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Here’s why you won’t be able to buy a new graphics card until 2021

On paper, it’s never been a better time to be a gamer. With new consoles finally available and a slew of powerful graphics cards launched, we should all be basking in the light of the next generation of gaming.

But most of us are not.

It started with the quick buyout of pre-orders of Nvidia’s RTX 3000-series graphics cards by bots in September. Nvidia apologized for the sloppy release, but here we are, months later — and it’s still hard to buy one of these cards for their MSRP. A quick scan around Amazon and Newegg confirms that. You have to get extremely lucky to buy one of these cards at a fair price. It’s not usual to see the high-end cards, like the Nvidia RTX 3080, for more than double its retail price.

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It’s not a unique problem to GPUs, but it’s taking the wind out the sails of PC gaming’s big moment. So, what’s going on here?

rtx 3080 07
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Component constraints

You can blame it on bots and high demand, but the problem goes beyond just GPU supplies and annoying bots. These GPU makers are seeing constraints in components used to make the graphics cards.

“We do have supply constraints and our supply constraints do expand past what we are seeing in terms of wafers and silicon,” said Nvidia’s Chief Financial Officer Colette Kress at the Credit Suisse 24th Annual Technology Conference, according to a report on PC Gamer. “But yes, some constraints are in substrates and components. We continue to work during the quarter on our supply, and we believe, though, that demand will probably exceed supply in Q4 for overall gaming.”

The component Kress referred to is likely the GDDR6 memory module, according to French publication Cowcotland, and it could take weeks to resolve the issue. Typically, manufacturers order memory modules in bulk to reduce cost, and with limited GDDR6 supply available, it will take longer for orders to be fulfilled.

Nvidia’s two high-end cards, the RTX 3090 and the flagship RTX 3080, both use GDDR6X memory, so they’re less impacted by this particular component shortage. Still, both cards are hard to find due to overwhelming demand. However, the RTX 3070 and recently launched RTX 3060 Ti both use GDDR6 memory, as do all of the recent AMD Radeon cards. All these cards are likely more susceptible to the GDDR6 supply issue.

Because the GPU supply chain is constrained, Kress speculated that it will take “a few more months for product availability to catch up with demand” — a timeline that could place us into February 2021 at the earliest.

AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT

New consoles feel effects

Despite earlier mocking Nvidia over the company’s issue with keeping up with demand, rival AMD is also experiencing similar supply constraints following the launch of its Radeon RX 6000 cards. And because AMD also supplies components to the latest consoles, console gamers looking at purchasing Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Sony’s PlayStation 5 may find themselves out of luck this holiday season and in the same boat as their PC gaming counterparts.

“We are producing chips and cards in volume,” Frank Azor, AMD’s chief architect of gaming solutions and marketing, wrote on Twitter. “The demand for gaming devices has grown exponentially this year and beyond anyone’s best forecasts. We want nothing more than to put more cards in the hands of gamers. Working to do so.”

Azor’s sentiments were echoed by Nvidia in a call with journalists ahead of the launch of the RTX 3060 Ti this month. The company noted that because of local stay-at-home orders that resulted from the global pandemic, Nvidia saw 10 times the traffic to its website compared to previous launches, and many of its partners experienced demand exceeding that of Black Fridays in prior years.

“I can tell you that I’ve been doing this for about 15 years or so, and in any other point in our history, you know if I had them looking at the sale last year and looking at our supply pipeline coming into these launches, I would have told you it looks great and it’s super healthy,” said Nvidia’s Justin Walker.

These shortages are also creating a black market for stolen GPUs, with thieves pulling off heists of graphics cards on delivery trucks and products being swapped in Amazon shipments. Heck, according to one report, even freight shipping will be in tight demand for the next few months as COVID-19 vaccines take the high priority.

Like many things planned for 2020, the next generation of high-performance gaming is going to have to wait until 2021.

Trump tariffs will make thing worse

As if the shortage of graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia in 2020 wasn’t already bad enough, gamers who were unable to purchase a GPU last year may find that their coveted PC component will cost more in 2021. A price increase isn’t to blame for the increased cost this year, however, which is the good news. The bad news is that since these cards are manufactured in China, and the Trump administration’s 25% tariff on China imports will likely drive up the prices for GPUs, motherboards, and processors.

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Chuong Nguyen
Silicon Valley-based technology reporter and Giants baseball fan who splits his time between Northern California and Southern…
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