Buying Used PC Hardware: A Beginner’s Guide

Beginner's Guide to Used Hardware

If you’re close to the ‘Destitute’ level on our main chart—or even within spitting distance—new hardware prices can seem insurmountable. But what if you didn’t have to pinch pennies waiting for a sale? What if you could have a powerful—if slightly dated—system for a fraction of the cost?

Thankfully for you, there’s a surprisingly huge market for used hardware online! eBay is obvious, but forums like /r/hardwareswap are tight-knit, self-policing communities of enthusiasts eager to swap silicon. It’s also quite safe: PayPal is the most popular payment method, with their Goods and Services option offering buyer protection in the event of fraud.

That being said, not all used components age as gracefully as others. We’ve created this guide so you can shop wisely.

Used RAM

Low Risk

  • CPUs: If you’re stuck on an older platform like LGA 1150 or AM3+, a formerly high-end chip can breathe new life into your older system. For instance, the Potato Masher—a low-end build YouTube series—upgraded from an i5-750 to a Xeon X3440 for improved multi-threading. Obviously avoid chips that have previously been run with heavy overclocks if possible, and maybe upgrade your cooling as well.
  • RAM: With RAM prices through the roof over the past year, cheap memory can be very appealing. Used RAM is also sometimes the only way to upgrade very old systems—say, a NAS box running on DDR2. Do note that high-end RAM like Samsung B-Die commands a premium even on the used market.
  • Motherboards: Like CPUs, a gently used motherboard can last a very long time. Your only real precautions are faulty memory slots, bent socket pins, and (in extreme cases) busted capacitors. The main issue is lack of choice: buying a new motherboard lets you get exactly the features you want.

Used Graphics Card

Medium Risk

  • Graphics Cards: These days, the used market is flooded with former crypto mining cards. While they can be a bargain, poorly cooled and overworked cards can die quickly. Even if it wasn’t mined on, older cards often lack good DirectX 12 and Vulkan support, and their drivers don’t always keep up. For instance, the humble 1050 Ti  can almost match the 780 Ti, which launched at $699 and consumes over three times as much power!
  • Solid State Drives: A used SSD is a cheap way to speed up a low-end system, but beware: all SSDs have a defined lifespan. Ask for the CrystalDiskInfo report from your seller. Speed freaks may also be disappointed, as older drives often lack DRAM caches, NVMe, and other cutting-edge technologies.

Used Power Supply

High Risk

  • Power Supplies: Your power supply is the single most important component in your computer, in terms of its reliability and safety. Do not skimp out on it. Because signs of wear are hard to identify, used units should only be used for disposable hardware: a garage PC, an in-home streaming rig, anything you can afford to lose if things go south.
  • Hard Disk Drives: like SSDs, hard drives have a defined lifespan. Unlike SSDs, signs of failure are often not obvious, and putting your data on them carries a risk. With that said, used hard drives can be fine for low-use file servers or extra backup redundancy… just don’t rely on them. And always, always ask for the CDI!

Conclusion:

Buying new and buying used aren’t so different, in that research is key for both. The vast majority of Logical Increments’ information and guides (including the primary build recommendation chart) use only new parts in order to guarantee reliability, compatibility, and performance—while making things as easy as possible for users.

But if you’re willing to be more independent with your research, and you are not entirely risk-averse, then the used market remains a viable option for you. Know what you’re buying, purchase with care, and you can upgrade both your rig and your bank account.