Should You Build a PC With Used Parts? How To Decide
Building a PC can be a daunting endeavor depending on how familiar you are with the electronics world. Typically, people want to build PCs to maximize the amount of power and performance they get at the best possible price point. Are used parts okay to use when building a PC?
- Why buy used PC parts?
- The importance of benchmark or test PCs
- Part-by-part breakdown
- Can you build a PC with any parts?
- What to do with used PC parts?
- Buying used helps the environment
- How to not get scammed
- Final thoughts
To decide if you should build a PC with used parts, consider your budget and what you want to use your PC for. While some parts aren’t good to buy used, like motherboards and PSUs, other parts like GPUs and RAM are perfectly suitable for building your own PC.
Years ago, when I started, I built computers out of second-hand parts when money was tight and needed something to game on or do some work. Using some of this experience will hopefully help you make better decisions.
And in case you aren’t sure about building a computer, please refer to my other article covering the pros and cons of building a gaming computer. Even if you aren’t about gaming, there is still a lot of relevant information in there for you.
This article will take a deep dive into the world of building your own PC, including whether or not to use pre-owned parts and other relevant sections.
Why buy used PC parts?
Buying used is like a scavenger hunt. You have to track down the best deals for an acceptable price and sift through a lot of what you don’t need until you find what you do.
The biggest advantage to buying used is they’re cheaper than new parts, so you have to decide the upper limit of what you’re willing to spend before you start searching.
Besides, why pay for a brand new part when you don’t really need it? With a little research and persistence, you can usually find the perfect part you need for a job for a fraction of what it costs new.
I’m not going to lie: that feeling when you unbox a shiny new GPU is indescribable. But you don’t need it to be new.
Oftentimes, you may be able to find coveted parts like GPUs for up to 70% from a private seller or website, and with no discernable difference in performance. You can’t go wrong with 70% savings for something you need anyway, right?
Building PCs are generally no exception, although you should always buy certain parts new because they tend to break down more quickly than other parts.
The importance of benchmark or test PCs
A benchmark PC is a very cheaply built PC you can use to test used parts. For instance, if you’re buying a GPU, build the PC with everything but the GPU, and take it with you to meet the seller.
Then plug your benchmark PC into the GPU and test if it works.
Especially buying locally, bringing a benchmark PC is one of the best ways to avoid getting scammed. Scammers will most likely get flaky and cease communication if you mention you’re bringing one, making it a great scam prevention tool.
In addition, using a benchmark PC allows you to ensure no malignant software is on any SSDs you’re thinking about purchasing. Even worse than a non-working SSD is one that actively infects your main PC with malware or other nasty programs.
Some things, like motherboards, should be bought new. For the most part, though, you can get a deep discount on other components as long as you know what you need and what you’re willing to settle for. For instance, if two types of RAM perform almost identically, yet one is on sale half off, would you know which to go for?
You can read my other article about the main parts of a computer and their functions if you would like to know more about each component and what they do.
GPUs or Graphics Cards
Graphics cards are generally fine to buy used, even the high-end ones. Ideally, you want to bring your own benchmark PC to plug it in to make sure it works, but this isn’t always possible when many deals are online. Low-tier GPUs are a big seller for scammers, so stay away from cheaper GPUs when buying used.
GPUs’ greatest problem is not that they fail to perform after a length of time. Rather they become outdated quickly.
So, therefore, they’re fine to buy used – especially higher-end cards. Updating an ancient PC with a new GPU is one of the best ways to boost its performance power instantly, and a used unit from a couple of years ago would be rather inexpensive.
The biggest risk you’d run into buying used is getting a non-working unit or possibly a card used in heavy cryptocurrency mining. The unit would likely still be usable in the latter case, albeit with lower performance than expected.
Used motherboards tend to be very hit-and-miss, so it’s not generally recommended to buy used. A motherboard can appear to work at first glance but have individual components like resistors and pins that fail or get damaged.
If you choose to buy a used motherboard, ask for a video of it working and permission to physically inspect it for defects like bent pins, damaged resistors, and other signs of damage.
Buying online can be a great way to get a cheap motherboard, but you take your chances on the seller’s reputation. If it’s a seller with a long, positive history, you likely won’t run into any problems. But considering how finicky motherboards are in the first place, it’s best to buy new ones.
CPUs are safe to buy used, as they either work or they don’t. In a perfect world, you’d be able to plug it into a benchmark PC, but asking for a video of it working works fine too.
The only case you’d want to avoid a used CPU is when it was previously used in a system that was heavily overclocked.
Buying CPUs used is a great way to get performance close to modern standards, which are ever-changing. Obviously, buying used sets you back a few years, but as long as you can live with it, used CPUs are typically not that old and can last for decades.
RAM is one of the safest used parts to buy and one of the most common as well. Plugging it into a benchmark PC is the best way of verifying authenticity, but it isn’t vital because of how cheap RAM tends to be.
On the other hand, some newer RAM is more expensive, and it may be worth waiting for a price drop. Buying used RAM can be an especially great way to upgrade an old PC because even moderate upgrades are likely to be dirt-cheap.
Solid-state drives are just like CPUs – they either work or they don’t, with no in-between. Checking one out is tricky, as many SSDs contain operating systems (OSs), but any seller should be willing to wipe it so you can plug it into your benchmark PC.
Buying online obviously makes this impossible, so always buy used parts from a reputable seller to minimize your risk of being scammed.
Another word of caution about SSDs: they all have a predetermined lifespan, and not all are equipped with modern technological features such as DRAM caches and NVMe.
This means they’re not as fast as modern equivalents. Plus, faulty SSDs aren’t easy to tell apart from functioning ones without checking them on a benchmark PC.
Power supply units
PSUs are possibly the most important part of any PC, and their importance cannot be overstated. Without a PSU, your entire computer is nothing more than a fancy, overpriced paperweight.
If they’re in good condition, used PSUs seem like a great way to save money. For instance, a $50 PSU new may only get you 450w of power, whereas you could find a used one that supplies 600w or more.
It just comes down to how willing you are to take chances on used parts. However, keep in mind that PSUs degrade rapidly after they’re manufactured, meaning they quickly lose the ability to output their full amount of power.
What’s great is that PSU technology hasn’t rendered older units obsolete, but the chances of their integrity degrading are much higher. Newer units are more likely to work on fancy rigs with RGB lighting, but otherwise, there’s not much of a discernible difference.
At best, a used PSU may work, but it won’t have the full capabilities of a brand-new unit. Pre-owned PSUs are better used in benchmark PCs, home streaming rigs, or other places they won’t be missed when they conk out.
However, if you’re absolutely set on a used PSU, keep safety in mind with seller communications and ask to see a video of it working.
Online, buying used PSUs is risky because there’s no way of knowing what kind of shape the unit is in and whether it can supply enough power to your PC.
If you buy a faulty unit, it could even fry your entire setup. In short, please don’t mess around when it comes to your PSU.
Can you build a PC with any parts?
PCs generally require a specific set of parts to function properly, and most parts are compatible with each other as long as they’re all of the good quality.
To build a PC, you need the following:
- Power supply unit.
- SSD or Hard Disk Drive (HDD).
- Fan or liquid cooling system.
- Mouse and keyboard.
What to do with used PC parts?
If you find yourself with used PC parts and aren’t sure what to do with them, here are a few options:
- Recycle them – most PC parts are fully recyclable.
- Give them to a friend who’s into electronics.
- Sell them online.
Buying used helps the environment
Where to buy used parts
Buying used parts can be tricky or easy, depending on your location. Some mediums of finding parts are better than others, and some are filled with scammers. Always use precaution and common sense when interacting with anyone online.
This is one of the best places to look for used parts online, as it shows listings in your local area and connects you directly to the seller. You can view past sales by the seller, ratings, reviews, etc.
If a particular listing seems underpriced and the seller doesn’t have many (or any) past sales, feel free to pass on it. You may miss out on a deal, but it’s more likely that you’ll save yourself from being scammed.
LetGo & OfferUp
LetGo and OfferUp are competing platforms that allow users to sell and buy things online, similar to a more regulated Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
These platforms tend to be a little sparse compared to Facebook, eBay, and Amazon, but if you live in a big city they can be a great place to find used PC parts.
eBay is one of the top online marketplaces and one of the best places to buy used PC components. eBay has a comprehensive rating system that allows you to screen which buyers you feel comfortable with – always look for high feedback ratings and reviews before buying from a seller.
If a seller has a history of shipping damaged or partial products, take that as a red flag and don’t buy from them. Sellers with a long and spotless record are far less likely to scam you because they value their seller profile far more than a quick buck.
eBay also has excellent customer service and won’t hesitate to work with you if a seller does slight you in some way.
Similar to eBay, Amazon allows sellers to list products on their marketplace and ship via their site. Also, like eBay, Amazon’s customer service is known for quick communication and problem-solving when disputes occur.
This all comes together to put Amazon on par with eBay to be a great online marketplace for buying used PC parts.
How to not get scammed
Scammers these days are more technologically advanced and savvy than ever and are always looking for a way to make a quick buck at someone else’s expense – in this case, you!
While it’s impossible to predict scammers with 100% efficiency, there are several precautions you can take to make it less likely you get scammed.
Beware of wildly underpriced items
A common scam is to list a sought-after item for much less than what it’s actually worth, new or used. Buyers will think they encountered a desperate seller needing the money and lock in the purchase without a second thought.
But when the time comes to meet up, they brush off attempts to check the item’s authenticity and want it over as quickly as possible.
A legitimate seller will always sell items for what they go for, even if they may undercut a little bit. While cases of desperate people needing money will always persist, they’re difficult to tell apart from scammers.
If you come across a part for much less than it’s worth, firmly assert that you want to check it with a benchmark PC (if possible) or ask for a video of the part working (again, if possible). If in doubt, pass on the item.
Be wary of spotty communication
Many times scammers will fail to communicate promptly, especially when you’re asking to check the part. Obviously, scammers with a part that doesn’t work can’t have you verifying it, so they will stop communication when you ask about it.
Other times they may try to get you to meet at a private or poorly lit area. These attempts should be met with suspicion and immediately reported on the selling platform.
While there may occasionally be legitimate reasons to meet in a private place, you should always meet people in public spaces that are well-lit and with other people around.
If you plan to meet someone at a certain time and they stand you up, contact them and ask when they’ll arrive.
Scammers will scope out situations before they actually show up to see if they can get away with the act, but cautious sellers may also do this to protect themselves from scammers posing as buyers.
Meeting in a private area, especially one that’s poorly lit, is a recipe for disaster. At best, you may get ripped off and, at worst, suffer a worse fate.
Bring a friend
Another top tip to not getting scammed is to not go alone. Bring a trusted friend, relative, or significant other with you to meet the seller.
Your other person’s job is mainly to dissuade sellers who want to scam or otherwise harm you. A scammer intent on mugging you would think twice about attacking two people.
Don’t accept mailing (from individuals)
While you can only get items mailed from eBay and Amazon, don’t let sellers on platforms like Facebook Marketplace and LetGo talk you into accepting mailing services if they’re within a reasonable distance.
There isn’t protection against sellers shipping empty boxes or honoring their part of the transaction.
Check the reviews (ratings are king!)
A seller’s rating is their livelihood, in theory, because it’s a record of their trustworthiness and reliability. If a seller on a platform has no bad reviews and many glowing reviews, they’re probably fine to buy from.
These sellers have no interest in scamming you and losing their spotless seller profile – a quick buck isn’t worth it to them.
On the other hand, if a seller has no history and displays other strange behavior mentioned above, they may be trying to scam you. It’s better to pass on a deal than to get scammed and possibly hurt.
Never pay in advance
A common tactic of scammers is to offer to mail an item and accept a check or other form of payment.
This goes along with the tip to not accept mailing for local items because you’ll have little recourse after the fact in cases of scams.
Generally, it’s safe to buy used PC parts for building your own PC, though some parts are better when new.
When buying online, always pay attention to seller ratings and practice safety when meeting any seller outside the platform.
If you are interested to know more about buying a used computer, you can head over to my other article, which covers things to check when considering this option.