Both Nvidia and AMD have recently launched new ranges of graphics cards with tempting options for just about every budget. If you've been hanging onto an Nvidia 10-series card or a Radeon RX 5000 and skipped Nvidia's 20-series you might well be hankering after an upgrade. The upcoming RTX 3060 looks to be a particularly appealing option at £329/$329.
But now is just about the worst time in history to buy a new GPU. A combination of scalpers, crypto miners, stock issues and general pandemic chaos means what you'll find is a whole list of cards that are out of stock along with much higher prices than you were expecting.
Scalping & cryptomining
Let’s start with the hot topic over recent months: scalpers. The idea of scalping - essentially buying up as much stock as possible at launch to resell at higher value - isn’t a new concept, but the shift to online sales over the pandemic has meant it’s easier than ever for those looking to make a bit of money. It happened with valuable in-demand tech including the PS5 and Xbox Series X and, sadly, it’s extending to graphics cards too.
Tech-savvy scalpers have turned to bots to do their bidding for them, using automated systems to snap up as much stock as possible within seconds of listings going live at online retailers. These scalpers then head to sites like Facebook, Gumtree and eBay to resell the graphics cards, relying on the lack of available stock to boost prices and profiteer on the interest.
It’s a shady business, people hate it and retailers are trying to find a solution, but it’s happening all too frequently right now.
Scalpers aren’t the only problem though: as well as competing with those looking to resell the GPU for a bit of extra cash, you’re also competing with cryptocurrency miners. For the uninitiated, you can generate cryptocurrency yourself but it requires a lot of graphical power, and the more you have, the more you can make, and 'miners' can quickly make back the cost of the graphics cards they're buying up.
It's not really worth it if you have a basic PC: hardcore miners have awe-inspiring setups, usually costing several thousand pounds.
It was a similar situation back in 2017, with limited supply of GPUs for months on end, and it seems that the big jump in performance from the recent AMD and Nvidia GPUs means cryptominers are again on the hunt for an upgrade.
More power = more money so people are buying as many GPUs as they can get their hands on. That not only makes it harder for gamers to get their hands on graphics cards, but it’s also driving up prices.
There are also questions around manufacturing issues and the relatively small batches of the latest Nvidia and AMD GPUs being made available at any given time. The RTX 3080 launch in September 2020 was the best example of this, with cards selling out within seconds of going on sale and causing Nvidia to delay the release of the RTX 3070 to try and address stock issues.
There has been more stock going live periodically over the past few months, admittedly, but it’s largely down to luck as to whether you’ll be able to find them before they sell out. And with Nvidia confirming that it won’t be shipping its own Founders Edition of the upcoming RTX 3060 – a change from the rest of the 30 Series – there’s certainly a big question mark around manufacturing capacity right now.
If that's not bad enough, it’s about to get worse.
Why are graphics cards getting more expensive in 2021?
The lack of GPU stock and additional manufacturing costs mean prices will probably rise in the near future, as hinted at by Asus’ technical marketing manager Juan Jose Gurrero III in a now-deleted post on Facebook.
The engineer suggested that an increased cost for components, operating costs and import tariffs are pushing up the overall cost of manufacturing GPUs and motherboards, and that the recommended prices of new graphics cards could be increased because of this.
But what if I really want a new GPU?
If you've read the above and still want to get your hands on one of Nvidia or AMD's latest GPUs to upgrade your gaming rig, we can help.
The best bet is to sign up to stock notifications from online stores like Currys PC World and Box in the UK. The stores will send out emails to all subscribers once new stock appears, giving you the best shot at getting in early and getting your hands on one.
You can also use the wider gaming community to help out, with dedicated Discord servers tracking stock of the various GPUs around the world. We've heard good things about the CtrlAltStock community, but there are plenty of others to choose from.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s a chaotic time to buy a graphics card and that’s a shame considering the Nvidia RTX 30 Series and AMD Radeon 6000 Series offer a significant boost in performance and ray-tracing smarts.
We can only hope that the supply issues are resolved quickly, stock begins to flow and gamers can get their hands on the latest GPUs as we move further into 2021.