One of the biggest news stories of 2017 was Bitcoin’s meteoric rise: the cryptocurrency shot up several hundred percent during the year, coming within touching distance of $20,000 US dollars per coin.
This also had a nasty side effect for PC gamers who were looking to upgrade their graphics card, as their price shot up too during the year and during part of 2018 in the aftermath of Bitcoin’s massive rise and its subsequent crash.
But now in 2021 it seems the situation could repeat itself. Actually, Bitcoin’s price rose more than 300 % in 2020, and even surpassed $40,000 US dollars per coin in early 2021, more than double its 2017 peak.
This could trigger increased demand for PC graphics cards, as these are used in Bitcoin “mining rigs”.
You see, while the huge computational capabilities of modern graphics cards are great to power the 3D graphics and ray tracing effects in modern games such as Cyberpunk 2077, they are also great for mining Bitcoin. This is due to the great number of parallel processors found in today’s PC graphics boards.
Increased demand for graphics cards, as a result of another “Bitcoin gold rush” hasn’t happened so far like it did in 2017, and Nvidia itself discussed the matter via its chief financial officer at an investor conference, with the company saying that it could “restart the CMP product line to address ongoing mining demand” if necessary. Nvidia’s CMP cards differ from standard cards in that they have no ports for connecting to a monitor, as these are not necessary in Bitcoin mining rigs as there’s no need to send output to a PC display.
But even if Bitcoin mining might not be driving up the price of graphics cards right now, there are other reasons why it’s been so hard for people to get hold of a graphics card right now, and why prices have increased like they have in the last few months.
The other reasons why buying a graphics card has been so hard this year
For once, many Chinese factories ground to a halt in the early months of the pandemic, with their workers confined at home, only going back to work in late March 2020. This led to a drop in production of components that are used to manufacture graphics cards, leading to shortages down the road.
There’s also the fact that when millions of people ended up confined at home in the early months of the pandemic (and many are still suffering confinement in countries like the UK) many took an interest in video gaming as a pastime, and some got into PC gaming, many upgrading and building their own PCs to play games too…
This has led to pent-up demand for not only PC gaming hardware but also console gaming – it’s been nigh on impossible to get hold of the latest new-gen consoles, the PS5 and Xbox Series X.
Regarding PC components, incredible demand for graphics cards has taken its toll on the supply and demand chain, and new stock sells out in seconds. This is partly the fault of resellers, who are using automated methods (software bots) to grab all available stock at lightning speeds, and then sell the merchandise on eBay at inflated prices.
Nvidia head honcho Jensen Huang addressed the shortage of the company’s latest GeForce RTX 30 series cards in October last year, saying that massive demand would make it hard to get hold of a card in 2020 (and so far, the same is true this year).
There’s also the issue of former president Trump’s tariffs for Chinese goods, which now cover graphics cards too. This new import tax has led to major graphics card manufacturers like EVGA and Zotac to raise their prices.
For instance, while Zotac was selling the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 Ti at $440 US dollars, this is now going for $530. Conversely, GeForce RTX 3090, which was previously priced at $1550, is now listed for $1900 US dollars. Meanwhile, EVGA listed a price of $559.99 US dollars for the GeForce RTX 3070, but this is now priced at $629.99 (of course, as The Verge points out, increased prices are irrelevant if you cannot find a card in stock).
Future launches could also be impacted by the ongoing crisis
It remains to be seen how this will affect Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card, which is coming out this February. Nvidia’s manufacturer suggested retail price (MSRP) for the card is $329 US dollars, but whether you will be able to get the card at this price (or get the card at all) is another matter.
This is a pity, because judging by the card’s specs this could be the ideal upgrade for those still running a GeForce GTX 1060 or the GTX 970. But COVID-19 lockdowns combined with historically high demand mean people might have to wait even longer to move on to a ray tracing card like the RTX 3060 as one Forbes contributor pointed out.
As mentioned earlier in this article, there’s also a component scarcity driven by factory inactivity last year, and a likely result of this is the current lack of the GDDR6 memory used to manufacture graphics cards. This has led Nvidia to recently say that graphics card availability “will likely remain lean through Q1”.
Meanwhile, its rival AMD expects the current situation to have an effect on the supply chain “through the first half of the year”. At least the company will keep selling its own AMD branded cards directly to consumers, which should help some get their card at MSRP prices at least. It remains to be seen, though, how the ongoing COVID-19 crisis will affect the launch of its eagerly anticipated mid-range cards, the RX 6700 and RX 6700 XT, which currently have no release date. This might leave would be upgraders wondering whether they will be able to get hold of these at a fair price, or at all.
This is all in addition to the looming threat of another cryptocurrency mining craze as stated earlier in this article, which could push prices higher and make graphics cards go out of stock more quickly, something that hopefully won’t come to be. Either way, it’s clear that getting hold of the PC graphics card you truly want in 2021 is going to be harder than anyone would like, and that’s not something to cheer about.
GeForce series 30 graphics cards (Nvidia Corporation)