With Windows 8.1, Microsoft has switched its retail media to the Full version of the software, but kept the same pricing--$119.99 for Windows 8.1 "Core" and $199.99 for Windows 8.1 Pro—as with Windows 8. So what's different with the OEM media? And why might one choose this offering over the retail media?
Here's the story with OEM media.
Full version. As with previous Windows versions, the Windows 8.1 OEM editions are the Full version of the product and are designed to be installed on a single new PC only. Unlike the retail media, you cannot use OEM media to upgrade an existing version of Windows to Windows 8.1.
Specific version: 32-bit or 64-bit. With the retail versions of Windows 8.1, you are buying Windows 8.1 "Core" or Windows 8. Pro, and with either you get both 32-bit and 64-bit media. This is not the case with the OEM versions: Instead, there are separate purchases for Windows 8.1 "Core" 32-bit, Windows 8.1 "Core" 64-bit, Windows 8.1 Pro 32-bit, and Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit.
Pricing. Windows 8.1 OEM media less expensive than the corresponding retail media though it varies by version. The Windows 8.1 "Core" OEM products are $99.99, about $20 less than the retail version. But the Windows 8.1 Pro OEM products are $139.99, a savings of about $60. So that's something to consider if you're looking to do a clean install. (These prices haven't changed since the release of Windows 8.)
Even cheaper new design. While the OEM versions of Windows have always offered a much cheaper experience than the retail versions—see No OEM For You: Windows 7 OEM Packaging is Not For Individuals for a peek at the Window 7 OEM packaging—the Windows 8.1 OEM packaging is downright horrible. Not a huge deal, of course.
No product key card. Unlike the retail media, you don't get a nice product key card with the OEM media. That said, the product key is of course available via a sticker on the packaging. Bring a magnifying glass.
Given the price savings, I can recommend Windows 8.1 OEM software—especially the Pro version—for anyone looking to do a clean install of the OS on a new or existing PC. Just don't expect a lot in the way of hand-holding.