Friday, January 30, 2015

My Top 3 Deals of Last Year!

Last year was good for some, bad for others. My own had its ups and downs. But throughout the year I purchased several products. Today I want to share the top 3 deals I made. Not the top 3 best items, or the top 3 most useful items. No, this is all about the deals I snagged and how much I saved in the process.

iPhone 5S
Before the Apple iPhone 6 and 6 Plus were released, "everyone" had an iPhone 5S. There was also the 5C, which was really just another 4S, but the people who wanted the "best" had an iPhone 5S.

My anniversary was coming up, and my wife was still using a failing iPhone 3GS. It had mainly been used for work by that point, as the home button was more and more frequently not responding. I decided that I would go and search for a deal on an iPhone 5S as a worthy replacement.

I searched eBay and some other auction sites, but everything was still going from $500 to $600, or more. I didn't want to spend that much because I couldn't afford to. I then began searching through Craigslist, and not just in my town, but all US towns. Fortunately, I found a deal in my town that seemed to good to be true...

The seller was offering an iPhone 5S 16GB for around $250, and would entertain other offers. I contacted him and asked why he was selling. He had bought it from another person on Craigslist but it was still locked to AT&T, and that it could not even get to the home screen until it was activated.

The seller proceeded to tell me that it was an easy fix, which of course, if it was, he would probably still have the phone. I initially got him down to $230 stating that I was interested but worried it wouldn't work since it was an anniversary gift for my wife. I played dumb and eventually got him to agree to sell it for $200.

I told him that my brother would come and pick it up being that I was out-of-town and did not know when I would be back. My brother would also test it before buying. The seller did not have a charging cable but assured me it would turn on. I told my brother to buy a charging cable beforehand for testing. When my brother met with the seller, he made sure there were no scratches or nicks, and they tested the phone out to make sure it turned on. It did. The seller was kind enough to knock off another $10 since my brother had to buy the charging cable for testing.

When I finally got the phone, I charged it, and it did work. Immediately I called AT&T to ask if the phone was reported stolen. Thankfully, it was not. I tried a couple of tricks to activate the phone, but it could not be bypassed. Instead, I went to AT&T and signed up for a cheap one-month plan to get it activated. Once activated, I paid around $30 to an eBay seller to have it unlocked.

The phone has since worked perfectly. The funny thing that the Craigslist seller did not seem to know was that it was a 32GB model, worth a bit more than a 16GB model... 

In total I paid $200 for a slightly used iPhone 5S 32GB with a charging cable. I dished out an additional $60 to get it activated and unlocked. For $260, I paid at least half of what I might have been able to get for a used 16GB model (at the time).

I have always been into camcorders and cameras ever since I owned a VHS-C camcorder. And while I don't find the need to constantly buy cameras, I do try to buy them when I find them unique and worthy of using.

The Canon EOS-M is the lowest on the EOS line, but is also the most compact. The size of it and weight allow you to easily carry it around in your pocket. It is near-identical to a Rebel T4i in terms of hardware. Magic Lantern firmware can also be installed to increase its capabilities. When it was launched, the EOS-M was a bit more expensive than the T4i. It has since dropped to much lower prices, despite still having similar hardware.

By the time I got interested in the EOS-M, many things had happened to it that made it much cheaper than from its release. The major scandal was that its focus times were incredibly slow, making it hard to capture those fleeting moments. Eventually Canon released a firmware update to make its focus speed much more reasonable, but by then it was far too late to sell it for the high profit margins Canon had initially hoped for.

An EOS-M II version was released, but only in Japan. With the update to the original EOS-M, the focus speeds are close, with the second version being ultimately faster. Knowing this, I decided to get myself a "cheap" EOS-M as a backup camera. And after seeing positive reviews pitting it against a 5DMK III, it seemed like a great decision.

When I first looked on Amazon, the camera was going for around $215 for just the body, and about $370 for a body and a lens. This is the cheapest they came brand new on Amazon, without tax. eBay had similar prices. And even though it was a good price, I thought I could do better using other venues.

Again I came across a listing on Craigslist, but this time from a different town. The price was around $185 and included a lens and an 8GB SD card. I talked to the guy and he just had no use for it. He seemed like the type of person that bought things, but if they weren't what he expected, he would sell it and not care about a loss. That is an ideal person to make deals with.

After some back-and-forth through text messages, he agreed to letting it go for $160 if I used PayPal and sent the money as a gift (to avoid PayPal fees on his end). I sent him the money and he replied that he would send the camera out immediately.

I got so excited that it wasn't until an hour later that I realized I had never given him my address. The actual time this epiphany hit should've meant that the USPS store would be closed... I texted him and gave him my address. Fortunately, he replied and he gave me a tracking number.

I knew that the tracking number wouldn't be updated on the USPS system for a while, so I waited until the next day to check it. When I did check it, it still didn't register in the system. I checked it again the next day with the same results. Worried that I had been screwed, I researched enough about the guy to know his full name, where he lived, where he worked, had worked, and had gone to school. I even knew a little bit about his interests!

A couple days before the package came, I decided to check on UPS with the tracking number because it still didn't make since to me that he shipped it at the time that he supposedly did. Sure enough, he had sent it UPS.

The camera was in perfect condition and came with everything promised. It was a great deal for $160. I checked the pricing for the camera on Amazon a month later, and prices had actually risen. Even today, the prices remain about the same. I paid less than half what the EOS-M would go for (on Amazon) with the specific lens and a Kingston 8GB SD card.

GTX 980
I wrote about this in another article, so I won't put nearly as much effort into describing it here. The way this story goes is that I decided I wanted to upgrade from my EVGA GTX 680 SC graphics card. I usually skip two generations and buy a used generation from the previous year when I can. This time I was so hyped about the new NVIDIA GTX 900 series, I didn't want to wait that long.

I weighed out all my options and the prices I could afford. In the end, I took the most reasonable choice, which was a GTX 770. I could SLI it with my current card, save some money, and then wait until the new series started appearing at much lower prices.

I did inquire about a Zotac GTX 970 from one person on a forum, but they were no longer selling the card for whatever reason. 2015 rolled around and in January I received a PM from the same person asking if I would be interested in an unopened EVGA GTX 970 SC graphics card with ACX 2.0 cooling. After some minor negotiations, I bought the card for $300. This was paid by sending the seller an Amazon gift card...

I then sold my GTX 770, without ever seeing it, on eBay for a $36.50 profit. I received my new card and should have been satisfied with that.

For no particular reason, I messaged an eBay seller about a slightly used EVGA GTX 980 SC reference-styled graphics card he was selling for $600, or best offer. I asked for his lowest price which was only $30 cheaper. Taking a chance, I asked the seller if he would consider trading for an unopened EVGA GTX 970 SC with some cash. He replied yes and I bargained him down from $150 to $120. We made the transaction through PayPal and he sent me his card, as I sent him mine.

In reality I paid $420 for a slightly used EVGA GTX 980 SC reference-styled graphics card with at least 2.5+ year warranty remaining. This card goes brand new on Amazon for well over $700 dollars. A no-frills GTX 980 reference-styled card will normally sell for $470 (new) on eBay, and can fetch more. A special edition of these cards usually go for $520-$530 (new or used) and up on eBay. Knowing this, I saved myself at least $100, and it is quite feasible to say that I could make a $100-$150+ profit if I decided to turn around and sell it right now.

I am aware that this deal ended in 2015, not 2014. However, I consider the deal having started in 2014 with the first email to the seller about his other GTX 980. If you want to get technical, then the deals here were all made within the last 12 months.

And Sold...
I get some really good deals if I search hard enough and take the time to do so. All my deals are thoroughly researched before and after, and my deals always include delivery charges.

Sometimes I just get lucky in my timing and who I'm dealing with. I do take chances, and many times find myself rewarded when doing so. My hope is to continue my deals of greatness into 2015 where I might get another great year of purchasing new and used products.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

When to Choose eBay or Amazon

As Amazon has grown, eBay has too. Amazon has gotten to such a point that eBay has to take cues from Amazon just to stay as competitive as possible. But there are times when choosing one or the other depends on the circumstances or specific situations. I will try to describe my experiences and why I might choose one over the other when seeking out a product.

Seller's Perspective
Although the brunt of my article will be about buying, selling can be important too. The main concern for the buyer should be what kind of service they are getting, and what kind of fees they have to pay to each respective company.

For eBay, you have two parts to worry about. You not only have to deal with eBay, but will likely process most (if not all) of your transactions through PayPal. So while there are eBay fees that will need to be paid, PayPal will take its cut of the profits as well. In comparison to Amazon, eBay has lower seller fees. However, when including PayPal into the mix, this may amount to similar fees from either company.

Amazon allows you to send your product in so that they can ship it for you. eBay does have this option - now - but unlike Amazon, they have no special Prime account that will allow for express, free shipping. Shipping to a Prime account may not matter if the seller offers free shipping; but if they don't, it is much easier to entice buyers if they have a Prime account and don't have to worry about paying associated extra S&H (shipping and handling ) fees.

eBay can only do so much due to their selling platform, but it is still a good place to sell from. They offer a good ratings system that imbues trust from its customers. Amazon has its reviews, and although this can be quite helpful, sometimes reviews are lumped together for similar products making it confusing as to what a buyer is actually purchasing. In opposition to eBay, Amazon will allow users more writing room to describe if a seller is good or not. (eBay gives a short one-liner is this regard.)

PayPal itself helps bring in buyers as it is (somewhat) a name people can trust. A lot of people have PayPal and do business through it accordingly; so having it as a payment system - even if negligible - can turn a potential buyer into a definite one.

However, unlike eBay, Amazon is purely for selling at a fixed price. There are no auctions to get a lower price than average. eBay does offer Buy It Now, but in addition sellers can also add an offer option, both of which can go alongside the regular auction scheme.

Some people prefer to try their chances at the best deal possible, while others don't want the hassle of sniping or constant checking.

eBay has been around for a long time now. I used to use it to buy rare or hard-to-get items. My choices were slim with that or Yahoo! Auctions. Eventually, Yahoo! Auctions went by the wayside. Why? I think it was because eBay got most of the attention from sellers. It is purely for selling and buying, while Yahoo! was really know for just its search engine, email and messenger. Knowing that fraudulent dealings seemed to be more rampant on Yahoo! Auctions didn't help either.

Nowadays, eBay seems to be more about making profits than just getting rid of whatever you can for however much you can. Sure, it still has good deals from time-to-time, but with so many buyers (and keen sellers), it's a lot harder to get. At least now eBay has really become a marketplace where pricing is competitive.

Even stores like Newegg or TigerDirect have begun selling on eBay. You can usually find the exact same items on their own stores for the same prices, but they must know that many people go to eBay first and buy there.

Amazon has grown to such an extent that government lawsuits have been deployed just to stop it from giving the tremendous bargains it did and still does (there used to be no sales tax for certain states...). As of now, they are the largest online retailer and are spreading into other areas like smartphones, tablets, and TV programming.

Amazon always caught my eye because they had everything! You want a 1 million dollar mech robot, Amazon has it [true]. You need a DSLR, Amazon has it. What about baby lotion or diapers? Amazon has that too.

On top of this, as previously mentioned, they have a Prime account, which it allows consumers to purchase at a yearly rate and take advantage of free 2-day shipping as well as free TV shows and movies. During holidays, Prime users will get some items at a discounted price before users without Prime access. I subscribe to them yearly, even with the new hike in price, just because I use them so much.

There are many reasons to choose either eBay or Amazon. One of the most obvious is cost. Sometimes eBay has a better deal, and sometimes Amazon does. Both sell used items, although eBay does far more, and both have competitive prices on new items.

Now, I find the newer items usually sell cheaper on eBay than on Amazon. Mainly because eBay will often have people selling their items as opposed to a company. A lot of times people will have the same new product for a bit cheaper on eBay, and because they will add free shipping and no sales tax (unless a storefront like Newegg), buying from eBay may save you a lot of cash depending on the final sale value.

One good secret that people usually don't know is that Amazon has "offers". People do see that there are offers for the same product for less expense, although they often forget that new and refurbished items are normally available along with used prices.

At times I do find good deals on used items on Amazon, but that is seldom. But the secret is that there are sellers who might sell the same product new for the same, lower, or higher price. The key is to drop it into your cart and go to checkout. There you will see if the seller adds sales tax. Many times they don't, so you can actually buy the same product new for less than the Amazon advertised price.

The secret on eBay used to be to buy from a store like Newegg and they would actually have no or less sales tax than from their own site. This would have the added benefit of support not just from eBay and PayPal, but from a large popular store like Newegg too. I believe that they (Newegg) have finally learned about this trick, so prices are now the same across-the-board...

PayPal vs. Amazon Credit
Both PayPal and Amazon offer lines of credit to their customers. The main difference I have learned is that an Amazon line of credit can affect your credit score - positively or negatively - and that PayPal does not. This is a true toss up as I like the idea of not having my credit score affected, but at least on Amazon there should be far more choices to spend credit on.

That aside, both have different ways of charging interest. If you buy an item on Amazon's line of credit you will have no interest payments for 6 months if spending at least $149, or for an entire year if at least $600. eBay gives you 6 months at $99. 

The other biggest difference between the two is that PayPal charges an APR of 19.99%, and Amazon charges an APR of 25.99%.

In this arena, it seems like PayPal is the obvious choice. It doesn't affect your credit and you have lower interest rates if applicable. But it really depends on what you're buying and how you're paying. If you buy thousands of dollars worth of items, then Amazon might be the place to choose since you could get at least a year to pay off your debt without interest. However, if you only buy $108 worth of items, then eBay would be the place to buy from in order to get no interest financing.

The choice between them is not as easy as pick one and give it a go. It will depend on what you are looking for, what you can afford, and personal preference.

When talking about available stock, Amazon is the clear winner. Amazon usually has a large abundance of individual items, and to reiterate, has just about everything you could need. From groceries to electronics, Amazon has it all.

But if talking about the reverse in terms of rarity and old items, eBay is the winner. Amazon sometimes has old items for sale from users, but most people will be selling them on eBay. eBay is known for rare and old items, and because of that, people know that is the best place to get the best value.

I would say that unless a model of something is still in production, anything over 10 years old is going to be easier to find on eBay. If you're looking for autographs or mint condition issues of comics, eBay is the first place to search.

I have dealt with eBay, PayPal, and Amazon support. And even though each has decent support, I would have to say that ultimately Amazon is leaps and bounds above the other two.

PayPal used to be absolutely horrible. If you got ripped off their response was pretty much, "We can't do anything, sorry". For many years I avoided them after having one such incident. I eventually used their services again because eBay lured me back in.

I ended up having another incident where all my money was taken from my bank account. This time PayPal stepped up to the plate and reimbursed me for everything lost. Since then I have had more faith in the company, and they have helped me get things done a lot more smoothly than before. Is the actual service stellar, no, it is the standard I expect a large company to provide to be considered as having good support.

eBay is a nightmare as of recently. There have been just as many horror stories for them as PayPal's past. They have cleaned up their act a lot, and have implemented policies that are better for both buyers and sellers. They have reimbursed me for non-received or non-working items and have ensured that I am taken care of when such situations occur. That being said, as of this month, I have lost a good amount of trust in their support. To make a long story short, eBay sent me a promotion for a measly $5 if I bought an item more than $20 through their eBay app on my smartphone or tablet. The $5 never appeared as stated and I have been jerked around for 3 hours (so far) proving the email was real, that I followed all the steps, and already being promised a $5 voucher that has yet to arrive (even after waiting twice the amount of time I was told it would take). After almost two weeks and three long hours of repeating myself, they did send me a $5 voucher with no spending requirement...

I recall one time where eBay just had the dumbest support person I have yet to encounter. 
My order came from China. The product did not work as advertised so I attempted to settle it with the seller first. If you have read my articles, you know I don't have much trust in any Chinese product, but I do try nonetheless. Of course they wanted some sort of proof and promised afterwards to send my refund in full. After I had done so, I kept asking for a return address they never gave. So eBay gave it to me instead, and I sent it off to them. When I told them this they asked for the address and said that they didn't use this address, to which I replied that it wasn't my problem, and they would need to take that up with eBay. They then wanted other demands met where I just said, "F*ck this, time to go to the next level." I gave them horrible feedback, elevated the situation, and explained myself numerous times to eBay support.

You would think this would've been bad enough, but that wasn't the end. At one point I realize that because I sent my item back using the local post office (I have no intention spending around $100 on sending anything back to anyone), I have no way to track it back to China. This upsets me because already I know these Chinese people I'm dealing with are liars, and I'm not going to let them pretend the package did not arrive. So I call eBay support, again. This time is when I get the dumbest person working at eBay.

I explain the entire situation over, again. This guy somehow thinks that I will believe him when he literally tells me that they can track my package into China. So I ask him what the special service or program is that they use, and he tells me that he is not allowed to say. I ask him to check it then, and of course all he can see is that it reached the border of the country I sent it from, days ago... I try to explain his stupidity to him by describing how eBay is a big company, but no country, especially not China, is going to allow them any type of control to watch over packages. The guy trying to still push his fake ideas, and I end up just hanging up on him and calling back to get someone else. I get a woman who I explain the situation to yet another time. This time, she gives me back my money because she understands the predicament. I also ask her if they have some secret program to check foreign packages, and she tells me openly that there is no such thing, they merely use the tracking number with whatever service used (if possible).

Even after I had already sent the package and got a refund, the Chinese seller still tried to contact me about giving them positive feedback. I already had my money back, and I didn't trust them, so I ignored them. A few weeks later the package was returned to me because the address eBay had given was wrong. Oh well!

Was their support good? Sometimes. Is it right now? No. Being that eBay seems to help cause more issues than it solves makes me think that they are just trying to avoid incidents in any way possible. I am now considering them as a possible risk in any future purchases if something significant were to happen after-the-fact. And just knowing that you get eBay support idiots who will try to lie to you, as if somehow people like me are as stupid as them, makes me just that much more wary...

Amazon is simply amazing. Anytime I have had to deal with them, I have always ended up satisfied, if not gratified, once my time with support has finished. A quick two examples, that I have written about in the past, are a Verizon Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone and a X-Men/Wolverine Blu-ray movie collection. For the Galaxy S4, I bought it and brought it overseas to use. Everything was fine until it just suddenly died. I tried restarting, pulling the battery, and anything else that I could, to no avail. I called Amazon and had one day left to return the phone. I explained that I was overseas and was upset that I had to pay for the fees to return it to the USA considering that I bought something advertised as fully functional when it clearly was not. After some yelling on my part, Amazon agreed to reimburse me for any and all shipping fees back to Amazon!

As for the movie collection, Amazon offered a special on the movie collection and I bought it. A month and a day later, they offered the same collection with the newest movie that had just been released. I tried my luck and called Amazon to explain my predicament. They understood and informed me that if I bought the movie, I could call back and have them reimburse me the difference. I did so and they actually gave me more than they should have, making the new movie a little less than $2.

I have plenty of positive stories for Amazon, but I can't recollect any negative ones to share. The same can't be said for eBay or PayPal...

eBay and Amazon both have guarantees to get your money-back. Both require returns to be done within 30 days, and once received, a refund will be issued if the items are DOA (dead-on-arrival), not as stated to be, or having other issues.

I have never had to do this for eBay. Yet, what is good to know, is that even if a seller specifies they do not accept returns, eBay will still honor the guarantee. This is how it should be regardless, but it is good to know eBay is on the right page.

Amazon is great about this. They actually go one step further in that if you get the product and you don't open it, you can still send it back and get your money back! You can only do this with eBay if the buyer explicitly states that you can do so.

Here is a little secret about Amazon most people likely have no idea can be done. Let's say you use your Amazon line of credit to get 6 months of no interest payments. You then realize that one of the items you bought you no longer want or need. If you call Amazon and tell them this, they will allow you to send the product back, but they will not void the 6 months of no interest payments if it brings the total below the amount to allow for special financing!

Again, it's a no brainer that Amazon has better guarantees.

From what I have noticed, negative feedback tends to hurt sellers more on eBay more than it does on Amazon.

Even though sellers on either site can be flooded with so much positive feedback that negative feedback seems to all but disappear. And despite the fact that both sites will display a percentage of how "good" each seller is. I find myself more willing to buy from an Amazon seller than an eBay seller of equal "goodness".

Maybe it's because of Amazon's support, but when I see someone who has something like 87% on Amazon, my desire for an item does not waiver much. Instead, I just question if it is the best value. However, on eBay, if I see a seller who has something like 95%, I will look into their seller ratings and try to discern if they are trustworthy enough to buy from. As a reminder, Amazon does offer customers more space to write negative feedback, and being able to learn more about how bad a seller could be still has little affect on my buying decisions in these matters...

Mind you, this is just my preference. On a neutral field, all things being the same, Amazon and eBay offer the same type of feedback displays and manner of ratings. 

This isn't article isn't so much about which is better overall, but which one is better to go with during certain circumstances. That being said, if I had to use only one for the rest of my life, I would choose Amazon. Sometimes I do pay a premium to buy from Amazon over eBay, but given my history with them I think they deserve my business.

Don't get me wrong, if eBay has the better deal by a large margin, I will use them. If I need something old and/or rare, I'll get it off eBay if it's available. But when push comes to shove, Amazon just offers more at better values.

People know I'm a stickler for support, so that plays a huge role for me. Ignoring that, Amazon just has more items that I want. eBay eventually floods its marketplace with the same items, but often by then I have already paid for it on Amazon. And even though I did mention that eBay usually has the same items for cheaper, there have been numerous times I have found items on eBay going for a lot more than on Amazon!

Other Stores?
There are plenty of other stores to buy goods. I buy a lot of electronics so there are Internet stores like Newegg, Tigerdirect, MWave, Directron, Fry's Electronics, Rakuten (formerly, Overstock (& O), etc. to choose from. Are they the best? I'd say no, but they do throw up decent deals every so often.

Why don't I use these stores more often? Well, for example, I have noticed that sometimes a graphics card might be priced $10 cheaper on Amazon over Newegg. I then check Newegg to find that the card in question has a rebate for $10. I don't know if Amazon has a special agreement with some graphics card manufacturers, or if they drop their price of their own accord, but I prefer this strategy. I have done rebates before and on average they take up to 3 months or more. Why do that when I can just get an "instant rebate" from Amazon?

If we're talking about the best deals, and used items, there are also plenty of forums to comb through that will provide amazing prices. However, support is a different story as it is all about trusting individuals given that no protection is generally given.

Again, this is not about who is the best. I am biased as evident by my experiences. And there have been several times that I choose eBay over Amazon. It's all about the best deal you can make. If you're buying an expensive item, is it better to have great support over okay support? If you need a lengthy time to pay off your purchase, are you likely to miss a payment and affect your credit score? Is the price advertised actually going to be less pricey in the other store once taxes and shipping are factored in?

Whatever your reasons are, you'll find that the above information should help determine what the best route is to take. Don't be loyal for the sake of being loyal, be a smart shopper and save money where you can.

Monday, January 19, 2015

How I Bought a $420 GTX 980!

It all started at the end of last year. Holidays were upon us and my birthday was soon after. I had been reading all about the new NVIDIA GTX 970/980 graphic cards and realized it may be a good time to upgrade from my GTX 680. I went onto eBay and found a newly listed EVGA GTX 780 (maybe a Superclocked?) for a Buy It Now price of $240 with shipping. I was going to have my wife get me the card, but an hour later, it was gone... I was upset on missing the deal, so I set out to find something better for a better price. This took me on a month-and-a-half journey that resulted in the best deal I have made to-date...

My Graphic Card History
For the longest time (or what seemed so) I had a EVGA GTX 480, that would later be accompanied by another in SLI. I was happy with it's performance, and blissfully ignoring its hefty power consumption. By the time I had a GTX 480, the GTX 580 was already out, and my real purpose had been for its use of CUDA cores. Reviews stated that the GTX 580 had some issues and many recommended going with the GTX 480 for the time being. The CUDA core difference was small, and the GTX 480's were obviously better priced (especially used), so that became my first notable high-end card. I believe my first card cost me $300. 

A couple of years later the NVIDIA GTX 700 series was brought out. Everyone was clamoring to pick one up, so forums were flooded with enthusiasts selling off what they could, including an abundance of NVIDIA GTX 600 series cards. Of course I considered a GTX 780, but once I realized the GTX 770 was near-identical to the GTX 680, I thought I would go with a GTX 680 instead. This would be less expensive and have a leap in CUDA cores from a GTX 480. So I searched the forums for a decent deal. Most GTX 680's were going for well over $300. If you wanted a good non-reference model, the lowest would run you $340 (if you were lucky). I ended up coming upon a EVGA GTX 680 SC with a backplate. I haggled with the seller until I got him down to $300.

The card has served me well for a little over a year. I have never treated it roughly and have only ran tests for overclocking, never leaving it at those clocks when testing was done. I rarely game, but when I do, it definitely surpasses what my GTX 480 SLI setup could do. I remember playing Crysis 3 and having to turn on V-sync to make it playable with the GTX 480 SLI. On the other hand, the GTX 680 had no problems whatsoever. It is still a great card and I intend to keep it as my primary backup.

Holiday Gifts
I wanted to get something for the holiday and my birthday, as I knew no one else would know what I wanted, letalone get it for me. I toyed around with a variety of different graphic cards I could possibly afford at decent prices:

The first was a GTX 770. I could then put it in SLI with my GTX 680, and have that extra power. The main drawback would be that I would not be able to use SLI for the extra CUDA cores, and even then, it would not give me double the amount of CUDA cores performance for my specific application. It would also not overclock as high as a GTX 770 SLI since the GTX 680 memory just couldn't match it.

The second was a GTX 690. That too could be SLI'd with GTX 680. There were two main drawbacks though. The initial being minor in that it just didn't have a HDMI port if I wanted it to be my primary card. The last being that its power consumption and heat have always been plaguing issues for GTX 690 owners.

The Third was a GTX 780 Ti. It would be a powerhouse of a card to own, and only second to a GTX 980. While power consumption and heat could be a concern, the only one I had was that its pricing (new or used) was still ridiculously high. Some I saw were selling for what you could buy a GTX 980 for!

The final option was a GTX 970. The pricing was great and I had seen reviews where it could hold its own against a GTX 780 Ti depending on the game, and/or if it was overclocked. The only drawback I know of is that apparently numerous GTX 970's/980's are susceptible to coil whine. 

Decisions, Decisions
After a long debate with myself, and checking prices on GTX 770's, GTX 970's and GTX 780 Ti's from various people of differing forums, I finally decided to buy a GTX 770. The card was an EVGA with an ACX cooler and included a backplate. I took a chance and the seller was willing to sell it to me for $170 shipped. I checked for weeks afterwards on eBay and forums to see if anything was sold cheaper, but that was the cheapest I was ever able to find.

I finally had another card, and while it wouldn't drastically increase my CUDA cores performance for the application I used, it would help somewhat. And whenever I got a new game, a GTX 770/680 SLI would have no problem dishing out high frame rates.

Then She Walked In
I was generally happy about my purchase. I wouldn't be able to see the GTX 770 and use it for a few months, but once I had it, I had big plans for it.

I had emailed a guy in December about a used Zotac GTX 970 he was selling for $280. He had replied that something had come up with the card and he would not be selling it until he sorted it out. I then bought my GTX 770, celebrated the holidays, and forgot about the GTX 970...

Out of the blue, I get an email from the same guy telling me he has a brand new, unopened EVGA GTX 970 SC he's going to sell, but wanted to offer it to me first before posting it for sale on the forum. He said he was charging only $310. We discussed the card and the reasons to sell for a bit - one being that his other identical card had loud coil whine - and we finally agreed that he would sell it to me for $300 shipped. The payment was as an electronic Amazon gift card!

Are You Serious?
Now I had a GTX 770 in the wings that would never be used nearly as much as the GTX 970. So I decided to sell the GTX 770 on eBay to recoup my losses.

I listed it on eBay for 5 days. The competition for EVGA GTX 770's was stiff as most were Superclocked versions. My only advantage was a backplate and lower price. I expected to get some watchers, and I knew if I had at least 8 I would get at least one bid. I also expected that bid to come within the last 2 days of the auction.

On the last day I finally got my first bid. By this point the watchers were at 16, they maxed out at 18, then dwindled down to 15 (likely losing bidders or people who wanted it cheaper). But then something weird happened...

I watched the initial bidder continuously outbid newcomers. Unexpectedly, I received a message from him. He asked if I would ship to Chile and that he would "of course" pay for the shipping expenses through an additional invoice. I told him that I didn't really want to do that - my auction was only for shipping to the US - but if he paid an additional $10 on top of the shipping expenses, it would be fine. He agreed. At one point he was outbid. He then messaged me again and asked if he could pay me for priority shipping. I gave him the prices (plus $10), and he agreed.

Then he sent me another message stating that I could ship the card to a Florida address because it would be safer. If he won, and I shipped it to Chile, he not only would have paid all the shipping charges, but given me an extra $10! So, I asked if this (Florida) address was his PayPal address and told him I had to send it to the address on the PayPal account. Of course it wasn't, but he asked why I couldn't ship it to Florida. I told him eBay rules stated that it should only be shipped to the address on the PayPal account; but if he wanted me to ignore the rules and ship it to Florida instead, it would still cost him $10 more.

With a little under an hour left, I get yet another message from this bidder. He places an eBay link and quotes a part stating that a confirmed PayPal address is necessary. I begin to write about how I'm assuming all the risk from a bidder who has one positive feedback, not even from the 12 months. And how it's strange when someone wants to bid on an auction that is not for international shipping, then asks a question about it after bidding, then changes their mind for domestic shipping. I even ponder if I should ask why $10 is such a big deal when he was willing to pay almost $50 before... Instead, I just send him a link about a bad experience a past eBay seller had with a person who had an unconfirmed address and still bid, despite the auction explicitly stating otherwise.

20 minutes go by (with another 20 left on the auction) before I get another reply. The guy mentions the 2006 date, throws a kiddy "LOL", and now says that $10 extra is no problem. In my reply I tell him that I think he's probably a nice guy but explain why it feels weird dealing with him. I then ask for his PayPal address so I can setup an invoice in case he wins.

A few minutes later he responds with two physical addresses and something about using some mail service I've never seen or heard of. Oh, and that USPS "sucks". So I immediately tell him that he probably shouldn't bid because I don't know that service and USPS Priority is the free shipping I am providing in the listing.

3 minutes before the auction ends this guy, who I now assume is a troll, messages me his PayPal email address and that his service is through his account. I'm not sure that it's his intelligence or a language-barrier, so I explain that I only know USPS, UPS, DHL, and FedEx. I further explain that I will only be using FedEx.

The clock runs down and I get nervous hoping he doesn't make another bid. In the last few seconds, he does, and he wins...

I mean, let's face facts. This guy comes out of nowhere and expects me to meet all his demands just because he needs me to. If you don't have a lot of positive feedback, want a package shipped internationally for a nationwide-only auction, reneg on any agreements we originally made, don't like the deal I followup with, and then ask that I change the provided service I use; you can go f**k yourself! I rather be shorted a few dollars than to go through all this!

So, he promptly pays the auction price, and then messages me on how to send the $10 through PayPal. After a brief explanation, he sends the extra $10. Of course he then asks if I have the box, which I don't (my auction stated to ask questions, but I didn't mean after it was done...).

After all that, and minus PayPal "fees", I ended up with $206.50. That's a total profit of $36.50. This is not including the amount for shipping which would lower it down to around $30.

Just to clear the air, I have no problem shipping overseas. But my auction was for free shipping, so I didn't want to pay $40 or more from my winnings. Doing so would have not only ate all my profits but also had me lose money on the GTX 770!

To conclude, I sold the GTX 770 for a profit but without so much as holding it in my hands...

[Note: I waited to publish this article until this crazy auction ended.]

Wait for It...
I was satisfied with my GTX 970 purchase. Actually, I was extremely happy. I could keep the card and see what it could do, or I could turn around and sell it for a quick $40-$60 profit on eBay.

My mind then began to ponder about something better, but there really wasn't anything in the EVGA GTX 970 line, except for the FTW model. I somewhat wanted a FTW for its baseplate connected to the heatpipes. The GTX 970 SC ACX cooler has a "flaw" where one of the heatpipes does not touch the GPU die. The baseplate would solve this. The FTW also has one extra aluminum heatpipe, where the SC has two full heatpipes and a smaller third.

I ignored that thinking and tried to move on but then the new revision of the SSC version was released. It had three full-sized copper heatpipes that were straightened, a new MOSFET cooling plate, and one of the two 6-pins was now an 8-pin (more power if needed). The first two features were for extra cooling measures and the only review I saw had a higher overclock than any of the FTW reviews I read. The FTW+ would be follow soon... I then began to consider selling the card again. By this time eBay prices had plundered somewhat (after a single week), but I could still make a quick $25-$45 profit. I eventually gave up on wanting to part with my new GTX 970.

My eBay Watch list was filled with GTX 980's in an attempt to gauge their prices. Still too pricey for me, but fun nonetheless to dream about. Just as I had quelled any thought of selling my GTX 970, I decided to ask an eBay seller about his auction for a $600 OBO EVGA GTX 980 SC reference card (which comes with a pre-installed backplate).

My question to him was what was the cheapest price he would sell the card for? He told me $570 because of the free shipping and eBay fees. I replied that I had seen another reference card go for $470 [true], and that right now eBay listings were supposed to be free until today. He mentioned something about not having any knowledge about the promotion. As a short in the dark, I decided to see if he would consider a trade for my unopened GTX 970 and some cash...

Amazingly, he said yes! I haggled him down from $150 to $120, paid him, and he sent the card off to me.

Deal of The Century
Noting the date the deal was made, and comparing to (then) current eBay auction listings, this is by far the best deal I have ever made. I could easily sell this card and make a profit, even though it is used, and despite the fact shipping my card added around $10 to what I spent. However, a backplate costs about $20 on Amazon, and the reference versions all included a backplate. I had planned to get a backplate for the GTX 970, so the offset is comparable. 

I also believe that I will be able to get close to what I paid for it ($420) if I decide to sell it around the same time next year. I have found that higher-end card models tend to drop about $100 or more per year on forums. If I sold it on eBay right now, I could make anywhere from $50 profit and up. If I sold it overseas, I could probably make upwards of $100.

$425 Zotac GTX 980 
Once I bought the GTX 980, I kept watching eBay auctions to see if any better deals occurred. From the time I bought the card until now, I only saw one auction come close. The auction was for a brand new Zotac GTX 980 AMP! Edition for $425 with shipping. In comparison to what I bought, here are the main differences: 1) The Zotac was brand new. 2) The Zotac has a lower clock speed. 3) Zotac cards can receive a lifetime warranty if registered within 30 days; while EVGA cards can receive a lifetime warranty if registered within 14 days

This may seem like the better deal considering mine is used and does not come with an aftermarket cooler. But, there are a few reasons I want to share that makes me think the opposite.

The Zotac cards come with a standard 2-year warranty. EVGA cards come with a standard 3-year warranty. My card was used, so, at the least, I would have 2 years and 8 months left on the warranty. Both companies offer a global warranty, however, EVGA will actually honor it. Meaning, EVGA doesn't care where the card was bought and Zotac does, which translates to sending a Zotac card back to the original country of purchase for repair or replacement. EVGA allows warranty transfer, Zotac does not (important for reselling). Let's not forget, reference models come with a pre-installed backplate, and for a card this long, I think it is a necessity to avoid PCB flexing.

From what I have read, Zotac offers good support, but I have read a few posts suggesting otherwise. The same can be said of EVGA, but one review I read from Zotac was just too snarky to believe they were the better of the two. In addition, I have read many comments about how Zotac cards seem to be inferior in cooling and speed. Many comments complained of overly hot reference models, including a GTX 980. And this review recommends not even buying the Zotac GTX 980 AMP! Extreme Edition (top model). Evidently, the reviewer's [NVIDIA] reference model GTX 980, $60 cheaper, could outdo this model. As icing on the cake, time and time again, I have read how Zotac's OC utility software just doesn't work well or at all. People often have to use MSI Afterburner or EVGA Precision X instead.

Being that my version is already factory overclocked higher than the Zotac GTX 980 AMP! Edition, and that the Zotac GTX 980 AMP! Extreme Edition is only about 50Mhz "faster" (armed with the knowledge that the latter version does not seem to do too well when overclocked); I think I got the better deal in dollars, performance, and support.

Advantages of a Used Graphics Card
There are a few advantages to getting a used graphics cards instead of a new one. They are: Knowing how well the card performs [overclocking]; having it already broken in; and coil whine issues.

In terms of my used GTX 980, the seller had no knowledge of its overclocking prowess since he had never pushed it to its limits. This could be seen as a bonus since it would be horrible if he had been "coin mining" with it before. The card can be arguably said to broken in, depending on how many months he actually ran it and what for. That is something I am not privy to. What I do know is that it does not appear to have coil whine. When I asked the seller about this, he responded that he never heard any and that the card was relative quiet for a reference card [design]. This is great news considering how many GTX 970/980's have had this issue, and what a pain it would be to have to RMA once received. In addition, blower fans that come with reference designs are usually fairly loud, but maybe because of the Maxwell architecture it needs less fan RPM's to help with cooling...

One additional advantage for this particular card is that it is EVGA, so the warranty is transferable. Even if it had not been, I asked the seller if he had registered it on the manufacturer's site? To which he replied that he had not, allowing me to be the first person to do so.

Future Plans?
I do have some plans for this card. Of course I want to see what it can do in terms of overclocking. A friend and I will work on it and run tests for a period of a few days to see what its limits are on air.

When we finish that, I intend to add a closed loop cooling solution to the card. One of the benefits to getting a reference card is that you should be able to keep the stock, single fan on the VRAM while adding a closed loop cooling solution (if you know how). This is good because you do not need to rely on individual aftermarket heatsinks to dissipate the heat on the VRAM and hope that it's enough. The EVGA GTX970/980 do not have anything on the VRAM to begin with, which is likely because they are so low in power usage and heat - as is the whole card - that it does not require cooling. But having a stock fan, or any fan, to help is a good measure by any means. I'll be explaining more of my setup in a matter of month's...

Notice Anything?
Throughout this article you may have noticed a few things: 1) I seem to get great discounts. 2) I got at least three of my cards for $300. 3) All my cards are EVGA.

To address my first point, I deal with a lot of people and never give up on my goal if I am rejected or declined. The reason I get great discounts is because I'll be able to tell if I am conversing with someone who is willing to make a deal. I also put a lot of trust in people who are putting faith in me. Sometimes that means sending payments as PayPal gifts to avoid tax, or having to make the first move to establish trust. This can be good, but it can also be very bad. Never go into a situation like this without knowing the consequences if negative. I have been very lucky in this area and have not been screwed over in a long time. As a final thought to wrap-up this point, if I want to ask for a special deal or trade, I don't hesitate to ask. The worst someone can say is no.

The second point is more of a fun fact for me. I bought three great cards all at $300. That seems expensive, but at the times that I purchased them, they were deals. I would always check around and find the lowest price possible, and if I couldn't find a low price, I would find a way to get a low price.

This point may be important to those who value company support as much as I do. I love a good deal, but I also want to buy a brand that has great support. I don't think any other graphics card company has better support than EVGA: If you buy a used card from someone, their warranty is transferable to you. EVGA is an American company, but offers a global warranty. Every time I have ever had to contact them by email I have always got a reply within 24 hours. I am fortunate enough that none of my cards have ever needed to be RMA'd. The only card I had that died did so well after its warranty period. And from perusing threads and posts, many people have also acknowledged that while there could be better cards, EVGA has the best support and support policies, hands down. Just check out their Step-Up Program and see if their competitors have anything similar...

One Card to Rule Them All
In a little over a month I went from a GTX 770, to a GTX 970, to a GTX 980. How many people can say that? How many people can say that and at similar prices? Needless to say, I'm proud of myself!

There is no more room to go up - at least until a GTX 980 Ti 6GB or 8GB variants do appear. But I don't think I'll have any interest in those. I have only one 1080p TV (dedicated to my desktop) and don't intend to upgrade to 4K until I buy a camera that has 4K video recording capabilities. A Ti version may have more CUDA cores, but I don't think the price difference in comparison to what I actually paid will prompt a switch.

The only downside is a personal matter. I have yet to test out any version of the ACX cooler from EVGA. I hear they are fabulous and would like to try one some day. I have now had two that I never even laid eyes upon. The upside, again, is that a closed loop cooling solution should be advantageous with a reference design. For now, I am content with my new EVGA GTX 980 SC. And I am sure I will keep this for another couple years before even contemplating an upgrade of any sort.

Friday, January 9, 2015

5 Cool Technological Tricks You May Have Forgotten Or Just Didn't Know!

I read an article a few days ago about how someone was able to get Doom to play on a Canon Pixma printer LCD screen. There was no documentation on the subject, so I couldn't bring it to you here. But since I wanted to get away from the subject of graphics cards for a while, it did give me the idea for this article. I want to present different tricks - new and old - that can be helpful, or at least interesting, to perform.

Ended eBay Auction Pictures
If you use eBay a lot, chances are you add a lot of auctions to your Watch list (or maybe Wish list). In any case, I end up with a lot of ended auctions I never had any intention of biding on. I usually do it to gauge prices for an item during that time period. Sometimes it's good to see if you paid too much for something. And other times its good as a reference for the future.

In any case, once an eBay auction ends, you can still see the photos from a desktop computer or your smartphone and tablet (other than the primary photo):

  1. Download the eBay app (if on a smarphone/talbet).
  2. Go to your ended auction list.
  3. Find the auction in question and click on it. It should show the auction as ended.
  4. Click on the auction picture and it will open the original auction page, allowing you to peruse all the photos that the auction had.
This doesn't sound like it could be of much use, but it is for me. For example, if there was an auction that had an item that went unsold, I could then recheck the photos to see if the item is actually in good condition and worth purchasing. I could then contact the seller and ask if they will just sell me the single item through PayPal or another Buy It Now auction at a lower price. It can also help when trying to reference an item and it is near impossible to find any identical photos on the web.

This works on Android and iOS devices. The only difference should be that on iOS devices there is no way to choose between all, live, or ended auctions. There is just a big list of your live auctions followed by your ended auctions (exactly like the desktop interface). You also do not need to have the eBay app installed before an auction is added or ended. It is all saved on eBay's servers, so you can view it any time. 

Note: I have found auctions that have ended almost a year ago through Google, so you should be able to view these auctions for a long time after they have concluded.

Faster Speeds with IDM
I use Internet Download Manager (IDM) for any download on the net that I can. I usually get faster speeds regardless, but sometimes I don't. For certain situations, I have found a method to increase the speeds further.

I had been downloading from a certain site because: 1) I could use IDM. 2) It had really good speeds. 3) There was no wait time if I needed to download another file from the host afterwards. One day, after a short vacation, I noticed that my speeds had decreased greatly from the site. After some time I contacted my ISP and had them take a look at my setup and what I was doing. They were of no help. I ended up trying a few more tricks and came across one that actually worked:

  1. Start a download with IDM.
  2. Do not click "Start Download".
  3. Copy the URL in the top area of the download prompt. (You may need to manually highlight the URL as a double-click sometimes only grabs part of it.)
  4. Open up the IMDB interface where all your downloads are shown.
  5. Click on "Add URL".
  6. The link you just copied should already populate itself into the "Address" area. If not, paste the link you copied into the "Address" area.
  7. Press "OK".
  8. The IDM download prompt should then appear.
  9. Press "Start Download".

Your speeds may then increase significantly depending on the host server. I found a 2x-4x increase in doing this when necessary, and if successful.

If you are unable to get a URL link for media, download and install "Grab Any Media" for Chrome. When you are viewing a video or listening to audio it should give you the option to download it. Start downloading the video or audio file and open up the Downloads tab on Chrome. Click on the URL of the file being downloaded and a new tab will open up. Copy the URL from that tab and paste it into IMDB (step 5 and up). Don't forget to cancel the original download afterwards.

Turn on a PSU with a Paperclip
Sometimes you need more power. On a desktop computer the obvious choice is to buy a bigger power supply unit (PSU), but there are times when that is just not an option. Let's say your computer has the highest wattage PSU available, what do you do then? Or what if you can't afford a better PSU?

The problem here is that two PSU's in a computer is normally not easy to accomplish, unless you know a lot about cables and splicing. Your best bet may be to get one of those shoddy computer bay PSU's, which may not even have the necessary power to help you further. On the off chance that you are a splicer and just need to use the PSU for some random project, the problem becomes how to get the PSU to start since the motherboard is the item to normally do this.

For those who need the use of a second PSU, need to get a PSU to start without a motherboard, or just need to test a PSU's functionality, here is an oldie but a goody that still stands today:

  1. First get a PSU and a standard, malleable paperclip. Your PSU should have a 20-pin or 20+4-pin connector (a separate 20-pin and 4-pin connector).
  2. Make sure your PSU is not plugged into a wall.
  3. If your PSU has a On/Off switch, place it into the Off position if not already done.
  4. Take the paperclip and unfold it so that it makes a U-shape.
  5. Take the 20-pin connector and locate the green wire.
  6. Stick one end of the paperclip into the green pinhole for the green wire.
  7. Take the 20-pin connector and locate any black wire (many have one right next to the green wire).
  8. Stick the other end of the paperclip into the black pinhole for the black wire.
  9. Plug the PSU back into a wall outlet.
  10. If necessary, set the PSU switch to ON.

The PSU should power on. If it does not, then it is most likely broken or dead.

A word of warning to those using this trick with computers. If you do this for extra power in order to power up some heavy-duty graphic cards, or what have you, be sure that you power this on only up to 10 seconds before your actual computer. I have read serious issues can occur otherwise.

I have also attached this PDF file for some visual guidance.

Charge A Smartphone/Tablet via USB with Another Smartphone/Tablet
Speaking of power, sometimes smartphones and tablets aren't all they're cracked up to be. One of the most common hindrances is battery life. New features and technologies always come promising longer lasting battery life. But in reality, these small increases still don't last as long as most of us would like.

Sure, "fast-charging" helps make sure we don't stay off of the phone too long, but don't we all just want a phone that can last until we leave it to charge at night? Even larger batteries and external battery packs are great, and is a definite option for charging, but what if you don't have one?

Hopefully, in lieu of an external battery pack, you hold on to your older smartphones or tablets. I know I do. If you do, then you essentially have an external battery pack already! Mind you, at least one phone must have OTG capabilities, and OTG must be enabled beforehand. As long as you meet those requirements you should only need to spend a buck or two (if any) to do the following:

  1. Be sure to have an OTG cable, and a charging cable from one of your devices. Most phones and tablets have the same type of charging port (save iOS devices), but if one is different, just make sure at least one (any that has OTG-enabled) of your devices fits the OTG cable.
  2. Plug in the OTG cable into the OTG-enabled device.
  3. Plug the USB charging cable into the OTG cable.
  4. Plug the other end of the USB charging cable into the other device.

The device should immediately light up, or show some indication that it is now charging!

While not (regularly) cheaper than an external battery pack, the simple method makes good use out of older devices that you have lying around.

Free Calls to the US/Canada over the Internet
Having a Google Number should be a right, not a privilege. But for those of us outside of North America, we don't get the benefit of being able to make free phone calls on the Internet. If you are lucky enough to travel to the states (or provinces) and remember to get a Google Number, it can greatly benefit you overseas. You can make calls back to North America - completely for free - over an Internet/mobile data network connection. Clarity will vary depending on your Internet speeds.

There are a lot of ways to do this while overseas (Google "IPKall Google Number"), and in fact one of the apps I'll be mentioning will now even guide you in getting one. But I am just going to go over the broad strokes of how to get one if you are in North America:

  1. Signup for a Google Account, if you don't already have one.
  2. Log into:
  3. You should have an option to apply for a Google Number. Follow the process and choose a number.
  4. The number can only be verified if using a "valid" US/Canadian cell phone number. Although, you should be able to get the number regardless, but you will only be given a month to verify it for permanent use.

There are a couple of items to note. If you do not have a US/Canadian number and end up using a relative's or friend's cell phone number, you will want to go into settings and uncheck any boxes that relate to forwarding calls and texts to their number instead of just to the Google Number. In addition, Google now verifies the number once-a-year if the verifying original cell phone number is no longer active for that period of time (i.e. you visited the states and got a temporary cell phone number).

In order to use the Google Number while overseas you must either login to your Google Voice account on a desktop browser, or have a special Android/iOS app. On the desktop you simply login and click on the phone icon (from Gmail if using the classic interface), or the "Call" button (from Google Voice).

Talkatone is a special app that you can use for free, or subscribe to monthly to remove their ads. That app works both on iOS and Android. On Android you can also use Spare Phone. The previous iterations of this app were great, and only required a one-time payment. The app still only requires a one-time payment, but now seems to have changed to only be used with other Spare Phone users. Essentially, it has become a Viber that isn't free. However, it will walk you through getting a Google Number with IPKall. You will have to search for an older version if you want to make calls to ANY North American number...

BONUS: Microsoft Word Secret Messages
Microsoft is no stranger to hiding images or games in their products, but it seems that they've steered clear of that in recent years. One trick that works from Microsoft Word 2003 and up (it may work in older versions too) is still available in 2013:

  1. Open up Microsoft Word.
  2. Open up a document (a blank document is recommended).
  3. Type "=rand()" without the quotes.
  4. Press Enter.

A bunch of random writing will appear, and it seems each Word version has different writing. For example, the 2013 version has four paragraphs describing some features of Word.

I did not want to include this as a main trick as it serves no useful purpose.