How Long Does A Graphics Card Last? (Longer than you’d think)

The other day my friend’s graphics card died. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know if a power surge killed it, if his dog slobbered on it, or if the computer gods struck it down with lightning to force him to buy an RTX 2080ti instead.  

Regardless of the reason, it got me thinking: How long does an average graphics card last anyway? After all, I’m sure we both have old graphics cards lying around that if we pumped a little voltage through them they’d spring back into life.   

So I decided to go all Sherlock Holmes on the problem and start an investigation. And the results were quite surprising…

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • How long average graphics cards last
  • How and why a graphics card could electronically fail
  • How to avoid electronic failure 
  • Why a graphics card’s lifespan can be limited by obsolescence 
  • What is a graphics card’s obsolescence lifespan and how to extend it 

Now that I’ve outlined all the main topics I’ll touch on in this article, I’ll dive right on into the first section and answer your burning question: How long does an average graphics card last?  

How Long Does an average GPU Last? 

A graphics card can, like any other electronic device, die on you without warning. 

But, in my experience, this is a very rare occurrence. I’ve been buying used graphics cards for over a decade off eBay and of all different powers, including a GTX 1080ti and GTX 970 (great card), and I’ve never had a problem.

Generally, if treated correctly, a graphics card should last you well beyond the manufacturer’s warranty. In all likelihood, your card will become obsolete for its intended use, such as playing games, long before it electronically dies.  

Signs that your card is failing.

The following are signs that your graphics card has suffered, or is in the middle of suffering, an electronic failure. 

Computer crashes

If your computers constantly crashing for no reason whatsoever, there is a good chance it’s a graphics card problem. To rule your graphics card out, try an old card you know works, or borrow a friend’s. 

Graphical artifacts/Corrupted graphics 

Another good indicator that your GPU is dying a slow death is graphical corruption in graphical heavy games. 

This usually takes the form of multi-colored pixelation or polygons flying out of place all over the screen. 

No image coming through to your TV/Monitor

If no image is coming through to your TV/Monitor, there’s a very good chance your GPU is the culprit.

But before you make a mountain out of a molehill, do check that all your HDMI and cable connections are secure and correct at both the graphics card end and the monitor end. If you still can’t get a picture, try using a different video-out port.

If that still doesn’t work, your graphics card has a problem. 

Fans not spinning up or making a lot of noise

If the fans aren’t spinning or they make an excessive amount of noise usually this can be attributed to two things:

  1. The graphics card has died
  2. The GPU is not getting enough power. 

The only way to tell if your GPU hasn’t got enough power is to try it in another computer that supplies enough power to power the GPU. 

Also, be careful with older power units. As a general rule of thumb, a PSU’s max power output drops 5% with each year of use. So a 750W PSU might actually only supplying 580W after 5 years of heavy use. So your graphics card may not have failed. It might just be starved of power. 

The smell of burnt plastic/metal 

Generally, the smell of something burning inside your PC case is a bad sign. 

Turn your PC off. Take your GPU out and have a good sniff. Does it smell like it’s the culprit? If you can, put an old graphics card in your system. 

If the burning smell disappears, it’s very likely that your GPU has died. 

Graphics intensive games/apps crashing immediately  

Another good indicator that your GPU is dying a slow death is graphical heavy games crashing immediately or soon after starting. 

Reasons Your Graphics Card Might Fail And How To Avoid Them

There are a number of factors that can contribute to your graphics card jumping into an early grave. Below are a few to keep your eyes open for…

Overclocking the card

Overclocking the GPU is when you increase the GPU’s speed to increase performance. This puts extra strain on the graphics card beyond its manufacture limits. 

Overclock can, and often does, lead to graphics cards retiring early. 

To avoid this, simply don’t overclock your GPU if you can avoid doing so. 

Poor Airflow

Poor airflow within a PC case can greatly contribute to your graphics card dying on you.

Overlocking other components

Overclocking other components in the pc can have a detrimental effect on your graphics card. 

Overclocked components create more heat which in turn puts pressure on the card to remove the excess heat. 

You can avoid this by simply not overclocking anything in your system. 

Poor PSU

If your PSU is failing or is low quality, it can send abnormal levels of current and voltage to your card. This bouncing up and down of power levels will strain your card and eventually lead to failure. 

You can remedy this by buying a high-quality PSU.

Power Spike

Power spikes can be caused by any number of problems but one of the main causes is localized lightning strikes. These can fry an entire system instantly never mind damage your card. 

The best way to avoid problems is to invest in a high-quality surge protection system. 

How Long Does A Graphics Card Last: Obsolescence 

Technology Obsolescence is when technology becomes so old it can’t be used for its intended purpose because general technology trends have improved, or new technology has been invented to replace old technology. 

A good example of obsolescence with graphics cards is the drive to constantly improve graphics, resolutions and frame rates with computer games.

Each year there is a demand for improved graphics from PC computer games. To fill this demand, AMD and Nvidia, constantly produce new, improved and more powerful graphics cards. 

With the new graphics cards, game developers are able to produce every more graphically complicated games. 

Because of this constant increase in graphical complexity, old graphics are incapable of sustained high frame rates, at high resolutions, with high graphic settings enabled. 

This cycle continues until an old graphics card can’t play a game at its lowest graphical setting at an acceptable frame rate or resolution. At this point, the graphics card is effectively dead due to obsolescence. 

For example, an old Graphics card such as the GTX 8800 by Nvidia was a high-end graphics card for its time. But now, it would be incapable of running any modern game above 30 fps even at a low resolution such as 720p. 

This period of time between the graphic card being released and it becoming obsolete is called the Obsolescence lifetime.

Unfortunately, because of the constant drive of companies to increase profits, the obsolescence lifetime of graphics cards is decreasing all the time in a drive to make us upgrade our cards more often. 

But there are a few ways to combat this and increase your graphics card’s lifespan….

How To Increase Obsolescence Lifetime?

Decrease graphic features

One of the simplest ways to increase the lifetime of your card is to be happy running games at a lower graphical setting. Learn to love the gameplay, instead of the shiny graphics, and a graphics card can easily last you 5 years. 

Decrease resolutions

Yes, 4K looks amazing. But do you really need to run at that resolution? Lowering the res down to 1440p effectively halves the amount of graphical power needed to run your games. 

Enjoy 2D games

There are massive amounts of 2D retro games you can play that offer all the fun of a 3D game and take vastly less graphical power to play. If you enjoy playing these games more, a GPU can last a decade before an upgrade is needed. 

Run at a lower frame rate. 

I’m very fortunate because I’m not very frame rate sensitive. I can run a game at 50fps and feels exactly the same as 120fps. 

I know that might not be the case for you, but explore where your threshold frame rate smoothness is. You may not need a 120fps monitor to feel like your games run smoothly. 

In fact, some gamers I know, quite happily play most games like RTS, and management games, happily at 30fps instead of 60. 

Conclusion and Key points 

So now you know not only how long a graphics card should last, but that the greatest killer of cards is actually the sad fact that software moves on and demands more powerful hardware. 

Your key points to take away from this article include:

  • Graphics cards rarely electronically fail and can, in theory, last for decades
  • When they do they will show signs and symptoms such as graphical corruption 
  • Some actions such as overclocking can increase the chance of failure 
  • Most cards will become obsolete
  • Each card has an obsolescence lifespan
  • The length of this lifespan is determined by what you use the graphics card for such as games. 
  • You can increase the obsolescence lifespan of your card in a number of ways such as lowering graphics settings or decreasing resolution

What Next?

I think my GPU is dead. What should I do? If your GPU is dead you’ll need to buy a new one. Our good friends over at Eurogamer have created an epic article that’ll help you choose the perfect GPU for your needs. Check it out here. 

I want to get a second-hand graphics card. Is that a good idea? This is me speaking personally, but I haven’t bought a new graphics card for nearly a decade. I always go second hand from ebay. Why? Because it lets me by a Top end GPU like the 1080ti at around 50% of the normal retail price. My GPU has died. Can I use my onboard graphics built into my CPU? Yes, you absolutely can. If your paying casual games, or games like Fortnight, an integrated graphics solution can keep you gaming until you buy a new card. Just don’t expect to be playing at 4k or anything.

Nick Sinclair

Nick Sinclair, a gaming aficionado since the Commodore 64 era, studied Creative Computer Games Design in university before founding his own gaming company. Discovering a passion for content creation, Nick now helps gamers squeeze every drop of fun out of their favorite gaming hardware

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