Buying Used Graphics Cards: Play Your Cards Right

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Edmund_McGowan
edited August 2023 in PC Tech

What is a graphics card? 

A graphics card, also called a GPU (graphics processing unit), is a specialized component most commonly known for its application in enhancing the PC gaming experience. GPUs remove graphical processing responsibility from the processor or RAM and render graphics in 2D and 3D. GPUs enable 3D display, 4K output, higher pixel ratio, greater color range, and high refresh rates.

Put simply, GPUs make realistic graphics and seemingly endless in-game worlds come to life and flow smoothly during gameplay. Not to be confused with the brain of the computer, CPUs (central processing units), GPUs work alongside CPUs to enhance the running of complex tasks such as graphics or AI. A CPU multitasks and controls the sequential primary functions of a PC, while a GPU focuses on running many smaller, repetitive tasks such as graphics. GPUs may be integrated with the motherboard or added as an extension.

Enhancing game graphics is not the only job that GPUs are good at, however. Graphics cards have also gained popularity as tools in AI (artificial intelligence) as well as video editing, content creation, and deep learning. Another widespread application of GPUs is in cryptocurrency mining. GPU mining uses graphics cards to solve and validate equations to create crypto coin value for cryptocurrency miners.

Why buy a used GPU?

That is the question. Well, the past few years have made getting hold of a good GPU at a fair price a challenge for most gamers. Supply chain issues and component shortages as well as crypto miners and scalpers snatching up the lion’s share of decent GPUs…and the pandemic have all made our lives difficult.

But things have changed, with cryptocurrency mining no longer the gravy train that it once was, many miners are cashing in their chips. Miners are selling off their often well used hardware including GPUs through second hand hardware stores as well as on eBay and other platforms. As is always the case with used markets, prices are all over the place, but there are savings to be made. The cryptocurrency crash has now flooded the market with used current generation GPUs being sold for much less than retail value. With the launch of the next generation of GPUs, prices of used older GPUs promise to fall even more.

On top of this, the role of GPUs in crypto mining is facing competition from newer innovations such as Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) and Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs). Both of these are more efficient at performing hash calculations than GPUs and CPUs.

So, buying a used GPU will provide you with an upgrade and help you to save money, sounds good? Buyer beware! Any potential savings might end up costing you if the GPU is not what the seller says it is!

The two considerations that potential buyers need to make before wading into the used market is first setting a budget and performance expectations. Current generation GPUs are obviously preferable to dusty antiques, but it is worth comparing different GPUs to figure out what works for your needs before buying.

So, do graphics cards go bad? You may be asking before considering a used purchase. The age of GPUs is an important consideration to make, the newer the better. Purchasing a used mid range GPU from the latest generation is a better idea than buying a top of the range GPU that is several years old.

Seen a used GPU for sale? First, read more about buying a used GPU

So now, you may be asking yourself the question: Should I buy a used graphics card? As we talked about above, every few years when crypto crashes, there is a sudden increase in the availability of used GPUs. Before you buy though, you need to consider the previous life of the GPU. As with buying anything, following the proverb caveat emptor, or buyer beware is a good idea when buying used GPUs.

A graphics card that has been used 24/7 to mine crypto might be a bad idea, you may think, surely this use would affect the lifespan of the GPU? Yes and no. GPU manufacturing companies may say that mining massively degrades performance, but other sources disagree.

Buying eBay graphics cards or refurbished graphics cards successfully is not rocket science, but it is a science of sorts. If you have decided on a particular GPU, there are several considerations to make before purchasing.

Where can I buy a used GPU?

Most listings for used graphics cards are on eBay, you can also check seller ratings to ensure that you are buying from a trustworthy source. Even so, it pays to be wary, and not necessarily believe everything that the sellers say about the GPU. Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace will allow you to inspect the GPUs in person, providing benefits to buying unseen products online.

What should I look for when buying a GPU?

  • Look at it closely! If you are buying from eBay or another online platform and are unable to physically inspect the GPU, presuming that the photographs of the card for sale are accurate, you can learn a lot from the photos.  
  • If the fan blades are damaged in any way, cooling and vibration will be a problem. If you can switch out the blades, not a problem but if you can’t, then it will cost you time, money, and inconvenience.
  • Scratches may just be cosmetic and mean nothing, or they could indicate that the GPU was housed in cramped conditions without sufficient airflow, again a warning flag for overheating.
  • If you can inspect the card, have a look for dust in the harder to reach parts of the card and check to see if the screws that keep the card in one piece have been removed.
  • If a listing looks too good to be true, it most likely is too good to be true. So do your research and ideally opt for established sellers who are willing to answer any questions you have about the GPU before you commit.

What next?

Once you have your new old GPU in your hands, it is a good idea to test it extensively to see if it performs as advertised. Compare the card’s performance against the benchmarks we discussed before, and stress test the card using FurMark or similar. If the card overheats (80 celsius and above) or has fan or power use issues, these are red flags. The earlier these are detected the sooner you can return the GPU to the seller.

There are many GPU choices out there right now. The choice is yours. If the financial savings are minimal, most gamers would be wise to spend a little more money on a new GPU. If, however, circumstances demand that you opt for a used graphics card, or the savings are too great to ignore, then do your research, learn how to service your new used GPU and find a deal that works for you. Good luck!

Edmund is an English copywriter based in New Taipei City, Taiwan. He is a widely published writer and translator with two decades of experience in the field of bridging linguistic and cultural gaps between Chinese and English.

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