The current global obsession with cryptocurrency has certainly played a part in the rising costs of GPUs from both AMD and NVIDIA. Not just rising costs, either, availability has tanked in recent weeks so that even if you really do need to get one, chances are you'll still have to wait.
The simple advice is this: unless you really need a new graphics card right now, don't buy one.
What's cryptocurrency got to do with it?
While the most well known of the cryptocurrencies is Bitcoin, mining them hasn't been a profitable experience using the best graphics cards for a while. But it's not the only one out there, and there are still ways that a consumer graphics card can help folks mine and make money.
This piece at Ars Technica breaks it down pretty well:
So who's driving all this demand for graphics cards? Cryptocurrency miners. To understand the phenomenon, we talked to people active in cryptocurrency mining, and they all told us similar stories: mining Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies has become hugely profitable in recent months, which is why so many people are racing to expand their mining operations. And getting graphics cards is the main bottleneck.
Bitcoin mining is no longer profitable on consumer graphics cards because people have built sophisticated custom ASIC-based mining equipment that's far more power-efficient. But Ethereum has a memory-hungry mining algorithm that's resistant to ASIC optimization. That means mining Ethereum is still practical with a consumer graphics card if it has more than two gigabytes of memory. Entry-level graphics cards don't have enough memory, but more advanced ones do.
It then becomes a simple supply and demand problem.
PC gamers are the ones getting stung
The current demand from crypto-miners is helping create a shortage, and when products are in hot demand and low supply, prices will fluctuate. In the case of graphics cards, they're fluctuating wildly. It's not isolated to the U.S., either.
Back in September 2017, I upgraded my own PC with a Zotac GTX 1080 Ti which cost a not insignificant £670 ($944) in the UK, but it was still about the local market rate for a standard, blower-style card. The same exact card right now is £180 more expensive from the same retailer and isn't back in stock apparently until March.
The GTX 1070 and 1060 tell a similar story, and it's not even limited to NVIDIA cards. AMD's new Vega GPUs are almost impossible to get hold of with the mid-tier Vega 56 still possible to come with an attached price tag of $1,000. Because crypto-miners are just using the cards to generate revenue, they're less affected by a price increase, since it'll just take longer to make a return, but they likely still will. It's the real audience for these products that's missing out: PC gamers.
NVIDIA commented to German site, ComputerBase on the matter (translated):
When asked Nvidia spokesman Boris Böhles told the editors: " For NVIDIA, gamers come first. All activities related to our GeForce product line are focused on 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. "
NVIDIA doesn't want its cards being gobbled up by miners, but in the end, retailers decide who to sell to and to some extent the price on the box. The issue for PC gamers is that building a PC or even just upgrading your old one suddenly got a lot more expensive.
Try and stick it out
A GTX 1070 will now in places cost GTX 1080 Ti money, and that's wrong. It also means that those in the market may end up settling for a lesser product than the one they really want because suddenly the highest-end cards are out of their budget.
But unless you really, desperately need to buy a graphics card, try and stick it out. You're not doing anyone — least of all yourself — any favors by buying into the system that's currently significantly biased against you. If you want to upgrade to a GTX 1080 Ti, don't throw $1,100 at someone just because that's all there is, try and be patient.
Eventually, one would assume things will start to return to normality. Who knows, the crypto bubble might spectacularly pop. Certainly, many PC gamers are eagerly anticipating just this so they can get back to doing what they love: building kick-ass PCs.
It's really hard, but you're not benefitting by feeding the beast. Nothing lasts forever. But if you really do need a new graphics card, shop around as much as humanly possible. Be vigilant if buying a used card, but ultimately even if you are buying you might be forced to wait right now.
It sucks. A lot.
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