Almost a year on from our look into why graphics card prices often seem to be higher than their manufacturer suggested retail pricing (MSRP), it’s happening again in much more dramatic fashion. Availability, and the ever-present fluctuations of supply and demand, are the cause, but this time demand has skyrocketed because of graphics card-powered cryptocurrency mining.
It’s been years since graphics cards were used en masse for Bitcoin mining, because the hardware arms race meant that specialized application-specific integrated chip (ASIC) mining hardware quickly overtook them. Ethereum mining, however, as with other digital currencies, doesn’t benefit in the same way from specialized hardware, so graphics cards are a great solution for mining them, and that’s leading to stock shortages and price hikes.
On Friday, Nvidia stated that it was not happy with the current rising prices of GPUs, however, and requested that retailers take action to ensure the needs of gamers were met before cryptocurrency miners.
“For NVIDIA, gamers come first,” the company wrote in a comment to German website Computerbase.de. “All activities related to our GeForce product line are targeted at our main audience. To ensure that GeForce gamers continue to have good GeForce graphics card availability in the current situation, we recommend that our trading partners make the appropriate arrangements to meet gamers’ needs as usual.”
How high have prices gone? The once-humble Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 retailed as low as $200 back in April 2017. As of January 2018 however, it’s not uncommon to see the GTX 1060 hit prices anywhere from $400 to $800.
The GTX 1080 Ti, meanwhile, has a retail price of $700. That’s inflated to at least $1,000 on Newegg, with most cards going between $1,200 and $1,400. Amazon does no better. We couldn’t find any cards with stock direct from Amazon.com. Most listings, provided by third-party stores, were well above $1,000.
AMD’s cards have been hit just as badly. The once-inexpensive AMD Radeon graphics cards have seen their prices steadily rising over the past few months, culminating in stock problems around the world. Those show no signs of abating, though we may have finally reached a point where people aren’t willing to pay three times the MSRP for them. Vega 56 and 64 cards, like Nvidia’s GTX 1080 Ti, regularly sell above $1,000. The company made an effort to curtail the issue with bundles that include a Vega video card with several other components, targeting them as gaming system builders, but the bundles sold out and the promotion has since ended.
It’s not clear what can solve this problem. Even bundle are a poor solution due to the high prices of cards. Scalpers could still make a tidy profit buying bundles, then re-selling the cards and other hardware individually. Purchase limits have already appeared on some stores, but don’t to solve the issue. Again, due to high prices, scalpers swoop in on any available stock and quickly buy it out. Getting around a one-purchase-per-household rule isn’t hard for committed video card flippers.
Rumor has it that both AMD and Nvidia are working on releasing mining-focused graphics cards which would ship with a slightly lower price tag and no video connectors. That would make them useless for running a gaming PC, but perfect for mining rigs, and could help keep prices down on standard GPUs. That may finally present an option that has some impact on pricing, but few such cards have appeared so far.
For now, gamers can do little but stare at cryptocurrency prices and hope for a pause in their ascent — which has happened in recent weeks. Dampened enthusiasm for mining may all that could stop the current supply and price problems.
Updated 1/22/2018 to reflect current pricing.
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