Hi there. My name is Jeff. I've been building systems for the better part of 15 years and try my best to contribute here actively. After being involved in this little community for a few years now, I'm noticing a serious lack of discussion about buying used components, and I feel like it's time to shed a little light on the subject for those looking to build on a (seriously) tight budget.
As Linus said in his scrapyard wars video, buying new on $300 isn't practical, and if you posed the challenge to him on a random day, buying used is almost certainly the path he'd choose. As someone who's been "scrapyarding" as a hobby for the better part of 10 years, I figured I'd take some time to share some of what I've learned for the modern audience.
Let's begin with a simple rundown of modern "budget" choices, and I'll tell you what I'd do instead. CPU
The G3258 and Athlon 860k are the sub-$100 CPUs of choice, and both work just fine. I have built with both in the past, and each carries their own set of advantages. Used Alternatives
: You can go in a couple of directions here; if you happen to have an LGA 1366 motherboard lying around, you can get an i7 920 or better for under $50, and they still hold up reasonably well. Being that LGA 1366 boards are not typically cheap when purchased used, my favourite option is the Phenom II x4 Black Edition series, each of which compare favourably
to modern budget options, and will even overclock on some incredibly dated, dirt cheap AM2+ boards. In my experience, eBay prices on these get a little too high for my taste, but I've been able to nab several on Kijiji locally in Toronto for under $50 as well. GPU
The R7 260x and GTX 750 ti are often cited as budget options for most builders, with the latter serving a very specific role in systems where power draw might be a concern. While there exists no option that can complete with the low consumption of the 750 ti (or even the single 6-pin connector goodness of the 260x), its performance can easily be matched (and exceeded) for less money. Used Alternatives
: The bitcoin mining craze from a few years back led to the Radeon 7950 and 7970 being blacklisted on the used market, and I think the fears about burned-out cards are a little overblown. Here in Toronto, you can easily
grab a 7950 for the price of a 260x, but I don't pay anywhere near that for my builds. At most, a Windforce will cost me $125, as where I recently picked up some non-boost edition PowerColor versions for a mere $83 each (bought 3 for $250). EDIT
: Forgot to mention something important - avoid the reference 7950 and 7970
. They were employed to a far greater degree in mining rigs because of their rear-only exhaust, and if you see a bunch of them from the same seller listed at once, they're likely old mining cards. Only pick them up if they're incredibly cheap.
Want to go even cheaper? The Radeon 6950 (with the shader unlock, preferably) or even the 6970 will rival the performance of the 260x, and shouldn't cost Canadians more than $50-$60. I personally have 2 in my possession right now, and have gone through at least a dozen in the last 6 months.
In general, one should always avoid Nvidia when buying used, because they are far too popular and overvalued for their performance as they age. I still see GTX 660s selling for $150, which is absolutely absurd. Motherboards
Motherboards on the used market are weird, and this can largely be attributed to the fact that they're hard to transport and don't handle well over time. As such, people don't really sell boards on their own that often, and you'll likely have more luck finding a combo of some kind (or even a ready-to-go tin-can with no graphics card) for less per part than you will finding a given board on its own. Used Alternatives
: The boards I'd recommend depend entirely on the CPU you've chosen. Being that I'm a fan of the Phenom II x4 series, AM2+ boards are going to be dirt cheap, but DDR2 RAM is actually fucking expensive, so you'd likely be better off going with AM3. I've even seen some used AM3+ boards (The 970 ASRock Extreme3, in particular) for as low as $40, so it wouldn't hurt to look.
On the Intel side, you're actually at a significant disadvantage. Much like Nvidia cards, Intel boards (and CPUs) actually retain their value and don't often come cheap. For me, LGA 1156 is the price/performance sweet spot, granted I can find an i7 8XX to go with it. Even still, they're going to run you a fair bit more than an AMD board, and likely aren't worth it by comparison. RAM
Ram is ram. DDR2 is pricy as fuck due to an obvious market shortage of the stuff, so the AM2+ board option might not be best by comparison. DDR3 ram, however, is ubiquitous, and I always die a little inside when people building on a "budget" choose to buy new at all. If I'm being honest, I can get DDR3 ram from e-waste recycling companies for as low as $10 per 4GB stick, at 1333MHz, and not once have I ever had a bad stick of the stuff. Even for people going the route of the G3258 (which only supports 1333MHz), this is the clear winner.
Is value RAM ugly as sin? Sure it is. It is just as good as that fancy Ripjaws shit you've got in your current build? You betcha. Storage
Hard Drives are actually a tricky game, as they are the single most volatile component in any budget build, easily succumbing to wear and tear from age and daily use. As such (and some might find this hard to believe) I actively avoid
HDDs when building value systems for people and opt for cheap SSDs instead. As always, check the date on a drive if you're really insistent on buying one, and considering how cheap a WD blue is new, don't pull the trigger on one unless it's for less than $30/TB.
SSDs are obviously (akin to RAM) highly resilient and are nearly guaranteed to work when purchased used. The average SSD pulled from an old laptop or an office off-lease desktop, will have no more than 100GB of writes on it, which leaves 99% of its life for you to exploit. While there exists no specific recommendation for which brand to buy, just be sure you're getting a relatively good drive with SATA III capability. 120/128GB variants of these sorts should cost you no more than $50 in my native Canada, and I've even gotten lucky on some larger sizes too. Recently I picked up 4 256GB Samsung 840 Pros for $75 each
(I came), just days after I bought a Crucial MX100 of the same size for $85. Monitors
Monitors are fun to buy, because the recent shifts in display technology have rendered a lot of recent-but-obsolete models nearly valueless. For example, remember when 16:10 was a thing? I actually still like 1680x1050 monitors, but the rest of the world seems to disagree, so I've been able to pick up 23" variants for as little as $40. Being that the slightly lower resolution actually eases the strain on your VRAM a bit, it's a nice fit for a lot of budget cards that might not have a full 2GB available, like some variants of the 6950. 1600x900 monitors are often just as cheap and come with the same inherent benefit of being obsolete despite being almost as good as its bigger 1080p cousin. Keyboards and Mice
If you're on a budget, we can't even have this discussion. As much as I like mechanical keyboards and high-precision gaming mice, people building used $300 systems aren't going to allot any of their budget buying them. That said, wired USB keyboards and mice are virtually free (search your local goodwill or value village for some), and if you have to pay money, buy a wireless combo for $20 new from some little shit store in a suburb somewhere. Cases
Cases on their own sell for about half of their original retail price, give or take based on the condition. I normally just get them as a part of a tin-can bundle and make use of them if they aren't too dirty, but when building for someone else, I'd often just prefer to buy a new budget case in the $40 range. PSUs
I saved this topic for last, because it's by far the most difficult category to master. First off, you really need to do your research and understand how PSUs work before delving into these guys, as the cost associated is almost entirely dependent on how resilient the underlying platform has been proven to be. Generally speaking, reading reviews on JonnyGuru and HardOCP is a great start, but none of them account for units that are several years old.
As a general rule of thumb, I use the EVGA 500W W1 as a reference point, and build my value tree around that. In other words, if a new EVGA 500W (a passable, proven budget unit) is cheaper than a used 500W variant of a better brand, why would I bother buying used? Sure, that 520W Seasonic S12II puts the EVGA to shame in terms of voltage regulation and ripple suppression, but can I really make the same claims of a unit that's 5 years into its life? Wouldn't I just be safer buying new? These are all factors you have to consider.
For me, the threshold lies around 50% in terms of cost savings vs. risk. In other words, if you can find a used quality unit for less than half the price of the cheapest quality unit available at a given time, buy it.
Anyhow I think that covers everything. And as a closing note, remember to be safe. Meet potential sellers (and buyers) in public, well-lit places, and try your best to avoid entering someone's home without some protections in place. Also, the more info you get about the person (address, phone number, etc) the less likely it is that a person will be trying to scam you. People who purposely conceal their identity do so for a reason.
Also, feel free to ask me anything
about my own experiences buying and selling used. I've been doing it as a hobby for a long, long time and have sold many value builds to people who can't otherwise afford PCs. I'm happy to impart any wisdom I might've gained over the years.
Edit: CPU Coolers
! Forgot those. Air coolers are a safe bet. They're slabs of copper and aluminum with fans strapped to them. Buy with confidence, and seek one out for $10-$15 if you plan to overclock. AIO water cooling is not so safe. Those things are typically only good for 2-3 years, and you have no idea how much longer a pump has before it gives. Budget builders likely aren't water-cooling anyhow, right?
Edit 2: Just to be clear, when I said I'd been doing this for a long time, I should clarify that a) I once owned a game store and sold systems out of there and b) I currently resell systems out of my house to raise money for charity builds. I really don't want people to get the impression I'm trying to sell anything.
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