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Do GPU Wear Out From Heavy Use?

The majority of the data you’ll find online on the lifespans of graphics cards is anecdotal, and the statistics might vary greatly depending on who you ask. It’s challenging to distill information on such vastly disparate cards into straightforward generalizations given the hundreds of distinct graphics card models that have been launched over the previous ten years.

So far, what is known is that, altogether, most modern graphics cards have a 2-5% failure rate (measured in returns to the merchant), according to a 2020 report from a German retailer. You may perhaps anticipate a decade of use out of a properly-treated GPU card because in 2021, Nvidia still offered driver updates for GPU cards that were roughly 9–10 years old (like the GTX 600 series). However, those may be exceptions, as we’ll see in the section that follows.

No matter the statistics, there is some fundamental physics at play. The materials and parts that make up GPU cards aren’t made of magic; the more you use them, the faster the parts deteriorate and the more probable it is that they may fail entirely. So prolonged use does shorten lifespan.

The likelihood that your GPU card will fail depends on a wide range of factors, including how intensively the GPU has been used, the type and severity of temperature swings in the circuitry, the frequency with which the card has been turned on and off, and the cleanliness of the operating environment. A GPU card is a complicated machine with numerous elements, and each one can malfunction or deteriorate differently. We’ll go over some key components of a GPU card and consider how they could deteriorate with repeated severe use.

Cooling Fans

The cooling fans (or fan), which are actual moving elements, are the component of a graphics card that is most prone to malfunction initially. By directing hot air away from the GPU chip (which is protected by a heat sink), fans keep your GPU cool so it can continue to function. How can heat be bad? The GPU card won’t operate because excessive heat causes transistors to malfunction. Even greater heat has the potential to irreversibly harm the transistors in the card’s chips.

Dust can build up on cooling fans over time, making them less effective at moving air. Or, if an internal lubricant malfunctions, the fans can stop functioning altogether. The GPU will become hotter in any circumstance. Every GPU uses thermal throttling, which slows down the GPU’s function to reduce the operating temperature, to protect itself from overheating. This significantly reduces performance. So, use compressed air to completely clean your GPU’s cooling fans and heat sink if it suddenly becomes noisier than usual (the fan is spinning faster) or performs worse. If you can locate a similar fan from a computer parts provider, you can typically replace a GPU cooling fan that has fully failed.

Faulty Thermal Compound

Every heat sink has a layer of thermally conductive material, like a pad of putty or paste, between it and the GPU chip that aids in the passage of heat from the GPU chip to the heat sink. Thermal paste might crack or lose its effectiveness over time. The GPU temperature will increase as a result of the heat sink’s ineffective cooling. High GPU temperatures cause thermal throttling, which slows down your GPU, as we saw in the fan section above. In that case, changing the thermal paste on your own is the best solution. From dealers of computer parts, you may purchase thermal paste.