There are many reasons why you would buy a used graphics card. First and foremost, the savings, of course. With the mining madness now over, we've been given the opportunity of buying graphics cards on the cheap due to both excess inventory and users simply getting rid of hardware that is no longer good for mining cryptocurrencies. This past generation of GPUs also received a much longer than expected life cycle, meaning you are not getting overly old GPUs, but fairly serviceable gaming hardware.
To set used graphics card pricing we've looked at completed eBay listings from all of December, working out the best graphics card buys right now. Thousands of sales have been tallied up and that's the data we used to estimate our average sale price, which will then allow us to calculate a cost per frame measure.
For testing frame rate performance we chose games that have proven to be fairly neutral, not favoring either GPU brand. We took one of our big 30+ game benchmarks and looked for titles where the GTX 1060 and RX 580, along with the GTX 1070 and Vega 56, delivered a similar level of performance. This lead us to choose Battlefield 1, F1 2017 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, all of which were tested using DX11 with the medium quality preset at 1080p.
Frame rates for all graphics cards were higher in Battlefield 1 and F1 2017, while they were about 35% lower in Tomb Raider, so this caused some issues for the lower-end models.
Still, we feel this is a good spread of what you can expect from modern games using mild quality settings.
Looking at GeForce GPUs first, the GTX 560 and 560 Ti were basically unable to play these modern titles at 1080p while at the opposite end of the scale we have the GTX 1080 Ti miles out in front as it’s roughly equivalent to the new RTX 2080.
Using medium quality presets in the three tested titles, we are looking for ~60 fps on average. Gamers can get away with as a little as a GTX 950, 760, 1050, 960, 670 or obviously anything that was faster.
For the Radeon GPUs we see Vega 56 and 64 well out in front while the previous generation Fury GPUs were really only just able to edge out the RX 580. We see strong performance from the R9 290, 390 and RX 570, as well as anything situated above them on the graph. For around 60 fps, the HD 7870 or the refreshed 270X will work while the HD 7950, R9 280, 380 and faster will be more than adequate using mid-range quality settings.
The performance numbers by themselves are somewhat useful as they allow you to quickly determine what’s still worth buying. Now it’s time to see what each model sells for on average, how many were sold at auction in December, and how they compare in terms of price vs. performance.
The data below is arranged by the average frame rate, with the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti offering the fastest performance so it's shown at the top of the chart. Next to the GPU model name we have the average selling price in December, in the case of the GTX 1080 Ti that price is $618. Then in the darker gray field we have the number of successful auctions, ignoring any defective products being sold as parts. In the case of the 1080 Ti we see there were 715 secondhand models sold last month, so your chances of snagging one for around the average selling price is good.
At $618, the GTX 1080 Ti costs $2.32 per frame (based on the data from our three game average). That makes it one of the most expensive models in value terms, but it’s also by far the fastest, so that premium may be justified. With the RTX 2080 currently selling for its $700 MSRP, you really want to spend well under $600 on a used 1080 Ti to make it a good purchase. We found quite a few models for around $550, and even saw one that sold for as low as $415, so there are bargains to be had. Still, it’s shocking how many sold for close to or even over $700 last month. Anyway, at $415 the GTX 1080 Ti comes out at just $1.56 per frame, and $2 at per frame at $532. So feel free to make your own calculations based on the pricing in your region.
For those after a high-end bargain the GTX 1080 is worth looking into. The 1070 Ti’s are arguably better value but in December there were many more 1080s on sale. The average selling price was $372 but quite a few sold closer to $300. Even at the average selling price, the GTX 1080 comes out at a cost of just $1.84 per frame and that’s great relative value compared to other high-end GPUs, especially since there were so many of them available.
Those looking for a more affordable 1440p experience, getting a secondhand GTX 1070 or Vega 56 is the way to go. That said, your chances of landing a GeForce graphics card are almost seven times better. The GTX 980 Ti also looks to be great value, though there were only about as many of those for sale as there were Vega 56s.
For over 100 fps in our three-game test sample, the ultimate bang for your buck is the Radeon R9 290, at just $0.74 per frame and an average sale price of just $78, it’s an incredible bargain. Sadly most models did use the extremely loud AMD reference design, but still for $78 you’d make do. For a very small price increase, the RX 570 is a better buy and there were loads more of them on offer. At $94 on average, that’s a little over $50 off a brand new model which isn’t bad, a 37% discount. We should also jump back and mention the R9 Fury. Also excellent value at $130, but few went up for sale.
For ~67 to 88 fps range, the GTX 770, R9 285 and GTX 670 are standout options. Of the three, we would go for the GTX 770 every time.
For 50 to 60 fps, we would be on the lookout for the Radeon HD 7870 or 270X as these were better in terms of cost per frame and only a few dollars more overall than the alternatives. Below 50 fps you’ve got to be desperate. I mean, the HD 7870 and 270X sold on average for just $51, so there's no point in going with anything lower than that.
As a recap, below are the models we would be on the lookout for...
For models that come with various VRAM capacities, such as the RX 570, pay attention to that and if the 8GB models in this example are only slightly more than the 4GB cards then consider investing a little more to get the extra memory. At this point we recommend avoiding cards with only 2GB of VRAM.
From our observations, you have a good chance of getting one of these models for the average selling price, if not better. Basically we removed anything that typically offered a poor cost per frame ratio or sold less than 20 models last month. This last selection narrows things down to a few of the best GPU options in the secondhand market also accounting for models that are more easily acquired at a reasonable price.
- Radeon RX 570 on Amazon
- Radeon RX 580 on Amazon
- GeForce GTX 1060 6GB on Amazon
- GeForce GTX 1070 Ti on Amazon
- GeForce RTX 2070 on Amazon
- GeForce RTX 2080 on Amazon
- GeForce RTX 2080 Ti on Amazon
Only buy graphics cards from known brands...
- Radeon HD 7850 on eBay
- Radeon R9 270 on eBay
- Radeon HD 7870 on eBay
- Radeon R9 270X on eBay
- GeForce GTX 760 on eBay
- Radeon R9 290 on eBay
- GeForce GTX 670 on eBay
- Radeon R9 380 on eBay
- GeForce GTX 770 on eBay
- GeForce GTX 780 on eBay
- Radeon RX 570 on eBay
- Radeon R9 290X on eBay
- Radeon RX 580 on eBay
- GeForce GTX 980 Ti on eBay
- Radeon R9 Fury on eBay
- GeForce GTX 1070 on eBay
- Radeon RX Vega 56 on eBay
- GeForce GTX 1070 on eBay
- GeForce GTX 1080 on eBay