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Should you buy graphics cards discarded by Ethereum miners?

Now that mining Ethereum is no longer profitable, Ethereum miners are soon going to try to offload their GPUs. Should you buy these cards?

Every single cryptocurrency boom has been short-lived for the PC. That’s because when it hits mainstream popularity and a lot of GPU toting PC enthusiasts start mining these alt-coins, the difficulty ramps up rapidly and that has happened with every single cryptocurrency so far. Ethereum has already peaked and crashed a couple of times since May when it first became ultra popular. And now, we’re at a stage where the mining difficulty is so high that folks with two GPUs cannot mine these coins profitably. In a couple of weeks, those with three or four cards will not find it profitable. Two more weeks down the line and miners with six or seven cards will not find it profitable. You see where this is going, right? All these miners are going to sell off their existing GPUs before the resale value on these cards drops drastically. That means, a lot of RX 480 / 470 / 460 and GTX 1070 / 1060 are going to hit the market at dirt cheap rates. So the question is – Should you buy a used GPU that has been working at peak load, 24×7, for the last couple of months?

Ethereum mining cards

Before we get into the economics, let’s explore what happens to a GPU when it is run at peak load 24×7. For starters, graphics cards running at peak load will heat up a lot, we’re talking in the 80-95 degrees Celsius range for the entirety of its mining period. Just lower than the thermal thresholds so that the driver and the GPU itself does not initiate throttling. This affects components like the capacitors which, if electrolytic, start getting bloated. Inductor chokes will slowly start whining at lower workloads. The fans, depending upon the bearing design, will lose some of their stability and excessive heat is known to affect the winding as well. So if the second-hand graphics card you’re looking forward to buying has been running at peak load for 3-4 months, then you’re looking at something that is unlikely to survive two years, if you are lucky. Again, this varies across models as build quality varies with each manufacturer and with each series that the manufacturer has. So it’s quite likely that you will luck out and get a pretty decent graphics card for cheap that’ll last you for two years.

RX 580Trust me, getting any of the graphics cards mentioned above for cheap and having them last for two years is more than enough and you’ll certainly have got your money’s worth. Speaking of money, how much should you pay for such a graphics card? The seller is definitely going to try to ask for full price since you can’t find these cards in the market owing to low stocks. However, you should not, under any circumstance, pay full price for a used card. The maximum you should consider is 60% of the original price prior to the cryptocurrency induced inflation. So if you’re looking at an RX 480 which used to retail for 18-19K INR for the 4 GB variant then you should pay around 11K only. Do note that these cards should be treated as only having half their life left. Also, you should ask to test the card out for a couple of days before completing the deal. Use this period to run a couple of games at maxed out settings and look for video artifacts, coil whining and random BSODs. It’s always best to run a couple of benchmarks straight for an hour or two to check the card’s stability. Ideally figure out how long each of your gaming sessions last and test for a time period greater than that.

Now that you know how a graphics card can get damaged, what signs to look out for, and how much to pay, it’s time to figure out which ones you should get. Fortunately, most of the graphics cards which are being used for mining are of the current generation. AMD GPUs have the advantage of being the better performers at mining cryptocurrency so you’re likely to find R9 300 and R9 200 series cards as well. Bagging a Fury or Fury X for 60% of the price is still a good deal. I’d say the R9 390 falls in the grey area of being a good deal. The best would obviously be those which are current i.e. RX 400 / 500 series and the NVIDIA GTX 10-series cards.

As long as you follow these steps and opt for the right generation of cards, you’ll be getting a really good deal as the card should easily last you more than a year and give you your money’s worth. The only issue is that you’ll have to undertake a fair amount of effort. Good hunting!

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