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Should You Buy a Used GPU for Gaming?
Last Updated: December 20, 2022
Since the graphics card is almost always going to be the most expensive part of a gaming computer, hunting for a used GPU (Graphics Processing Unit; just another word for graphics card) is a good way to save money on your PC build.
But as a wise old dude in the desert once famously said,"You'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy". Doesn't take a Jedi to know Obi Wan was of course referring to the used PC market; a hazy maze filled with occasional deals, a whole lot of duds, and savage sellers who'll take full advantage at the first signs of noobery.
See Also: Should You Buy a Used Mining GPU?
Alright, alright, I'm being a little hyperbolic, and most people are good and won't rip you off, but you must be on your toes when buying any used stuff, and especially so when it comes to expensive tech like graphics cards where there could be any number of potential issues with the product. Then there's the reality that some sellers try to sell overpriced tech to those less aware of market prices and conditions, something that's possible due to the often oscillating nature of tech (goes up and down all the time).
A little understanding of the market goes a long way to finding a fair deal and to not get ripped off, as well as some know-how in regards to navigating used markets. So, if you're hunting a second-hand graphics card this year, in this guide I'll cover some key things to know when buying a used GPU (in my opinion based on my first-hand experience buying and selling hardware over the years). We'll also finish off with the most popular places to buy used graphics cards in North America, the UK, and Australia. Let's get to it.
See Also: How to Check for Safe GPU Temps
The Risks of Buying a Used GPU
The main risk of buying a used graphics card / GPU is that it dies on you a few months, weeks, or even days after buying. The main causes of premature failure are:
- A GPU that's been through a lot of use for many years
- A GPU that's been overclocked too much (or incorrectly/dangerously)
- A GPU that's been poorly looked after, such as choked by inadequate case ventilation
- A GPU that's been used for crypto mining without proper settings (see should you buy a used mining GPU?)
- A GPU that is damaged when shipped with insufficiently safe packaging
- Or, in the worst of worst cases - all of the above (quite unlikely)
When assembling a new gaming PC, the graphics card will almost always be the most expensive component of your parts list, so if you buy a dud that turns out to have issues, and you don't buy with protection (explained next) so you can get your money back - it's going to sting. But the potential savings is worth it to many, and if you keep your wits about you it's not that hard to do safely. PC builders buy used GPUs all the time.
But whether it's worth the risk or not; only you can answer that question, and depends on how comfortable you are with whatever method/platform you use to buy your card. If you're buying in-person and are comfortable dealing with people, with the confidence to ask all the necessary questions and decent sense of awareness to sus out a suspicious seller who may try lying to your face - I'd say go for it.
Tips to Buying a Used GPU (What to Look for & Ask)
Here's some basic things to keep in mind when hunting for used graphics cards if you perhaps don't have much (or any) experience with buying used tech. Just keep in mind that this, like the whole article, is simply my own opinion from experience (so take it or leave it, but I think it may be helpful if you're new to this). Also check out the used mining GPU buyer's guide as well for extra tips related to that.
- Remember the majority of listings will be overpriced and probably not worth your time, unless the price isn't too bad and you're good at negotiating. I've hunted used GPUs for other people before, and only 20-30% of ads are worth looking further into, as most are way overpriced.
- If you want to be as safe as possible, only buy if the seller has proof of purchase (ie physical receipt) and proof of warranty (if there's some warranty left which would be ideal).
- Don't buy if the card is too old, say more than 2-3 years old depending on what you're comfortable with.
- Ask about the card's usage, including whether it was overclocked (and how much plus how long). The more details you can gather the better, so don't be afraid to ask multiple questions (especially if their ad is thin on a description). If they get annoyed by your questions, or straight-up ignore some of them, that's a red flag.
- If buying online, immediately test the card in games and/or GPU stress tests as soon as you receive it so you can return it if there's an issue (for places like Ebay where you are protected in a sense and can return if the card wasn't as advertised).
- If buying in-person, inspect the GPU up close and look for obvious signs of heavy wear or damage. Look for discoloration of the PCB (Printed Board Circuit) - the actual circuity bit of the card (usually green, black, or grey). This means the GPU could be damaged by overuse and/or overheating.
- Avoid just doing a shady straight-swap at Starbucks or something- ideally you want to see the card working at their place before buying (or ask them to come to yours if you have a PC). If you want to be extra safe, ask nicely if they can quickly load up a game to see the card in action. While the gaming starts, listen for any extreme/strange noise from the card, and look that all the GPU fans are spinning (keep in mind GPU fans may not spin when the card is idle, ie when no game is running). If they're not willing to have you test the card before buying, I would be a little suspicious.
- Another thing you could do is ask them if they would be okay if you had a friend bring their PC to their house to quickly test the card - even if you can't or don't intend to do this. Their response will be telling IMO - if they decline, that's a red flag for me.
- If not paying cash in-person, favor using PayPal over a straight bank transfer as you'll get some level of buyer protection if something goes wrong. PayPal's system isn't perfect, but it's better than nothing.
- If scouring Gumtree, don't be that guy or gal who wastes time with the semi-pointless ice-breaking "is this still available?" (hilarious video intro by TechYesCity). If an ad is still live, assume it's available and get straight to the point with your question/s about the card. No point wasting time with that initial inquiry and waiting for a "yes" reply to then ask what you really wanted to say; in the mean time the card could have been sold to someone else who was quicker on the ball.
- I would not ask someone "are you negotiable on price". Instead, when going to check out a card in person, if you get to the point where you want to make an offer, just make your offer confidently such as "will you take X?". When you ask if they're negotiable, they can just say no, and then you're at a dead end in terms of being able to negotiate.
- Always offer less than the asking price; you don't want to be annoying, and you don't want to give a silly lowball offer to waste your and his/her time, but not asking is a mistake as many people will list a price that's slightly higher than what they're willing to let it go for. So if a card is listed for $300, start by offering $250 or thereabouts, and then negotiate up from there if they say no. Or if a card is $700, start with offering $550.
- If you're buying a card that's 3-5 or more years old, consider replacing the GPU thermal paste which can sometimes improve temperatures (and even performance).
Best Places to Buy Used Graphics Cards
North America (USA or Canada)
- Ebay - Has some level of buyer protection against scams if you don't get what you payed for so is relatively safe, but still be cautious and judge listings carefully.
See Also: How to Choose a GPU (Specs 101)
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About the Author
Indie game dev currently working on my first public release after years of hobby projects, a story-driven VR FPS built with Unreal Engine (to be announced soon here for anyone into VR FPS's). Also likes writing about tech, which also helps fund development of the game.
My favs of all time are OOT, Perfect Dark, MGS1, MGS2, GE007, DKC2, THPS3, HL1, and HL2, with the most recent addition to my list of immortals being the VR masterpiece Alyx. If you want help with a new build feel free to ask on the main PC builds guide. If you found the site extra helpful and wish to support the work I do here, sharing an article with a friend helps a lot and is much appreciated. - Julz