As we all know, graphics card prices (opens in new tab) are falling - at least on top auction sites. If you've been following recent computing and gaming news, this won't come as a shock.
But prices dropping on eBay only really tells us one thing: the much-maligned scalper market is finally drying up. People aren't paying those inflated prices anymore. We're still waiting for prices to fall at Amazon and other big first-party retailers though. If you've been holding off buying a graphics card (opens in new tab), chances are you're still waiting for that golden MSRP listing.
This has got me thinking: what do retailers think is going to happen? When - if at all - do they think prices are going to stabilize?
To find out, I asked a number of retailers in the US and UK for their thoughts. I also asked about the advent of lite-hash-rate graphics cards in the market - GPUs that are poorer for crypto-currency mining, if you're not familiar. It's good contextual information to have since graphics card prices are so heavily tied to crypto mining profitability (opens in new tab), and because readers have asked us about this before.
Most retailers were reluctant to answer. But Tyler Davies, head of PC components at Box.co.uk (opens in new tab), was happy to speak to us. As one of the UK's biggest computing retailers, Box.co.uk has been battling it out in the inflated graphics card market for the last 18 months, and Davies has been watching the area closely.
Have lite-hash-rate GPUs made a difference?
First, I asked whether LHR cards have had any impact on demand. Davies said:
"Initially yes, we did see a slight drop in demand in the LHR cards over the standard cards, but given the heightened market... we soon saw LHR card demand rise month on month."
Many editorial sites, YouTubers (opens in new tab), and other industry commentators have concluded that graphics card prices are correlated to crypto prices. Put simply, if demand is still extremely high on these cards, then it's likely demand from gamers is still going to be enough to keep those prices inflated at major retailers - for a while, at least.
Based on Davies' answer, I would assume that LHR cards haven't had the satiating impact on the gaming market that Nvidia hoped. If demand is still very high for LHR cards, that likely means either gamers are starting to gobble them up at increased rates, or crypto-miners are thinking of clever workarounds (opens in new tab). It's probably a bit of both.
Interestingly though, I did also ask whether we should expect more LHR cards in the future, to which Davies answered: "I would expect more LHR cards to come from Nvidia given that crypto mining is still going on and the demand for graphics cards outside of a gaming use is still so prevalent."
Crypto's going nowhere, that much is obvious. But Box seems fairly confident Nvidia will commit to more LHR cards in the future - most likely with increasingly sophisticated limiting methods. Gamers are hoping so, anyway.
So, when are GPU prices going to fall?
Next I asked the golden question: do you expect graphics card prices to fall, and if so, when? To this, Davies replied:
"I do expect GPU pricing to realign with where the market used to be, given the boom in the market is now coming to an end. By the end of April, beginning of May, we should start to see things return to a more attractive price."
To my knowledge, this is one of the first estimates given by a major retailer. It's purposely vague, of course, omitting any ball-park figures around what an 'attractive price' might be, but his suggested date will be welcome news to many.
And, it's much sooner than I would have anticipated too. Previously, my best educated guess (admittedly playing it safe) was a 30% price markup by the end of the year.
Let's say we see that prediction come true by the end of April - not by the end of 2022. If so, we're well on track for scoring a shiny new card without the prospect of being utterly ripped off. Massive grains of salt aside, there's plenty here to be hopeful about.
Bottom line: when should you buy a GPU?
So, should you be saving your pennies for late April and then rush out to get yourself a GPU? Well, maybe. Davies predictions are hopeful, but there are caveats that could throw a spanner in the works.
Firstly, we're currently in a crypto-market rebound. After an abysmal start to the year, we're now seeing many currencies (including Ethereum) start to pick up again (opens in new tab). This boom and bust nature makes it really tricky to predict what's going to happen down the line. Could we see Ethereum mining have a huge comeback before it switches to proof of stake (opens in new tab)? If so, then graphics card prices might start to climb again.
It's also worth noting that the graphics card market is, in general, looking rosier right now in the UK than it is the US, where prices have held up more stubbornly. Box is a UK retailer, and Davies' comments mostly reflect the condition of the market on this side of the pond. As someone who follows prices in both territories, I'd say the US is moving in the right direction, but very much lagging behind when it comes to both prices and availability at the likes of Newegg and other major retailers. In short: it's wise to push these estimates back a little bit further if you're based in the US.