What does OEM mean for computers?
OEMs can be a great way to save money on PC parts by getting them from the source. Here’s what this acronym stands for and why it’s a must-have for computer enthusiasts.
Original Equipment Manufacturer
OEM stands for “original equipment manufacturer”. This is the company that manufactured or created a product before it was marketed through a retailer or used as part of another product.
People use this acronym in many different contexts, but when used in internet commerce, it usually refers to a product coming directly from the original manufacturer instead of a retailer. An OEM product is often identical to a retail product without the bells and whistles like retail packaging, documentation, or a warranty. You can usually find OEM products at a lower price.
For example, builders of pre-built desktop computers often purchase processors wholesale from Intel. However, they might not be able to empty all of their stock until the next iteration. In this case, some of them will resell these “OEM” chips in the market. These chips generally function the same as their retail counterparts, but come in a plastic wrapper instead of a box with a warranty.
The history of equipment manufacturers
Unlike the other acronyms we’ve covered which are internet inventions, OEM is a technical term for manufacturing and business. Before it became common for computer hardware and software, OEM was mainly used in the automotive industry. Automakers have sourced parts from a variety of manufacturers, so when looking for spare partsmechanics and end users would use OEM parts to make repairs.
As hobbyist computer building became more prominent in the 2000s, these parts became more common online. From system builders reselling OEM parts to people dumping their Dell desktops for parts, OEM components are a staple for PC enthusiasts looking to save money.
Find OEM Hardware
You can find OEM parts in a variety of places. You can spot them on online retail sites such as Amazon or Newegg, in reseller markets such as eBay, or at your local computer store.
You can find OEM equivalents for many computer parts, including processors, graphics cards, RAM, storage, or laptop power supplies. For closed systems like laptops and phones, spare parts are also OEM. If you want to repair your computer screen or replace the battery, you’ll usually want to find an OEM of the same part as your device. The alternative is aftermarket parts (or counterfeit parts), which may be of much lower quality.
There are instances where OEM products may be unique and may not have a retail equivalent. For example, in previous generations, AMD only made OEM “G” processors with powerful integrated GPUs, primarily intended for productivity desktop computers in offices. Since AMD hasn’t allocated these chips to retail, you’ll have to buy a desktop through a system builder or buy the chip in a plastic tray from a third party.
When browsing the web, you may also see “OEM” software, such as product activation keys for Windows or Microsoft Office. OEM keys are very common. Chances are the device you are currently using was pre-activated with an OEM key. Microsoft often bundles large volumes of keys for PC manufacturers and enterprises, offering them substantial licensing discounts.
These OEM keys sometimes end up on the resale market, often through smaller system builders. These keys are usually less expensive but have the same validity as retail keys. However, since OEM software may be tied to specific hardware, resold keys may not work as expected. Be sure to check reviews and comments on an OEM keysheet before purchasing.
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So… Is it safe?
Typically, physical OEM parts are fine and are a great way for bargain hunters to find the best prices. However, there are still a few things you should be wary of.
First, genuine OEM products typically have very little defect protection. If you buy an OEM chip from a third party, they will often state that you “buy at your own risk”. There have been stories of people buying these resold chips and immediately failing. You want to look for resellers that have a solid reputation, online reviews, and a refund or return system.
Second, OEM listings are very prone to fraud. Since they try to entice buyers based on price, scammers who produce counterfeit items often take advantage of the lack of detail. If you see an offer that seems too good to be true, it might be. Be sure to contact the seller before entering into any transaction on OEM products and check to see if they have sold similar products before.
Finally, you can also spot OEMs on products that have nothing to do with computers or cars. Say you spot “OEM” on brand name products like shoes, clothes, or small appliances. The seller implies that the item is from the same source of manufacture as the genuine products. However, these products are widely considered counterfeit and infringe intellectual property as they use the trademark without permission.