Today, we’re going to discuss buying used graphics cards.
Thanks to the recent release of Nvidia’s RTX series and the end of the GPU shortage of early 2018, the used market for GPUs is thriving right now. Because of this, we opted to write a detailed guide on navigating the used GPU market, including what deals are currently available.
Think of this as a detailed guide for buying used GPUs in 2019 and beyond. We’re going to tackle the common issues you might face with a used GPU purchase, where to buy used GPUs, what prices and levels of performance to expect, and more.
By the end of this article, you’re going to be more than ready to start buying used GPUs. If you’re already familiar with the lingo, feel free to skip the next section-- otherwise, let’s bring you up to par.
MORE: Best Graphics Card Deals
The Graphics Card Lingo
Here are common terms used throughout this article that you should know before continuing.
- GPU - While this is often used as an alternate term for “graphics card”, there are some graphics cards out there that actually have multiple GPUs inside them, such as the GTX 690 and Radeon HD 7990. Assume the former usage in this article unless stated otherwise.
- VRAM - This is memory used exclusively by your GPU, which is often much faster than DDR3/DDR4 RAM. VRAM usually impacts performance at higher display resolutions and with higher-resolution textures.
- Mining - This refers to cryptocurrency mining. If a GPU has been used for mining by an irresponsible reseller, it may have problems with overheating. You typically want to avoid these just to be safe, but you can also use this as leverage while bargaining.
- Overclocking - Overclocking refers to the practice of pushing your GPU’s performance to higher tiers, though it may come at the cost of worse thermal performance or instability. Some cards you buy may be overclocked, though factory overclocks usually don’t suffer the same problems associated with doing it yourself.
- PCB - Printed Circuit Board. This is often visible on the “back” of your GPU, though some GPUs may come with backplates to protect it.
Common Used Graphics Cards Problems And How To Fix Them
These problems are usually pretty fixable but may require some extra work on your part. If you buy a used GPU, especially from an independent reseller, these are the most likely issues you’ll face.
Problem: Dust Buildup
This is the most common of them all: an old GPU that simply has a lot of dust inside of it. This usually won’t cause severe overheating, but it can raise your temps noticeably. Most often, this will be found in the heatsink behind the fans and can be difficult to get rid of during routine PC maintenance.
Solution: Compressed Air
Fortunately, taking care of it is pretty straightforward. You’ll want to take the GPU out of your system completely and take a can of compressed air to it, removing any pockets of dust you can find. If you’re blowing compressed air anywhere near the fans, you’ll want to hold the fans to avoid damaging their bearings.
Problem: Severe Overheating
If taking compressed air to your card hasn’t worked, you may be dealing with a deeper cooling issue. Sometimes, dust will be in places that you simply can’t reach with your compressed air, your cooler may not be mounted onto your graphics card securely, or your thermal compound may be long expired. In any of these cases...
Solution: Replace Thermal Compound
You’ll want to remove the fan and cooler from your GPU entirely so you can more thoroughly clear them of dust and apply the new thermal compound to the GPU die. Instructions for this will vary depending on the exact make and model of your card, but if you’re comfortable with a screwdriver and have a safe, static-free workspace, you shouldn’t need to worry too much.
If you’ve ever removed your CPU cooler and added new thermal paste, you’re pretty much dealing with the same concept here.
Problem: “GPU Sag”
If a graphics card has been in use for a long time, you may notice it begin to sag. This phenomenon is called “GPU sag”, and if you’re buying an older used GPU, you’re fairly likely to encounter it. Fortunately, GPU sag is harmless to your hardware, as graphics cards are actually built with some flex to account for it. (Otherwise, they’d simply snap in half.)
If you really want to fix it, though...
Solution: Add GPU Brace
You’ll need to find a mounting arm or brace to fix the problem. You can either jerry-rig this yourself or use the solution we’ve linked below.
Severe Problems With Used Graphics Cards
These problems are much more severe, and likely completely unfixable. The only “solution” you have here are returns and refunds. These are relatively rare, though, and if you follow the best practices you shouldn’t usually encounter them.
Problem: Damaged Card/PCB
By “damage”, we mean damage. Dust buildup and expired thermal paste will negatively impact your card, but don’t necessarily constitute damage. If your card is damaged, the most likely part of it to be damaged is the PCB, usually with small parts of it being scraped or blasted off.
A common cause of this is using an air compressor instead of compressed air to clean a GPU. While a compressor works, if it’s too strong it can and will blast off parts of the PCB.
Symptoms of damaged graphics cards include:
- Frequent instability and crashing in games
- Blue Screens of Death
- Faulty temperature readings
Ensure that your graphics card isn’t overclocked. If you’re still encountering any of these problems, especially the first two, chances are your GPU is damaged and needs to be returned.
While used GPUs don’t usually come with a warranty, some manufacturers may be willing to repair or replace your card for a reasonable price. This will vary on a case-by-case basis, though, and usually, you’ll be better off just getting your money back.
Problem: Fake GPUs
Fake GPUs are particularly malicious because only the most attentive customers will be able to catch the ruse. If you don’t know what kind of performance to expect out of a graphics card you’re buying, you may not ever find out that the “GTX 1060” you’re using is actually a rebranded GTX 960, for instance.
To detect this problem, your best bet is to use GPU-Z, which will take advanced readings from your graphics card and alert you if you’re using a fake. If you find out you’ve been sold a fake GPU, report the problem to eBay and try to get your money back. If you purchased it directly, however… you may be out of luck.
Used Graphics Cards: How To Buy
The problems above may sound scary, but with the right practices, they can be easily avoided! Here are the top three rules of buying used GPUs.
1. Only Buy From Trusted Sellers
There are a number of viable places to search for used GPUs. Similar to many products, you can look on eBay or the Facebook Marketplace, but make sure you're buying from a trusted seller. No matter how enticing a price might look, if a seller has a rating any lower than ~95% percent, you probably shouldn’t buy something from them.
While there are honest-hearted sellers out there just getting started, it’s not on you to bet hundreds of dollars on them. Be smart and stick to sellers who have consistently high ratings.
2. Thoroughly Research Pricing
This may go without saying, but don’t grab the first great deal you see! Keep looking around for alternative options, and also check to make sure that the “great deal” you’ve spotted is actually a great deal. We’re going to give current examples of GPUs to buy and expected price ranges later on in the article, which should serve as a great place to start.
3. Never Buy MSRP or Full Price
This applies to anything used, honestly. If you’re going to pay full price for something, just buy it new from Amazon. If it’s used and it’s anywhere near MSRP, don’t bother! Either keep looking for a better deal or find a different card with a similar performance level. The GPU shortage ended a long time ago, so there’s no reason to buy used cards at MSRP anymore.
Used Graphics Cards: What To Buy
Finally, let’s get to the graphics cards that you should be buying and the expected price range you’ll be buying them in! If you’re unfamiliar with the modern graphics card landscape, then check out our GPU hierarchy or best graphics card guide.
Budget Range (Up to $130)
In the budget range, you should be looking for GPUs that perform better than or on par with the GTX 1050/1050 Ti, if not those exact cards.
These cards will usually have 2GB or less of VRAM, which is just fine for 1080p and 720p gaming, though you may need to turn down a few texture-related detail settings.
Cards that you may find in this range include:
- GTX 760
- GTX 770 (good deal)
- GTX 960
- GTX 970 (great deal)
- RX 560
- RX 470/570 (amazing deal)
Midrange ($200 to $350)
In this range, you’ll find the most cards, the most competition, and the most deals. Closer to $200, you should be looking for cards that perform on par with the GTX 1060 6GB. Closer to $300, you should be looking for cards that perform on par with the GTX 1070.
In this performance range, you’ll find cards that are better-suited for tackling 1440p and VR gaming. Anywhere from 4GB to 8GB of VRAM is common here, with the higher meaning the better for VR/1440p.
- RX 480
- RX 580 (amazing deal)
- GTX 970
- GTX 780 Ti (amazing deal)
GTX 980/980 Ti (amazing deal)
- RX Vega 56 (amazing deal)
- RX Vega 64 (amazing deal)
- GTX 1070 (amazing deal)
- GTX 1070 Ti (best deal, but unlikely)
High End (Up to $450)
Truth be told, you probably aren’t going to find much in the way of bargains here. Since all the GPUs that perform in this price range are still current-gen, their used prices are often very lackluster, generally less than $50 off from MSRP, which honestly isn’t worth losing your warranty over.
We’ll still go ahead and list GPUs here, but we’re also going to list their MSRPs so you can judge for yourself whether or not the deal you’ve found is worth it. You shouldn’t be spending more than $450 on any of these used, though.
The general performance level you should expect in this price range is pretty high, though. 1440p maxed and 4K high start to become possible here.
- GTX 1080 - $549
- GTX 1080 Ti - $699
- GTX 2070 - $599
Worth noting is that with the release of the RTX GPUs, GTX 1080s and 1080 Tis are starting to see more noticeable discounts, even when being sold new. If you really want high-end performance and are willing to spend a lot extra for it, keep an eye out for deals on those cards.
We think it’s fair to say, pretty definitively, that this is the best used GPU buying guide that you’re going to find out there since buying used GPUs still seem to be flying under the radar somewhat. We also monitor our comment section pretty closely, so if you happen to notice any issues or just need some help with buying a used graphics card, feel free to leave a comment and we’ll do our best to help you out!
Now that you know what’s out there, what do you have your eyes on? Personally, we’re eyeing deals on the RX 580! It’s already the best price-performance card from a new perspective, and amongst used GPUs that seems to only be exemplified.