Tips & Tricks for Shopping Used PC Parts

by turbolence1988MAR 24TH, 2019

Shopping Used Motherboards

Motherboards are the very heart of a computer that keeps all the components communicating with one another. Since it plays such a vital role, a small problem with a motherboard could cause major issues. We tend not to recommend used motherboards, but sometimes they are the only option either from an availability or budget standpoint. There are many more things to watch out for here than with other components.

Blown or Leaking Capacitors

This issue plagued a lot of OEM systems in the mid-2000s as many small electronics suppliers and PC OEMs cut costs wherever possible. A blown or leaking capacitor will be easy to spot up close - any bulging, corrosion, or chemical stain on or near any motherboard capacitor is an immediate red flag, even for those that test fine. These can theoretically be replaced but require expert soldering skills due to how densely packed some motherboards can be. It’s best to avoid buying a motherboard with blown capacitors altogether.

Socket Damage

Any land-grid array style CPU (all modern Intel chips, and AMD Ryzen Threadripper) has its pins in the socket on the motherboard rather than on the CPU. These are laid out at an angle in a very precise, dense pin array, and are extremely fragile. Any damage to these pins will likely render the socket inoperable, and unlike bent pins on a CPU they’ll be extremely difficult to straighten. We don’t recommend buying motherboard with pin damage for this reason.

Additionally, the seller should take care to protect the socket in shipping. The original plastic socket cover is ideal, but a piece of cardboard secured in place is acceptable.

Warping, Cracking, Other Physical Damage

The weight of components bearing down on a motherboard will likely cause it to flex a small amount. However, poor installation or design choices could put extreme strain on the board, especially in the case of CPU coolers, which can cause boards to permanently warp or crack if mishandled. Warping is very hard to spot in photographs and isn’t a major concern unless it’s to the point where the board will contact the motherboard tray. Any cracks could break the traces (electrical leads) on the motherboard and lead to a broken connection that can render sockets or components inoperable.

When we talked with Phil at PhilsComputerLab about the most common issues he sees when buying used parts, he pointed out that poor motherboard packaging is frequent and usually leads to damage in transit. He noted that professional sellers tend to package and protect their inventory appropriately, but private sellers are on the whole more careless. Unfortunately product listings won’t show how a seller packages their items, and if a used motherboard must be purchased it’s a good idea to buy using a site or payment method with good buyer protection policies.

Corrupt BIOS

A corrupted BIOS will prevent the motherboard from completing its POST. A seller should make no attempt to market it as anything but “for parts” or “not working.” Some motherboards can have their BIOS restored with a reflash or recovery routine, but it’s likely the seller already attempted this at least once if they have the knowledge. This is a “purchase at your own risk” recommendation from the OzTalksHW team, since success is really hit or miss.

Dead CMOS Battery

A motherboard that reverts to default settings after a loss of power usually isn’t a major problem, as a dead backup battery is the most likely culprit. Plan on replacing the button-cell battery included on most motherboards when you receive it. An attentive seller may notice this and make mention of it in their listing, but with a battery life of some 5 years or more, it’s not a major issue.

Dead Expansion Slots

A dead expansion slot may not be obvious in testing, or a seller could assume the socket is working having never used it. A PCI Express slot can be damaged by several issues, but power overdraw (like those from the initial launch of the Radeon RX480) or physical damage are the most common. A single dead expansion slot may not affect you if it’s one you didn’t plan on using anyway, but certainly can be grounds for an RMA. If disclosed up front, all the better.

Memory DIMM slots also seem to have a higher failure rate than other parts of the motherboard. Test each DIMM slot if you intend on using them all in the future.