How can a video card (GPU) burn itself out?

Recently I removed my old video card (GTX 970) to upgrade it, took a photo and put it immediately in an anti-static bag, and sold it on eBay. I just heard from the buyer that there was a burning smell immediately when he opened the bag, he tested the card in his system anyway and it behaved as if it had a short circuit (UPS tripped).

I’m not going to challenge the buyer (the buyer is always right on eBay), but I’m mystified about what could have happened. The card was functioning perfectly before I removed it. Any ideas?

There’s two answers to this, the practical most likely answer, and the Mythbusters is-it-even-slightly-possible answer.

The most likely answer is that it’s probably the buyer’s fault. The claimed circumstances are highly unusual. They could have had improperly connected the PCIe power connectors, their power supply may have been faulty, they somehow shorted the PCIe connector against the case, etc. They probably made a mistake and are trying to blame it on you or even outright pulling a scam. The idea that the card had a burning smell out of the bag (unless it had one to begin with) is silly, since a GTX 970 has no onboard power source and thus could not “burn out” on its own in the bag. Power supplies typically also have their own overcurrent protection that shuts down before overdrawing the supply.

It is possible, in theory, that there was some sort of latent defect such as a tin whisker that became dislodged during shipping, but even that is unlikely because they typically cause more subtle faults and would burn up on their own quickly if subjected to high current, like a fuse. Overall, replicating the claimed effect of pulling over 10-15 amps long enough to trip a circuit breaker and cause thermal damage requires a serious fault or damage to the card.

The buyer is lying. The tell-tale is that they tested it anyway. I hope the photos you took included not only the serial number stickers but the position of those stickers.

Interesting, are you suggesting that they’d send back a faulty card they had?

Possible. Some people screw up a component and try to buy another to return as “faulty”. I know people do this with the stores, I could see someone trying it on eBay.

More likely, if it’s a scam, they’re relying on the seller to not want to hassle with return shipping or the buyer sabotaging the card. Since they’re out of money either way, the scammer is hoping the seller says “Screw it”.

Yes, they would (it may even be your own now-damaged card). I wouldn’t say it’s an overly common scam, but not unheard of. This is why many parts (computer or otherwise) sellers indicate in their descriptions they record part serials and/or invisibly mark sold parts.