When the new AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT dropped on March 18, it crashed websites and promptly flew off the virtual shelves within an hour of being listed. In more ordinary times I'd have enjoyed AMD's phoenix-like rising popularity. I'd enjoy watching the Nvidia or AMD launch events, and the new tech that will feature in upcoming graphics cards.
But months are flying by and the 'great GPU drought' feels endless. Tensions are getting high amongst consumers, and I am so very sick of seeing new GPUs released into a market where nobody can buy the damn things.
I realize that current hardware shortages are hardly an issue unique to PC builders. Both Sony and Microsoft have faced similar issues sourcing chips for the latest PlayStation and Xbox consoles, which has resulted in pretty much any next-gen gaming hardware being near impossible to purchase.
And of course, there are other ongoing issues faced by all parties such as scalpers using bots to buy large quantities of online stock to resell at an inflated price. This can partly be blamed on retailers opting to stock less physical inventory due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It's hard to fault them when public health and safety are at the front of everyone's mind, but this is still contributing to the overall issue.
In fact, if you're looking for a suggested solution to anything in this opinion piece then i'd turn back now because you won't find it. I'd like to think that smarter people than myself have sat in board rooms and scratched their heads over how to solve the issue, so the shortage itself is almost certainly something we just need to ride out.
What I'm specifically frustrated about is the new GPUs being released when so many gamers can't get their hands on any of the ranges that were released months ago. It's very difficult to be excited about these new products with the ever-growing pessimism that actually buying one in the next few months is nearly impossible. Even older Nvidia Turing and AMD Navi graphics cards have vanished or increased in price due to demand.
This should be an exciting time for PC gamers, but if you head over to your computing forum of choice, you'll find a lot of depressed tech fans that can't upgrade their outdated hardware or first-time builders who are now considering buying an expensive pre-built unit or gaming laptop.
Some degree of bitterness is to be expected. When GPUs like the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 and RTX 2080 were released, many people had the belief that the upgrade from the previous generation couldn't be justified by the insanely high prices, and that waiting for the 3000 series to drop was the more sensible option.
And of course, game developers are now releasing games that were better optimized for these powerful new graphics cards, which only adds salt into the wounds. This is only a handful of titles so far (see Cyberpunk 2077 or Watch Dogs: Legion for examples), but we're going to see more games emerging with newer GPUs listed in the 'recommended hardware' sections over the coming year.
Most of these games will still be playable at much lower settings on an old GTX 1660 or Radeon RX 560 of course, but you'll find you're no longer the target demographic for game devs chasing things like ray tracing.
The only winners outside of chipmakers and GPU manufacturers in this currently are scalpers, who utilize bots to buy up as much available stock they can the minute it goes on sale and then resell them at hugely inflated prices on eBay.
We’re even starting to hear tales of price gougers buying prebuilt systems, ones that carry the much sought-after current-gen GPUs and/or CPUs, to take them apart and sell components separately at a profit. The shortage is so bad that crypto miners have been seen buying up gaming laptops to squeeze every available drop out of the current Ethereum boom.
Speaking of crypto miners, whether we like it or not, miners are gonna mine and there's little we can do to stop it. At the end of the day, manufacturers get the say in how they sell their products and who they choose to market to. Given both sides are unlikely to lose customers in the long term, they don't need to care about who is actually getting the scarce quantity of GPUs – as long as AMD or Nvidia is getting paid.
In fact, AMD went as far as to publicly state it won't be blocking any kind of workload in response to Nvidia's hash rate limiter that features in the GeForce RTX 3060 to try and combat miners using the card. This shouldn't be surprising as AMD is known for its open-source drivers, and trying to prevent a GPU from being used in mining certainly felt like Nvidia was playing with fire anyway. The Titanic was the 'Unsinkable Ship' after all.
All of this frustration can wear you down after long enough, and I, like many others, simply do not enjoy the fanfare of another addition to an already elusive GPU family being paraded around. It's like being denied service in a crowded Mcdonald's, with your only chance at get any food being if you choose to pay $30 for a single Big Mac in some dodgy back alley after the store is closed.
The lineup that was announced and subsequently released back in 2020 worked well across a variety of budgets, and if done correctly, older GPU models should have become cheaper as people sold them on for an upgrade. Everyone could have been happy with a budget-appropriate GPU. Now you're lucky if you can even find a GTX 1070 Ti.
I'm very aware that this is some tragic fantasy world that had high expectations. I didn't expect such a positive outcome to actually occur, given how much of a pessimist I actually am, but that won't help me not feel bitter and frustrated about how long this situation is dragging on – and indeed, how much longer it could go on.
If recent GPUs had been postponed until the current stock issues had been resolved then perhaps more manufacturing efforts could have gone into churning out the desired GeForce RTX 3080 or Radeon 6800 XT. Models like the RTX 3060 are a fantastic option for folk looking for a 1080p graphics cards for their first build, but I simply cannot get excited about it knowing that people likely can't get their hands on one, let alone an RTX 2060 at retail price.
With any luck, the crypto market will crash soon and a ton of second-hand GPUs will flood online auction sites, but it's unlikely that they will list below the suggested retail price. For now, I'll apologetically keep posting news about upcoming graphics card release events until the market stabilizes and we can all stop shaking our fists at the general state of things.
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Jess is a former TechRadar Computing writer, where she covered all aspects of Mac and PC hardware, including PC gaming and peripherals. She has been interviewed as an industry expert for the BBC, and while her educational background was in prosthetics and model-making, her true love is in tech and she has built numerous desktop computers over the last 10 years for gaming and content creation. Jess is now a journalist at The Verge.