OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer. This acronym is something of a misnomer; you might think that equipment labelled "OEM" would ship directly from the original manufacturer, or something like that. In fact,
OEM hardware is packaged for and sold in bulk to computer professionals, such as computer companies and system builders.
Manufacturers package all sorts of devices as OEM, including CPUs, hard disks, CD-ROMs, floppy drives, and many other devices. OEM-packaged hardware promises significant savings for someone building a computer system, even if they are not a computer professional. OEM does not merely mean "wholesale"! In many cases, OEM-packaged equipment differs significantly from the corresponding retail parts, as detailed below.
How can you recognize OEM-packaged hardware at the local computer store? Some of the obvious indicators:
OEM hardware almost never comes with manuals, disks, or other support information. Since the OEM-packaged hardware is aimed at computer professionals, the manufacturer assumes that the system builder will download the latest drivers off the Web, and that the system builder will not need instructions.
OEM hardware usually comes packaged in an unpadded box or plastic bag. When it is shipped in bulk to the computer company or system builder, the manufacturer just sends it in a minimally padded bulk pack. When unpacked, each unit will usually be wrapped in plastic bags or shrinkwrap.
OEM hardware sometimes carries a different brand stamp. As an example, Creative Labs sells Soundblaster-compatible cards to system builders under the "Vibra" brand name. These cards are very similar to their retail counterparts, except that they carry the "Vibra" name instead of the famous "Soundblaster" name.
OEM hardware is cheaper than retail.
That's the whole idea behind OEM packaging. By minimizing packaging and cutting various corners, manufacturers can pass the savings on to system builders and other computer companies. If a local computer store is offering equipment at a substantially lower cost than the local competition, they might be reselling OEM equipment.
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