Should I buy refurbished PC parts?

Other than dedicated workstations, high-end gaming PCs have some of the steepest hardware requirements. Each component needs to be carefully chosen to offer the best performance and features while working in harmony with your other parts. Like workstations, there are certain components, such as graphics cards, that won’t be found in your average home office PC; they can also be quite expensive. 

PC build guides

Looking for more PC building advice? Check out our build guides:  

Budget gaming PC build guide (~$750/£750) - A good entry-level system.
Mid-range gaming PC build guide (~$1,250/£1,250) - Our recommended midrange build for most gamers.
High-end gaming PC build guide (~$2,000/£2,000) - Everything a gamer could want.
Extreme gaming PC build guide (>$4,000/£4,000) - You won the lotto and are going all-in on gaming.

Prefer to buy a prebuilt than building it yourself? Check out our guide to the Best Gaming PCs. 

A couple hundred dollars can mean the difference between a breathtaking 60 FPS, 4K gaming experience and struggling to maintain playable framerates. There are many compromises that can be made to squeeze every last drop of performance out of your budget; buying refurbished components can be one of them, but there are some exceptions.

Buying refurbished components can be a great way to save money that can be put towards other components, or simply to keep your build under budget. Sometimes you can find high-end parts at a fraction of their MSRP from retailers like Newegg or Amazon just because they are refurbished. And while the used market often has better deals, refurbished products have the benefit of being repaired and tested by the manufacturer before being resold. This should guarantee that you’ve purchased a component that has the same life expectancy of a brand new one, but this isn’t always the case. 

Manufacturers do a pretty good job at testing refurbished components, but some defects might not show up until months, or even years down the road. They can also be difficult to diagnose later on—something as simple as refurbished memory not holding a stable overclock can be mistakenly blamed on a faulty motherboard and cost many wasted hours of troubleshooting. Warranty coverage is also often significantly reduced or eliminated entirely on refurbished products. If normally warrantied issues come up in the future, you’ll be stuck with an expensive paperweight. Because of this, it’s better to purchase certain components new and look at refurbished options for some of the more durable components.

Processors and Motherboards

CPUs are surprisingly durable and typically far outlast their useful lifespan. There is not a lot that can go wrong with a modern processor; if it was working when you installed it, it should continue working for many years. While prolonged heat could cause damage over the long term, both Intel and AMD have long been implementing thermal throttling to protect their CPUs from overheating. If you are considering an AMD processor, it’s important to check for bent pins but otherwise it’s pretty safe to go for a refurbished unit.

Motherboards, on the other hand, should only be purchased brand new. All of your other components are connected to and communicate through your motherboard. Power from your PSU is also delivered to your components through your motherboard. A defective circuit could cause catastrophic damage to any of your other parts. Along with your CPU, your motherboard is also the least likely component to be upgraded in the short term. It needs to last many years and maintaining the factory warranty is especially important in this case.

Storage

It’s 2018, so we will assume you are going to be running at least one SSD; having no moving parts and a low failure rate makes this a great component to save money on by going the refurbished route. You can expect it to last just as long as a brand new one. 

While SSDs are more accessible than they’ve ever been, hard disks are still much more cost effective for large amounts of storage. They also have moving parts that can be easily damaged if dropped. While they are pretty reliable under normal conditions, large drives in the range of 4TB are cheap enough that it’s not worth looking at refurbished units.

Power Supplies

Like motherboards, refurbished power supplies should be avoided. There are plenty of good deals to be had on refurbished PSUs but when you consider that a malfunctioning unit could take out other expensive components, you’ll save more in the long run by going new. GPU power requirements haven’t changed much over the years so you aren’t likely to upgrade your PSU anytime soon, provided you’ve purchased a quality unit. The manufacturer's warranty will be greatly missed if you have issues with a refurbished PSU down the road.

GPUs and Memory

While the video card is the most often upgraded component in any gaming build, it can also hold its resale value quite well. Many manufacturers allow warranty transfer these days; buying a refurbished video card will sacrifice the factory warranty and can have a big impact on resale value when it’s time to upgrade. Buying new now will save you money when the next generation releases and the itch to upgrade is impossible to resist.

Memory is a bit of a toss up. On one hand, memory is getting more expensive by the day and a memory failure is unlikely to cause damage to any other components. On the other, memory issues can be very difficult to diagnose. Faulty modules can cause all sorts of subtle stability issues that can end up wasting hours of time troubleshooting and incorrectly blaming other parts or software. If you find significant savings on refurbished RAM, and it allows you to step up to other higher end components, then go for it. Otherwise it’s worth it to buy new and avoid any potential headaches.

Deciding which parts to buy refurbished depends on how much of a risk you are willing to take and whether or not your budget requires it. While it can be a bit of a juggling act, as long as you you’re careful, you can save a ton of money by exploring refurbished options.