Should You Buy a Used Graphics Card?

Should you buy a used graphics card? Every few years, cryptocurrencies seem to go nuts and the best graphics cards all disappear into the eager hands of miners. The past two years proved to be a particularly rough time, as component shortages and supply chain issues combined with the pandemic and cryptocurrency miners to make it nearly impossible to find a decent price on a GPU. That house of cards has finally collapsed, and GPU prices are dropping quickly, especially on used cards. Which raised the question: Should you consider buying a used graphics card:?

We’re not alone in warning of the dangers of secondhand GPUs. Recently, graphics card maker Palit warned (opens in new tab) that 24/7 GPU mining could reduce a GPU’s performance by around 10% per year. Of course, Palit also sells Galax and KFA2 branded GPUs, and it has a vested interest in gamers buying new cards rather than used cards. That goes for every add-in card (AIC) partner of AMD and Nvidia, and if they’re trying to clear inventory on current generation GPUs before the next generation stuff launches later this year, used cards simply represent more competition.

With cryptocurrency mining profitability now in the toilet — an RTX 3090 only nets about $1 per day, an RTX 3080 is down to around $0.80 per day, and the Radeon RX 6900 XT/6800 XT/6800 will do about $0.60 per day — many of the large mining farms are ready to pocket their current gains or cut their losses, selling off used hardware in bulk. You can finally buy an upgraded GPU for less than MSRP, in other words, sometimes a lot less when you buy used.

But even if you can buy a used card, should you? Here are the things you should know when you’re considering buying a used graphics card.

Price and Performance: Searching for a Deal 

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There’s a process to determining what GPU you should buy, and it starts with knowing your budget and setting realistic performance expectations. Whatever budget you’re considering, keep our GPU benchmarks hierarchy handy. That’s the best way to see how the various GPUs from different generations stack up.

There’s basically nothing from the prior generations that can match the performance of a current generation RTX 3080 or RX 6800 XT, but an RTX 2070 Super as an example will still generally outperform the newer RTX 3060. For budget cards, there are even more options. The RX 6500 XT might be relatively new, but it offers less performance than the GTX 1060 6GB from 2016.

We’re starting to see a lot more used GPUs hitting places like eBay now. The sage advice is that you should skip buying a used card, as you don’t want to inherit someone else’s problems just to save a few bucks. Except, we’re potentially not talking about saving just a few bucks.

The GeForce RTX 3060 is supposed to start at $330, according to Nvidia’s MSRP, but the cheapest new cards currently sell for $400 on the retail market. Turning to eBay, the average sold price over the past week was $377. Saving $23 by buying used? No thanks! However, some auctions have gone for under $300, and that’s enough to potentially sway some buyers. Alternatively, the RTX 2070 is only slightly slower and had an average eBay price of $326, with some auctions going for as little as $260. Would you be willing to go with a used card of similar performance if you could save $140, or about one third of the price? That’s the conundrum we face.

Basically, you need to determine whether a used card represents a deal or not. For a current-generation card, that probably means 10–20% below the official MSRP for a used card that’s supposed to cost under $700, but you might be able to find a GeForce RTX 3090 (opens in new tab) as an example for less than half the original MSRP.

Also note that average eBay prices for the latest generation GPUs (Nvidia Ampere and AMD RDNA2) have dropped 10–15% every month for the past several months. Older generation cards have often dropped even more in prices since those are less desirable (see below). The RX 6600 as an example is a bit faster than a GTX 1080 Ti and uses 45% less power. By those metrics, a used GTX 1080 Ti would only make sense if the price was quite a bit less than the cost of an RX 6600, particularly since you can get the latter new.

Assume the Worst and Prepare for it 

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There’s no way to tell what the previous owner(s) might have done with a graphics card when you’re shopping online, so our advice is to assume the worst. Don’t trust the seller to give truthful information. Any listing that says it was “never used for mining” at this point is probably a lie. Some sellers will actually tell you that a card was used for mining, but even then we’d assume maximum overclocks and redlining, with cards potentially pushed beyond safe limits. We’d also be wary of “like new,” “open box,” or even “factory sealed” listings, as all can be faked.

Murphy’s Law is in full effect here. If something could have been done with a GPU, it probably was. But that doesn’t mean a card can’t be salvaged. Thermal pads and thermal paste can deteriorate over time, and dust can build up in the fan blades and heatsink fins. It’s possible a bit of cleaning and TLC will make a card that was struggling run like new. Factor in the cost of new pads and even new fans, as well as the time required to clean a card.

There’s an exception to this, however: If you can meet up in person for a purchase, you can tell a lot about a card just by looking at it. Check for dust, and check to see if the screws holding the card together have been removed. (Those “warranty void” stickers do actually have some benefit.) If someone has a card in hand and it looks clean, especially in the nooks and crevices, there’s a good chance it wasn’t mining flat out for a couple of years. This is where places like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist can be far better than buying from eBay.

Graphics Card Age Matters 

Like any product, age can make a big difference. We’re not dealing with antiques, where older means better. It’s more like buying a used car. If something is only a year old, even if it was driven hard, it should still have a warranty and is less likely to have serious problems. A car that’s ten years old with over 150,000 miles on the other hand could just be asking for trouble.

If you find a reasonable deal on an RTX 3050, worst-case, it’s been used 24/7 for mining since late January 2022 — and it wasn’t ever a really great mining GPU to begin with. While 24/7 mining will put more wear and tear on a card than gaming four or five hours a day, we’d still expect a card that’s less than a year old to run games without any issues. A GTX 1070 Ti meanwhile could have been used on and off for mining for more than four years, and even without mining, it might be a dirty mess.

In short, buying a used GPU that’s from the latest generation tends to be safer than buying a previous top-tier GPU from several years back. You might get lucky with a pristine GTX 1080 Ti, or you could end up with a 1080 Ti on its last legs, with VRMs or other components on the board that are starting to go bad. Plan accordingly.

Related somewhat to age, certain graphics cards haven’t been good for mining — particularly Ethereum mining — for a while. Right now, you need a GPU with over 4GB VRAM to even try to mine Ethereum, and that’s been the case for over a year. So if you’re in the market for a GTX 1060 3GB for whatever reason, as an example, you probably won’t get a card that was in the mines since birth. Not that we’d recommend a 3GB card these days.

Also, if you’re digging deep in the bargain bins, do note that AMD has now officially retired all R9 300-series and earlier GPUs, along with the R9 Fury / Nano cards. Only RX series cards still have active driver support. Nvidia has also retired driver support for GTX 700-series and earlier GPUs. That may not matter too much in the short term, but Windows 11 and future games may not run well or at all on older cards. If you want to play the latest releases, you’ll want at least an RX 400-series AMD GPU or a GTX 900-series Nvidia GPU.

Pay Close Attention to Return Stipulations 

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Generally speaking, if you buy something off eBay, even if the seller says “no returns accepted,” you can still ask for a refund if the product doesn’t work. But it’s better to deal with someone that has a normal 30-day return policy.

Related to this, you’ll be better off buying something from within your country of residence. While returning a faulty product to China might be possible, it takes a lot longer, and shipping will probably cost more. Plus, it might take a week or more to get to you in the first place, which isn’t fun if you just want a working graphics card.

You should also look at the seller’s history. Don’t buy anything from a brand-new seller, particularly if the deal looks too good to be true — it probably is! Someone with hundreds or thousands of past transactions won’t want to damage their reputation. Many graphics card companies also have eBay stores, which should be safer than other options (assuming they have any inventory in stock).

Pay close attention to the description as well, particularly for bogus “box only” or “picture” listings. For eBay, you can put a minus sign in front of terms you wish to exclude from your search results. We recommend using the following terms on any GPU searches:

-image -img -jpg -jpeg -pic -picture -png -parts -drawn -digital -box

AMD or Nvidia 

We’ve discussed AMD vs. Nvidia elsewhere, but that’s a look at the current state of affairs. If you’re buying a used graphics card, particularly one that’s more than a couple of years old, things could be quite different. You’ll want to pay attention to features, so ray tracing as an example is only supported on Nvidia’s RTX series or AMD’s RX 6000-series parts — not that you need ray tracing to play most games. DLSS also requires an Nvidia RTX card. Check the GPU power consumption as well, and make sure your PSU can provide enough juice for whatever card you’re considering.

Outside of those aspects, we don’t have any major concerns with buying an AMD or Nvidia card. Again, it goes back to performance and price as the main considerations. If you find a card that delivers the performance you want at an acceptable price, the GPU brand isn’t usually a critical factor.

Also pay attention to VRAM, which has become more of a factor with the latest games. GPUs with 4GB or less VRAM may limit the settings you can select in some games, and can even struggle to run some recent releases at low-quality settings. AMD tends to offer more VRAM for a similar price compared to Nvidia. Basically, if you want to play the latest games, 6GB should be the absolute minimum, and 8GB or more is a safer choice.

Stress Testing and Benchmarking 

GPU Benchmarks - our actual desktop for testing (at 1080p; normally we run at 4K)

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

If you find a used card that meets all of your criteria and you decide to buy it, there’s still one final step once the card arrives: Test the hell out of it! Our graphics card reviews and benchmarks can give you some idea of what to expect in terms of performance, assuming you have a similarly fast CPU and system, but stability is just as important as speed for a used part.

We recommend breaking out some strenuous benchmarks once you get the card, to verify it works properly. 3DMark might suffice, but it’s most useful if you have a paid version where you can tell it to loop a test sequence 50 times. FurMark is a good torture test, but any demanding 3D game can suffice. You’ll want to have some other utilities running to check GPU temperatures, fan speeds, and power use. In fact, we have a whole article on how to test your graphics card.

The point is that you want to throw some serious work at the GPU to ensure it runs properly. If it doesn’t, the sooner you can ask for a refund and return the card, the better. You should also check clock speeds and memory speeds. If you’re only seeing 1500MHz while gaming on an RTX 2070, or your memory runs at a lower speed than it should, something is wrong. See our how to check your graphics card temperature for additional details.

If you run HWInfo64, MSI Afterburner, or some other utility and log the results, look for a decline in clocks accompanied by a fast ramp in temperatures. It’s not unusual to see 70–80 degrees Celsius on many GPUs, but anything above 80C tends to be worrisome. This does vary by GPU (e.g. AMD’s RX Vega cards tended to get hotter than competing GPUs), so do some research as well, but we prefer to keep our GPU temperatures in the 70s or below.

Final Thoughts on Buying a Used Graphics Card 

If reading this has you worried that you’ll spend a bunch of money on a used graphics card only to end up with a non-functional lemon, we’ve done our job. Given what we’ve seen from cryptomining over the past few years, we’d be hesitant to buy a used card as well. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and if your main GPU just went belly up or you’re hoping to get into PC gaming for the first time, you might need to consider a used GPU.

Dealing with a local seller (e.g. via Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist or similar) might offer you more peace of mind in some cases, but once you pay cash it becomes far more difficult to get a refund. eBay and auction sites aren’t necessarily great either, but eBay tends to side with buyers far more often than sellers. Shop from an established eBay seller with a long history (years of activity) and good feedback, and you probably (hopefully) won’t get burned.

Given the choice between buying a new graphics card for MSRP and saving a bit of money by going with a previous generation card that might perform a bit worse, we’d almost invariably advise PC gamers to suck it up and spend the extra money on a new card. It’s simply so much safer and less likely to cause problems. But if money is short or you’ve stumbled on a particularly compelling deal — and if you know how to clean and service a used GPU — there’s perhaps worse things you could do than buying a used graphics card.

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