As we cut corners to save costs, the question of whether buying second-hand components is a viable and judicious way to save a few bucks pops up.
In our guide, we investigate whether buying a used graphics card is worth the risk or is instead a conflated – and costly – one-way ticket to buying a full retail-priced GPU further down the line.
As tends to be the case with these types of ponderings, the answer isn’t a simple ”yes” or ”no”, but rather a nebulous and, at times, a frustrating ”maybe”. The answer tends to waver based on the specific card in question rather than as a general rule.
Where To Buy A Used Graphics Card?
It’s inherently difficult to put our hand up and say this or that specific website is the go-to place for purchasing a used graphics card, as horror stories befall even the most trusted ones. eBay, Craigslist, the r/hardwareswap subreddit; you name it, they’ve all experienced thousands of fluid sales with no issues alongside spine-tingling tales of horrendously broken or faulty items and scams.
That said, eBay does offer avenues to recuperate your money if a sale turns out to be a nightmare through its ”Money Back Guarantee” policy. The policy is a no-nonsense refund for faulty or broken items or those that don’t match the listing. If the seller tries to play hardball, then eBay steps in acting as an adjudicator with a tendency to side with the buyer.
Craigslist is more of a gamble given there’s no protection or insurance whatsoever, but you do get the convenience of proximity and the chance to inspect a card in person before committing to a purchase.
A good rule of thumb is to consider each card individually rather than tarnish an entire point of sale as untrustworthy. Check seller ratings and feedback scores to get a general sense of how trustworthy a seller is and proceed with caution.
How Much Should You Pay For A Used Graphics Card?
The main aim of buying a used graphics card is to score a bargain or at least obtain a card that costs markedly more new. With this in mind, price acts as a deciding factor if all other considerations are ticked off.
Taking the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), in hand with a median price point by researching a wide selection of trusted outlets, should give you an idea of the expected purchase price of a new model of a specific card. Don’t base how much you are willing to pay on this amount though, but instead on the MSRP.
From there, how much you want to pay is down to personal preference, but in our estimation, if the price cut is within a 20%-30% range or more to the MSRP, then the risk is mitigated by the low price. Anything closer to the MSRP and the risk isn’t worth the minimal savings. Paying marginally more money for the guarantee of a functional, fresh out of the factory graphics card is a common sense decision.
In other words, paying near the full list price for a second-hand item defies logic and defeats the point of buying a used GPU. In the same vein, a ridiculously low price is nine times out of ten a scam.
Which Used Graphics Card Should You Buy?
Which card you should buy depends on your gaming requirements, budget, and personal preference. The same steps as buying a brand new model apply here; check benchmark results, testimonials, reviews, and of course compatibility. At gunpoint, we’d recommend Nvidia GPUs as they tend to stand the test of time better than competitors.
The model doesn’t matter as much as how old it is. Age is synonymous with usage. Logic dictates that the longer a graphics card has been in circulation, the more it has been used, having a direct impact on wear and tear, the state of the components, and overall performance. Notwithstanding, older cards aren’t as optimized, power efficient, or packed with new technology and features as newer cards.
To err on the side of caution a range of fewer than 18 months to one year is the most sensible way to minimize the risk of buying a dud. Given most manufacturers offer a 3-year warranty, buying a GPU within this time frame also ensures you’ve got some peace of mind in case of a faulty model.
The above does come with a caveat though; certain manufacturers offer vague warranty assurances. For example, MSI has been known to move the warranty goal post to avoid accepting a warranty request. Check the warranty runs from the date of purchase and not the manufactured/wholesale date.
Presentation and Packaging Matter
Although somewhat of a sweeping generalization, there’s a distinct correlation between the state of second-hand GPUs and whether the seller has kept the original packaging, i.e., the box, official documentation, and all important anti-static bag.
PC components are fragile, intricate, high tech objects that require care to perform consistently over long periods. Sellers that keep packaging parts tend to look after graphics cards far better and treat them more carefully, purposely with the intent of reselling them down the line.
If you’ve got your eye on a card housed in a makeshift box with dust on the board and a few scratches on the casing, then stay well clear. Conversely, if the seller provides ample photos complete with the anti-static-bagged GPU, undented box, and an array of documentation, then things are looking good.
Conscientious sellers are also likely to provide details, photos, even run benchmarks on request, and answer questions about a graphics card’s history.
Is It Worth Buying A Card From A Cryptocurrency Mining Rig?
The short answer is no. Mining is a power intensive operation. Miners tend to squeeze out everything they can from GPUs, often overclocking them for more profits.
If the price is ludicrously low and you won’t take too much of a hit financially, it may be worth trying your luck, a bit like playing the lottery. Don’t buy an ex-mining card with the expectation of having a problem-free GPU, especially when it comes to fans that have likely been on uninterrupted for months at a time.
If you’re technically minded and have experience of GPU repairs, then mining cards can be considered, but aren’t recommended.
The Final Word
If cutting costs is a priority then buying a used graphics card makes sense. The adage of ”if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is” rings resoundingly true when it comes to buying a used graphics card. Be wary and ensure the deal is worth the risk before committing.
The UK-based journalist and gamer, Thomas, describes himself as a man of few words with an unhealthy obsession for everything wonderful about the world of gaming. Thanks to his experience in the gaming industry, he brings a wealth of talent into GamingScan.