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.

No comments:

Post a Comment