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With the Nvidia RTX 3050, budget PC gaming is dead

Nvidia geforce rtx 3050
(Image credit: Future)
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The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3050 hit the market earlier today, and if you haven't noticed, it's kind of already sold out everywhere. So, just like every other graphics card Nvidia has released over the last year or so, it's going to start popping up on third-party retailers at a much higher price, because that's just the world we live in. 

It really is a shame because in my review, I found that it was a phenomenal jump in performance over the GTX 1650, delivering ray tracing to an xx50 graphics card for the first time. But even at its MSRP of $249 in the US, it's already nearly twice as expensive as its last-generation counterpart. Once you start factoring in the price increases from the short supply, it's like going to reach upwards of $400 for the cheapest versions. 

In the past, though, this card would have sat in the $100-120 price range and would have been the subject of hundreds of Reddit posts where nerds (lovingly 💖💖) tell people to just build a cheap gaming PC instead of a PS5. It was always obnoxious, but the ability to do that is something I'm going to miss. 

Ein Blick in einen Raum voll Gaming-PCs

(Image credit: (stock.adobe.com © ohishiftl))

PCPartPicker just isn't as fun anymore

In the past, people would always reach out to me and ask them to help build a cheap gaming PC - usually their first rig. While some people might be put off with folks constantly asking for advice, I kind of love going through PCPartPicker and trying to put together a gaming PC that's going to play the games they want to play without breaking the bank. 

These days, though, I've stopped even trying to do this. Just looking at it right now, I put together what would have usually been about a $500-550 build. I specced it out with an Intel Core i3-10100F, a Cooler Master Hyper T2, a B560 board, 8GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, a cheap case, a 400W 80+ Gold PSU and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650. Right now, in January 2022, that's an $800 build. 

If it comes down to paying that or just breaking down and trying to buy a PS5 or Xbox Series X at half that price, I'm going to recommend the console every single time. 

Especially when the most popular games are becoming so much harder to run, I'm just not sure how much longer a relatively weak GPU like the GTX 1650 is even going to last. 

Unless you're content with indie games and esports - and to be fair so many people are - a $500-600 gaming PC is just not in the cards right now. And it's just a shame that the most expensive gaming PCs are better than ever, while most people are struggling to get anything they can realistically afford. 

Nvidia GeForce Now promo image showing Crysis

(Image credit: Nvidia)

The rise of game streaming

Game streaming services like Google Stadia and Nvidia's own GeForce Now started hitting the market in late 2019 and early 2020, right before the pandemic drove everyone into their homes, where they would play more PC games than ever. Before the launch of the latest graphics cards, I did not take these services seriously. Why would you pay a monthly fee to rent hardware you can't even touch?

But now, I'm starting to get the appeal - even if it wasn't likely what Nvidia, Google and Microsoft were intending. Especially now that GeForce Now basically gets you access to a gaming rig with an RTX 3080 as long as your internet is strong enough, it's a good way to play PC games that your system otherwise wouldn't run. 

In GeForce Now's case, you're going to pay $99 every 6 months for an RTX 3080 subscription. That seems steep, but when you consider that an RTX 3080 is still going for $1,600 on StockX, and that's just one component, the price starts to be a little more appealing - however you feel about the endless deluge of subscriptions we have these days. 

Even if you look at the newly-released RTX 3050 at its retail value of $249, that's still more expensive than a year of GeForce Now with an RTX 3080. It literally pains me to say this, but if you don't have the cash for a $1,000 system, I think you're better off just getting a GeForce Now subscription instead. 

Piggybank on a plain white background

(Image credit: Future)

Will this ever end?

With all the money AMD and Nvidia are surely raking in, not just with the sale of graphics cards, but with subscriptions for Nvidia and console sales for AMD, it's easy to be a bit pessimistic about the future of budget PC gaming. 

We saw graphics card prices increase in general with the launch of Nvidia Turing back in 2018, and they really haven't gone down since. Even AMD, the company that used to be the champion of budget gaming hardware has all but abandoned that segment of the desktop market - both with its CPUs and GPUs. 

Now that both companies have seen that its products are going to sell regardless of how expensive they are, it's hard to believe we'll see prices drop in the future, even when the supply issue is resolved. 

That's obviously just speculation on my part, and I would love to be proven wrong. I know that I didn't get into PC gaming with a $1000-1500 PC, and probably never would have if that was the barrier to entry. 

I'm probably being sentimental here, but it almost feels like we're going to lose an entire generation of potential PC gamers - at least the type that are into DIY PC building - to inflated graphics card pricing. And, well, that just kind of sucks. 

Jackie Thomas
Jackie Thomas

Jackie Thomas (@jackiecobra on Twitter) is TechRadar's US computing editor. She is fat, queer and extremely online. Computers are the devil, but she just happens to be a satanist. If you need to know anything about computing components, PC gaming or the best laptop on the market, don't be afraid to drop her a line on Twitter or through email.