How have I missed this discussion?
I have read most of the thread up to this point. To touch on the two main things I've seen discussed in here, I have meticulously prepared the following wall of text that I doubt anyone will read. Oh well. 🤣
Geforce 4 Ti failures:
I can't say for certain that this is related, but I have posted here before that the MAJORITY of the cards I receive from the early to mid 2000s have SMD components damaged or missing. This is a time period when cards started getting heavier and components were getting tinier. All it takes is for one 2lb BFG Asylum brick with bad fans to be dropped into a bin of "old video cards" for an entire PC repair shop's collection of Geforce 4 through 7 series AGP cards to be severely, yet almost invisibly, damaged. This happens constantly. I have repaired several cards that had VGA or DVI port components chipped off from the backplate of some other card scraping on it in a storage bin for 15 years. In the 90s cards were lighter (no huge heatsinks) and the components were beefier, so I very rarely have this same issue with those.
If I had to estimate based on my experience over the last 5 years of getting into this stuff, I would say that post-2000 cards are 20 times more likely to have SMD damage than pre-2000 cards. I can think of specific instances where I received a lot containing 40+ cards, with a couple of later AGP cards, and the only physically damaged cards were the later ones, and it's almost always those tiny ceramic caps or inductors. Also, if I purchase a single late-AGP card from someone, more than half the time it has SMD damage, even if the owner said they took good care of it (because at one point someone probably STORED IT LOOSE IN A BOX WITHOUT EVEN AN ESD BAG TO PROTECT IT).
The reason I mention this is that many times the cards still seem to work, and pass stress tests fine, but I wouldn't be surprised if running a card with a few missing components (except for the fairly pointless VGA filtering inductors) tends to make them fail more frequently than others. This is just speculation, but it's worth thinking about. If I were the OP, I would get accustomed to scanning over every mm of PCBs from the 2000s to look for SMD component damage. If you spot anything questionable (even funky looking solder joints) a simple high powered magnifier like this is an amazing tool to get a closer look at things in this hobby.
I still haven't done enough of tiny SMD repairs to give advice on what to do if your cards are damaged, but I would suggest not using them if you are concerned about them dying prematurely.
Alternative theory as to why these things die: Performance, power consumption, heat output and complexity were growing exponentially during these years, and to make matters worse, cooling was lagging way behind. If you really think about it, it's not that surprising that we'd be seeing failures nearly 20 years after these cheap consumer products were dumped onto the market. None of this stuff was designed or intended to last this long... it just kind of does, until something finally gives way. Whether it's the capacitors, some impossible to diagnose problem with the GPU or one of the many ICs on these boards, or broken solder joints that may cause permanent failures when pushed too hard... it's all going to get worse over time, and we're 15 years past the warranty on most AGP cards now.
As for the anti-static discussion:
I do not go crazy with ESD precautions, but I do at least try to protect my devices. I really enjoy collecting this stuff, I spend a lot of time repairing this stuff, and I also resell a fair amount of it... I feel it's 100% worth it to try to eliminate one possible avenue for damage. I try to ground myself before touching things, I try to be careful what surfaces my devices are laying directly on, and I invested in tons of ESD bags to protect them. There are so many perks to storing cards and boards in antistatic bags! Because they are protected from ESD, you have much more flexibility in HOW you store them. Ideally we would all have special static-free equipment in climate controlled environments, but for most that just isn't possible. The next best thing is simply putting each device in it's protective environment (a bag) so that it has some protection during all the time it is in storage, being walked across a room, or packed up for shipping to someone else.
Another huge bonus of using ESD bags is that they offer phenomenal physical protection for the devices. I have never... ever... found a tiny broken SMD component rattling around loose in a bag no matter how tightly I cram them into my storage boxes. Sure, once in a great while (I can count 2 in 20 years) a larger surface mount component might fall off, but even they are far less likely to take damage in an ESD bag. Cards that are pristine that have never seen a "parts bin" will stay looking that way in an ESD bag. A plastic bag will not provide that protection, and storing them loose certainly won't either.
I honestly can't imagine what I would store my cards in. I have... a lot... of cards. And 90% of them are stored in antistatic bags. I actually found an ebay seller who had huge boxes of MASSIVE 12"x18" ESD bags, new old stock from the 90s. I bought a few hundred of those and one of these bag sealers and with the aid of a paper cutter I can easily make ESD bags of different sizes to fit anything from a CGA card to... well... a CGA card, or any size motherboard.
As to whether I have ever seen ESD kill something... there is absolutely no way to guarantee this without a lab. I have had an extremely small percentage of device-deaths without some kind of visible defect, so I would say I'm either doing something right, or ESD isn't that big of a deal... yet! Maybe we'll start seeing mass deaths of hardware in 10 more years when all the ESD damage from neglect adds up with the perfectly good "old" capacitors that people like myself opted not to replace. And at that time we will still not really know for sure what caused the failures. Better to just do what you realistically can now, and have some respect for the potential owners\collectors that will inevitably get their gloved, ESD-protected hands on these parts in the future.
Time Machine = FIC PA-2013 2.1 - K6-2 500 - 256MB PC-100 - TNT2 Pro 16MB AGP - Labway Yamaha YMF719-E - Midiman MM401