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The RTX 4080 unlaunch is the worst news for GPU prices since crypto

Nvidia is “unlaunching” the 12GB RTX 4080, which is such a strange move that Nvidia made up a whole new word to mark the occasion. On one hand, it’s a positive development for a card that most of us thought was a very bad idea. On the other hand, it’s also a very worrying sign for already rising GPU prices.

At $900, the 12GB RTX 4080 looked like a slight price increase over the previous generation — about $200. It’s a price hike, but one that Nvidia could easily defend. Nvidia is on the record saying that the cost of manufacturing GPUs is going up, and the RTX 4090 (which has already proved very popular) saw a similar $100 price increase over the previous generation.

A hand grabbing MSI's RTX 4090 Suprim X.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

It’s hard to defend the price hikes now, though. The 16GB RTX 4080 is just the RTX 4080 now, which means we can truly compare prices one-to-one. At $1,200, the RTX 4080 is a full $500 more expensive than the RTX 3080. The cost of manufacturing may be going up, but a $100 to $200 price increase is much different than a $500 price hike.

When Nvidia announced the RTX 4080 models originally, the community saw the 16GB model as being the “true” RTX 4080 and the 12GB model as being a rebranded RTX 4070. Nvidia didn’t see the two models that way. In briefings with press, Nvidia described the 12GB version as the base RTX 4080, while the 16GB model was an “enhanced” version — maybe something similar to the $1,200 RTX 3080 Ti that launched in the previous generation.

Nvidia’s backpedaling tells a different story. It’s impossible to say if Nvidia actually saw the 16GB version as a true successor to the RTX 3080 or it shifted stances following the overwhelmingly positive reception of the RTX 4090. But it doesn’t matter. With the 12GB model officially in the can, Nvidia is sending a clear message: GPUs in this class should sell above $1,000.

There has been speculation that Nvidia planned to cement this class of GPU above $1,000 for a while. The $1,200 price tag on the RTX 3080 Ti came as a shock — it was a $200 increase over the RTX 2080 Ti — and the 12GB RTX 3080 never received an official list price, but sold above $1,000 at launch.

RTX 3080 graphics cards among other GPUs.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends.

We just came out of a GPU shortage, which skyrocketed prices on the back of increased demand from cryptocurrency miners and limited supply. In many cases, gamers were spending two times the list price for a GPU, even for cards available at retailers. List prices remained in act, though, and now that the GPU shortage is over, cards have slipped and settled back in toward their list prices. Most RTX 3080 models, for example, are available around $700.

That demonstrates the power of list price. Although supply and demand ultimately dictate how much graphics cards cost, the list price sets the goal post — when supply and demand are in balance, GPUs should sell for their list price. Nvidia is moving that goal post with the RTX 4080.

Similarly, GPU classifications have power. Although Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang is on the record as saying “it’s just a number” in reference to the two RTX 4080 models, Nvidia clearly understands how segmenting two GPUs under that name is misleading. It’s good that Nvidia is finally recognizing that fact, but it shouldn’t distract from the $500 price increase that the RTX 4080 now carries.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in speculation about Nvidia (and AMD, for that matter) increasing list prices to match scalper prices. Up to this point, though, that’s all it has been: speculation. We now have a clear sign of rising GPU prices, not due to demand or supply or scalpers, but simply due to charging more generation over generation.

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