How to buy a graphics card without getting ripped off

It's a tough time to buy a graphics card. A terrible time, even, thanks to high demand and extreme shortages caused by cryptocurrency mining. The best thing to do is wait: when the current cryptocurrency boom subsides and cards come back in stock, prices should return to something approaching normal. But if you're building a new PC and need a graphics card right now, here's now to shop for one without paying absurd prices. 

Buy in-store

Shopping online is easier, but heading to a real store is likely your best chance at finding an affordable graphics card. Recently we reported that if you shop for PC components at Micro Center and are building a rig for gaming, not mining, they may sell you a graphics card at MSRP, or close to it. Here's the store locator for Micro Center, so you can see if there's one in your area.

Micro Center isn't the only store worth looking at. Also try Best Buy, which is selling cards online for MSRP. They're all sold out online, but you may luck out and find one in stores.

Canadian customers can hit up stores like Canada Computers, and Memory Express. Most of these stores are showing that all online stock is out, but in actuality they’re reserving inventory for in-store purchases. If you have one of these stores near you, definitely swing by to check out the available graphics cards.

Folks living in the UK are a bit more out of luck as there aren’t really any reputable storefronts to walk into. Currys and PC World are completely out of stock. In fact, the situation there is so bad that some folks have resorted to ordering graphics cards from Newegg US.

Image via Flickr user Mike Mozart

Know how much a card is worth

We recently charted the rising cost of graphics cards on Amazon, showing how much third-party sellers are trying to make while ripping off desperate buyers. If you don't want to overpay, it's important to remember how much these cards are meant to cost.

This thread on Reddit is a great reference, listing the MSRP prices of the most popular Nvidia and AMD cards: 

 Nvidia graphics card MSRPs:
GTX 1080: $600
GTX 1070: $380
GTX 1060: $250
GTX 1050 Ti: $140

AMD graphics card MSRPs:
Vega 64: $500
Vega 56: $400
RX 580: $200
RX 570: $150
RX 560: $100

Bookmark these resources to check for stock 

The same Reddit thread linked above also includes links to NowInStock.net, a site that scrapes multiple stores to see if the product in question is available. This isn't necessarily going to get you a good deal, but it's one of the easiest ways to tell if these graphics cards are available at all. You can compare prices to the MSRPs listed above to decide if they're worth buying when they do come back in stock. Just don't let an in-stock notification rush you into buying a card at a ridiculously inflated price. It won't be your only chance to buy a GPU.

This page on Nvidia's website lets you buy Founders Edition cards straight from Nvidia. As of this writing they're all out of stock, but each lets you enter an email to be notified when more arrive. Normally we'd recommend the cards from manufacturers like EVGA, Asus, etc., thanks to factory overclocks and better cooling designs. But Nvidia is still selling these cards at MSRP, no ridiculous inflation. If you catch one in stock, you're guaranteed a reasonable price. 

Look for a deal on a last-gen card on Ebay

Unfortunately, even older cards have been affected by the cryptocurrency craze, but they're not the hot commodities new graphics cards are. If you search for, say, a GTX 980, you may be able to get a card for a decent price. It won't be as fast as current graphics cards, but it'll still be powerful enough to play most games at high settings at 1080p. Check out the feedback on any seller you're considering purchasing from before handing over your cash, too.

As a last resort, you may want to give Craigslist a shot. A quick search on Craiglist shows plenty of people selling pre-owned (and even new) graphics cards for MSRP or less. You'll also see lots of overpriced hardware, but look around enough and you might get lucky. And remember, if it seems too good to be true, be cautious.