Upgrading systems using Second Hand components
Have a look at the pitfall of upgrading systems using pre owned parts.
Upgrading your system can sometimes feel like an expensive endeavor. Cheap components are often bad value, while high-end components are objectively expensive in ways that make them unaffordable to many. Even at the mid-range, bargains are tough to find. Most of us are happy to search around for the best price when the time comes, but that's not the only way to save money.

One alternative to bargain-hunting is to stop looking at online retailers and try to find second-hand items instead. Whether you're looking in electronics exchanges, classified ad listings or on eBay, any nearly new hardware you find should offer discounts that save you plenty of money - and that's in addition to giving you the chance to find and buy models that might be out of stock or discontinued.

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Buying second-hand brings with it a set of particular risks and concerns, though. The money you save might turn out to cost you more in the long term, whether through damage, data loss or component failure, but how can you tell the components that are worth trying to save a few quid on and what's better left to gather dust in the bottom of someone's wardrobe? Over the next few pages, we'll tell you exactly what risks and rewards you can expect when buying second-hand hardware.

Hard Drives
Second-hand hard drives are a fairly risky investment for several reasons. Perhaps the most important one to consider is that the chance of a hard drive failing is directly related to two factors: the amount of use a unit has seen, and how old it is. When you buy a hard drive new, you know that it's fresh out of the factory and (barring any manufacturing errors - hard drives tend to fail early, if they're going to) should provide you with years of reliable service under normal usage conditions.

Buy one second-hand, and you forfeit that certainty; there's no guarantee of a used unit's age or condition. It could be an aging drive that's been pulled out of a system because it's reaching its last legs. It could look like a relatively new model, but actually have been sitting in a file server getting absolutely thrashed for 18 hours a day and is primed to fail at any moment. There's just no way of knowing.

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The uncertain reliability of second-hand hard drives makes them particularly unfit for their primary purpose. Hard drives are supposed to keep your data safe and accessible. When you buy a drive unit, you aren't just paying for the space - you're also paying the peace of mind that that space is a reliable place to store important data.

Depending on how scrupulous your preferred seller is, there's even a chance that a second-hand drive will already have bad sectors when you buy it. If they aren't being sold with an error free guarantee, you should at least make sure that they're returnable, otherwise they're not worth the money you spend on them.

Horror stories aside, second-hand hard drives tend to be older units that have been sitting unused in machines that have been decommissioned, or ones that are simply too low in capacity to justify using up a SATA port any longer. This also means that it's hard to find a bargain. Even if you disregard the not inconsiderable data integrity implications of buying one secondhand, the market is flooded with units and they're all being priced at more than they're worth. This isn't because they're special or desirable, but because hard drive space is constantly getting cheaper. If second-hand drives tried to keep up with that pricing, they'd be too cheap to be worth selling!

To illustrate, you can buy a new 500GB hard drive (internal or external) for something around £35-£40, and a new 1TBdrive for only £10 more than that. For a similarly sized second-hand hard drive in guaranteed working condition, anything north of £20 can be considered unreasonable and you should expect to pay less. Certainly anything close to market value would be little more than a rip-off.

We'd recommend that you only buy a hard drive second-hand if you're looking for a lot of extra space to store non-essential data because, quite frankly, keeping anything system-critical or irreplaceable on such hardware is just asking for trouble!

While SSDs perform a similar function to mechanical hard drives, they're a slightly less risky proposition when bought second-hand. The fact that they contain no moving parts means there's less likelihood of failure, and even the most over-used SSD can survive much longer than the average mechanical hard drive. Frequent use and wear shouldn't even be an issue, and second-hand units may actually be more reliable in the short term than new ones, because those with manufacturing defects are likely to have been shaken out by the time they make it to second-hand sale. That said, you will still need to take care to determine whether the flash memory is in full working order before you buy any SSD second-hand.

If you can't get confident assurance that the drive has been tested, make sure you're able to return it if you do find bad sectors. You may have to take a chance and buy the unit as-is, in which case the price should be considerably lower than retail. Anything up to 50% would be reasonable for a drive of unspecified condition.

With drives that are guaranteed in good condition (or at least, bought from a seller you trust to supply them in that condition) then you should expect prices to be higher than that. SSDs currently retain their values quite well, partly because new ones are still very expensive and partly because the hardware itself is still very desirable. 60% of retail would be a good price, anything below that would be fantastic, but anything above 80% of retail would be unacceptably high for a second-hand unit. Within the 60-80% price margin, it's all fair.

Don't worry too much about capacity. More expensive drives are likely to have a slight premium still attached, while drives under 100GB may be slightly cheaper than you'd expect. Anything within the practical range of 120GB-320GB will have a fair but unspectacular discount.

The only other major concern with second-hand SSDs should be whether the fittings are included or not. It probably won't impact the price in any major way whether you get them or not, but things like SATA cables, drive brackets and bay converters will be an additional expense if they don't come with the drive, so bear that in mind when buying one.

Graphics Cards

Graphics cards are expensive and non-critical for system operation, which makes them a good candidate for second-hand purchasing. Most systems already have built-in graphics thanks to onboard GPUs, so in the event that you’re purchased card is DOA or fails soon after purchase, at least you won't be left without a working system.

The top end of the graphics card market is a particularly good place to save a small amount of money on expensive cards. The turnover of components from enthusiasts and elite system- builders is relatively steady - some people will replace their cards whenever a better one comes out - and that allows you to pick up good hardware for less than retail price. Beware, though: most graphics cards can be overclocked, and that there's no way to be sure whether a card has been pushed to its limits and beyond or responsibly run at factory speeds- even after you've bought it! Unlike hard drives and processors, a broken graphics card is unlikely to cripple a system or lose your data, though, it'll simply be an inconvenience. For this reason, the rewards are often worth the risk in ways certain other components aren't.

Price-wise, you shouldn't expect massive savings. Graphics cards well over a year old can still go for up to 80% of the current retail cost, especially if they're still boxed with the necessary cables and fixtures. A stand-alone card with no extras won't be much cheaper - you can buy a GeForce GTX 660 for 70 % of the current retail price of a new one, even though it has no box or accessories. By comparison, used examples of the GeForce GTX 770, which was released last June, are still changing hands for close to its current retail price - you can expect to save no more than £20 off the current RRP of £235.

Second-hand processors are incredibly difficult to recommend for a variety of reasons. At the moment, there's a significant difference between the second-hand pricing of AMD chips, which can be picked up for massive discounts, and Intel chips, which have retained their value pretty well over the last few years. It's also difficult to say whether second-hand chips offer a false economy or not.

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On the one hand, there's the danger of failure. Processors of all kinds are very susceptible to damage, and it's an obvious concern that you might be buying a processor that has experienced abnormal conditions, such as high temperature from overclocking or even just improper handling. Installing a processor can involve some traumatic amounts of force, and removing then reinstalling one is just as harrowing. The life expectancy of a processor can be dramatically reduced by almost anything you do to it and, most importantly, any problems that exist won't be immediately visible or even easy to test for after you've bought it. When failures happen, they'll usually be instant, irreparable and impossible to predict. All of which makes knowing the provenance of your CPU rather important.

On the other hand, a second-hand processor that's been well- cared for can offer up some significant, attractive savings. Like graphics cards, there's a high turnover at the top end of the market, which makes it easy to pick up a bargain. The mid-range is also full of good prices on chips that are a little older but still competitive. If you want a new chip second-hand, expect about 20-30% off retail to be a fair price, and anything more to be a bargain. If you don't mind having a slightly older chip, you should be able to get one for around half of the retail price without much looking around. It's always risky, but at that price, it's perhaps worth the risk. Few of us use processors until they burn out anyway, so a reduced lifespan might not be a massive concern in most cases.

Note that CPUs sold second-hand may not include some necessary components in the price. If you don't get a fan, heat sink and thermal paste included (as you would with a retail chip), then the cost of buying those necessary extras could eat into any savings you'd make by not opting to buy new. Maybe not to the point where those savings would be cancelled out entirely - but enough to reduce the degree to which they're impressive. Take care when looking.

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New RAM is so cheap that buying second-hand seems like it wouldn't be something that's worth doing. Second-hand sticks of RAM are almost dirt cheap, however. If two 2GB sticks of new, generic RAM costs £35-£40, you can pick it up the same for less than £10 second-hand so cheap, it almost seems rude not to. So why does RAM struggle to retain its value, and is it something you should worry about?

One of the reasons is that RAM is very fragile. There's a reasonably high chance that new RAM will have errors, so the likelihood that used RAM will have errors is also very high, especially if it's been handled. Errors in RAM don't normally render it unusable, but they do tend introduce frustrating, hard to trace crashes into systems.

Another, probably more pertinent reason second-hand RAM comes so cheaply, though, is that there's a lot of it about. RAM's low price and reasonably high impact on performance mean it's always a prime candidate for enthusiast upgrades and replacements. The current generation of RAM modules - DDR3 - have been in circulation for several years now, and while it's popular to replace RAM when you upgrade your CPU and motherboard, the old RAM is far from useless.
Purely due to its low price, second-hand RAM may be worth taking a punt on. You don't stand to lose a lot of money if you can't get a refund, and it's easy to identify faulty RAM as well a simple memory test once the modules are installed will confirm one way or the other whether there are any problems.

Peripherals And Accessories

While it's hard to buy the really important components of a PC second-hand, there is some silver lining here. Once you expand beyond the core system, there are bargains everywhere. Computer fairs practically give away things like mice, keyboards and network cards. Monitors retain a lot of their value, but not all of it, and are easy to check over (either the screen works, or it doesn't). Speakers, printers, even optical drives - they're all easy to find at cheaper prices than buying new.

Better still, you can buy these components without worry. A bad network card never did anyone, or their system, too much harm. If your second-hand hard drive or RAM fails, you could lose important data. Whereas a duff network card is a minor inconvenience at best!

In short, when you're looking for second-hand goods, the best advice is probably to stick with what's unimportant. The savings you can make might be smaller, but when it comes to your core system components, it's worth spending money on the best stuff you can.