sell.
Simply put, an OEM product is simply a bare product that sells for less than the standard retail version, and that usually won’t come with any extras like packaging, cables, manuals, instructions, etc, some of which may be required for its operation. OEM products will also typically have a shorter warranty and/or limited or no support.
These days they are more popular with normal consumers due to the rise in online shopping, as online stores don’t need to display any packaging to sell a product as compared to a physical location where having a full package on display is more important.
The most common hardware components you’ll find available as OEM are hard drives, optical drives, and PCI/PCI-E cards such as graphics cards. Software also comes as OEM, including Windows.
OEM vs Standard Retail Parts
Let’s use an optical drive as an example to explain the difference between an OEM and a full retail version or a product, which is a common component that sells as OEM.
The full retail version of the drive will (well, should) come with the cable, full box/packaging, manual/install instructions, as well as any software CD/DVD that relates to the drive. With an OEM version of the same drive, you will probably only get the drive in its anti-static bag, and that’s that (as well as a shorter warranty).
Retail hardware vs OEM
Should You Buy OEM Parts?
The biggest benefit to buying something OEM is obviously the lower cost, although don’t expect any huge savings as only rarely will you see a large difference in price between OEM and retail.
So whether you should get something OEM will come down to personal preference and the individual product and price you’re looking at, how much you’re going to save compared to the full version, what you’re missing out on by going OEM (cables, documentation, drivers, box), and the warranty and potentially limited return/service terms.
For example, sometimes you may need something extra that comes with the retail version such as a cable or a bracket or something, and buying that piece separate may end up not making the lower-priced OEM version worth it after all.
Also, if you’re a hardware beginner who likes or needs to know all the little details about installation and/or maintenance of the component, the instructions/manual may come in real handy and so the OEM version may not be worth it to you as it likely won’t come with any of this.
Although for most parts the install and setup steps are essentially the same across different models and you can just learn how to use the part in this guide or other tutorials online, there may be little nuances to know about for a particular model that you may need to know as a beginner.
So overall, OEM products are absolutely fine to use in your PC build and can save you a bit of cash without too much downside, so long as you take the above into account. Physically, OEM products are identical to the full retail versions.
One last thing to note about OEM parts in case anyone wonders about this, yes - strangely enough, sometimes the OEM version costs more. This typically happens when a component is going into the end of its lifespan and spare stock is sold as OEM and marked up for the same or higher price as retail.
What About OEM Software Like Windows?
Software also comes in OEM versions, with the most common you’ll likely consider when building a PC being Windows. You can also get OEM versions of security, utility and productivity applications too, but let’s discuss Windows.
Windows OEM is potentially a good buy if you can find it at a good price compared to the full retail version, however there are some things to keep in mind. With OEM Windows you can only legally install it on the one computer, and you can’t move it to a new build in future, whereas the full version has more flexibility with this. Plus, OEM Windows doesn’t come with documentation, and has no tech support either.
A hobbyist game programmer turned hardware enthusiast, Julien "cyberjulz" is the founder of BGC and has kept a keen eye on the latest in DIY gaming ever since starting BGC back in '06 as an almost laughably-basic and brief 20 page site with the aim to make building PCs more accessible to the average gamer since most resources weren't too noob friendly. Over countless reinventions and reiterations to the quality, depth and usefulness of the content over many years the site has steadily grown into the expansive, comprehensive and ever-updated first-time PC builder resource that it is today that now reaches and helps thousands of gamers and power users each month to more easily plan optimal setups for their exact needs. You can learn more about the BGC mission and ways to support it here.
Have a question or enjoyed the article and want to share some feedback, constructive criticism, or report an error to help us keep making BGC the best beginner building resource around? We're listening: feel free to comment or message on our Fanpage or email us here.
For those wanting comprehensive 1 on 1 help with planning the perfect custom build for your specific budget and performance requirements, our personalized parts-list research service might be for you. You send in your build requirements, in as much detail as you like, and we'll get to work to carefully and comprehensively plan the very best PC build for your specific situation to help you save money, stretch your budget as far as possible, and build the ultimate high-performing, well-balanced, reliable and upgrade-friendly system.