OEM Drive Has Better Warranty Than Retail

Hey Fred, Love the newsletter. I just bought two new hard drives. They are 250GB Maxtor DiamondMax 10 PATA 133MB 16M cache. I plan to install them in a RAID configuration.

The reason I am writing is to ask if you are aware that OEM drives, from Maxtor, have a longer warranty. That drive is available from a big chain of stores in its retail form (box, CD, cable, etc.) and has a warranty of 1 year. The same drive, in its OEM form, has a warranty of three years and can be bought from just about any computer shop. It is also cheaper.. I just can’t understand why! Keep up the great work. You make your readers look amazing… Ciao. —Serge Desaulniers

That an OEM drive has a longer warranty than an ostensibly identical retail one is indeed unusual, although not unheard of. Usually OEM components are cheaper (as yours was), but that better price is accompanied by reduced support (such as warranty support).

On the TigerDirect Web site and the sites of other major legitimate component online stores, your "OEM" drive is available with a 36-month warranty and tech support supplied by Maxtor. It’s all quite above board and legitimate. But OEM component purchase stories don’t always have a happy ending.

OEM are the initials for "original equipment manufacturer." The term has been around for a long time, and is used differently in various industries. The way it’s used in the PC industry is a bit of a misnomer. Usually, a PC company— Dell, HP, Gateway, etc.— is called an "OEM"— even if it merely assembles hard drives, DVD and CD drives, motherboards, fans, video cards, monitors, keyboards, cabling and other parts and peripherals manufactured by other companies.

Parts and components built and packaged for sale to these OEMs are usually slightly different from those sold at retail stores. They may come without cabling, for example, or screws, software and, usually, warranty.

OEM hard drives are sold under varying degrees of legitimacy, from totally illegal to vaguely shady to fully approved and legitimate. Sometimes sellers hide the fact that a component is an OEM part, but sell it without packaging (called a "bare drive")— and others highlight the drive’s OEM status as a mark of value.

OEM drives may be sold by the drive manufacturer, by an OEM, by a reseller or VAR, or— most likely— by none of the above, such as an online store that sells directly to users.

In some cases, an OEM drive comes with zero support from the vendor. No firmware, no software, no service, no promise to fix if broken— you may even not be able to take advantage of future firmware upgrades. Sometimes, the missing firmware is actually required in order to take advantage of the drive’s full potential performance or feature set.

The Maxtor drive in question, however, represents a growing trend. Component makers nowadays increasingly split specific product lines into three major channels: Retail, OEM and pseudo-OEM. Your drive is the latter. A pseudo-OEM drive uses the OEM label as a marketing gimmick, and often small tweaks in packaging, parts, warranty and other attributes, to sell online. In reality, it’s a retail product never intended for the OEM or reseller channels.

Buying this "OEM" drive from a reputable seller will probably end up being a good deal. In general, however, it’s a good idea to buy components— whether labeled OEM or not— from reputable sellers, and with support and warranties supplied directly from the manufacturer.

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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.