Why Are Graphics Cards So Hard To Find?

By Tab Olsen

If all you wanted for Christmas was a new graphics card, sadly even Santa probably wasn’t able to provide that gift. 🙁

Graphics processing units (GPUs) or graphics cards are an essential component for most desktop computers. They are necessary for viewing multimedia content and rendering the complex 3D graphics in modern video games. They’re also vital for creative professionals, as they allow computers to run multiple tasks like graphic design, video editing, and 3D animation.

The graphics card industry is dominated by two chip manufacturers: Nvidia and AMD. Nvidia is the leader of the pack with its GeForce RTX series, while AMD creates the Radeon RX series.

Nvidia’s GeForce RTX 3080, 3070, 3060 Ti and the AMD RX 6800 and 6800 XT are all incredibly hard to find, selling out instantly whenever they appear, due to an incredible level of demand that makes these GPUs sell for many hundreds of dollars more than MSRP. This presents a huge problem for many computer-building enthusiasts, gamers, and multimedia users. If you can manage to snag one, you’re insanely lucky.

Apparently this has been going on since 2020, but it wasn’t until Christmas 2021 when I wanted to upgrade my computer that it became a real problem for me. If you attempted to build or buy a computer in 2020 or 2021, you may have noticed insane spikes in prices for graphics cards and the widespread unavailability of new cards. Most retailers, from online sellers like Amazon and Newegg to big-box stores like Best Buy, have no graphics cards in stock. On eBay, prices for resold or second-hand GPUs are several times higher than their original suggested retail price.

Websites like Newegg can notify you via email when out of stock or backordered items come back on sale, and hopefully you’re around to place the order. But it doesn’t help that sophisticated reseller bots can simultaneously scoop a ton of stock in nanoseconds from numerous retail sites. We’ve all seen and felt the tragedy of adding something to a cart only to have it vanish as soon as you try to check out.

The GPU shortages are so bad that cards from two or three generations back continue to sell on eBay at drastically inflated prices. This has forced many to purchase old models from a decade ago, spend thousands of dollars on the used market without a warranty, or use the inferior integrated graphics that come with their processor. The shortage has also driven away potential first-time PC builders from creating their own systems.

Three Main Causes

Silicon chip shortage – Because of the pandemic, the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturers were forced to slow or halt production entirely. This stoppage in production, coupled with the rising demand for consumer electronics like computers and gaming devices also driven by the pandemic, has made it difficult for manufacturers to meet that demand. While the silicon chip shortage has had a severe impact on the graphics card market, it’s not the only industry affected by the supply issue. A wide range of consumer products, from computer-powered cars to game consoles like the PS5 and Xbox, have faced severe availability issues and rising prices.

Crypto mining – The other big reason that the demand for GPUs has increased in the last year is cryptocurrency mining, which is the process of using the power of a computer chip to introduce new tokens into circulation. Mining for crypto also utilizes the processing power of a graphics card, and a mining rig often has multiple graphics cards running simultaneously. With crypto miners snapping up as many cards as they can get, this has become a point of contention among general consumers who need them.

Scalpers – PC graphics cards sell out online in seconds. It doesn’t help that scalpers use bots to nab any available graphic cards first, and then resell them on eBay for a profit. According to Michael Kan of PCMag, “the scalping has gotten so pervasive, literally tens of thousands of GPUs have been resold on eBay for twice or even triple the normal pricing.” The bot’s automated software program can do what most people can’t: Every three seconds, the program checks the major online retailers’ listings for various PC graphics cards. If they’re back in stock, the bot will automatically complete the checkout process—at a rate far faster than any mouse clicks could ever do.

As much as I want a new GPU, I refuse to pay ridiculous mark-up prices that some sellers ask for. Since I refuse to patronize scalpers and pay three times more than a graphics card is worth, I guess I’ll just have to wait.

Options to Consider

Jarred Walton at Tom’s Hardware says:

“For the time being, MSRPs are a bit of a joke — they’re worth remembering, but most cards will sell for much more than the original price right now. Maybe that will change in the coming months, but a good deal today would be a current-generation card that costs within 25% of its MSRP, or a one-generation old card that’s right around MSRP. If you don’t want to lose ray tracing and DLSS support, the RTX 2070 (non-Super) performs nearly on par with the RTX 3060 12GB, so it might be worth a shot… The GeForce RTX 3060 is an attractive latest generation GPU, with performance that isn’t too far off the GTX 1080 Ti — it’s only about 5% slower, plus it supports ray tracing and DLSS.”

“We expect older generation cards will drop in price even more quickly since those cards are less desirable (see below). The RTX 3060 as an example is only a bit slower than a GTX 1080 Ti and uses 30% less power. By those metrics, a used GTX 1080 Ti would only make sense if the price was less than the cost of an RTX 3060, particularly if you can get the latter new (which you probably can’t right now, since RTX 30-series cards remain sold out everywhere we’ve looked, at least in the US).”

Jorge Jimenez at PCGamer says:

“You also might consider picking up a prebuilt gaming PC from one of the boutique PC builders, like Alienware or Velocity Micro, who seem to be the only businesses with GPUs in stock. We’ll admit that this is an expensive way of securing a new graphics card, mainly if there’s nothing wrong with your existing PC, but if you want the latest tech, it’s an option.” (Incidentally, you can find numerous gaming PCs for sale online that are missing a graphics card, so plenty of people have caught on to that idea!)

The How-to Geek says:

“If you’re looking to build a PC soon, it may be worth hunting on the used market for a good deal instead of buying new. You may also want to utilize the slower, integrated GPU that comes with your chipset, such as Intel’s UHD or AMD’s Radeon Vega series, until you can buy a dedicated GPU at a normal price. Lastly, if you have an older model, you may want to hold off on obtaining a high-end upgrade until prices normalize.”

Beware of Used GPUs

I don’t care how desperate you are, beware of buying used graphics cards on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist. You may see them listed for only $500, but don’t let the low price fool you, especially if the seller says “no returns accepted.” There’s no way to tell what the previous owner(s) might have done with a graphics card when you’re shopping online, so my advice is to assume the worst.

GPUs used for crypto mining are used to their max processing limit, with the cards potentially pushed beyond safe limits with overclocking. This means that they have little to no resale value. No sense getting ripped off big time just on the slight hope you might save a few bucks. And even if it wasn’t used for crypto mining, an older card with less memory for more money isn’t a good idea anyway.

By the way, don’t trust the seller to give truthful information. Any listing that says it was “never used for mining” at this point is probably a lie. I’d also be wary of “like new,” “open box,” or even “factory sealed” listings, as all can be faked.

Consumers Want to Know

On January 4th, Nvidia gave a special address at CES2022, the Consumer Electronics Show. Jeff Fisher spoke about everything from design and simulation to gaming and graphics, followed by Ali Kani who focused on autonomous vehicles. Fisher announced the new RTX 3050 with ray tracing, DLSS, and 8GB memory, making it a step up from GTX cards. He noted that 75% of gamers are still using GTX GPUs, so the RTX 3050 may be a compelling upgrade for many. It will launch on January 27th for $249 MSRP, assuming you’re able to find one. And then he teased the RTX 3090 Ti but gave no details, just said stay tuned…

However, like many have asked, I just want to know:

  • When will 3070 and 3080 series cards be back in stock?
  • Why can’t we pre-order a graphics card from the manufacturer and they ship it when it’s ready?
  • Why don’t stores limit GPUs to one per person like they did with toilet paper last year?
  • Why can’t online retailers do a better job of identifying and banning bot purchases?

1/25/2022 UPDATE: Opt in to Antonline Deal of the Day promotions!

I was able to get 1 EVGA GeForce RTX 3070 Ti 8GB Graphics Card + EVGA Liquid CPU Cooler + EVGA SuperNOVA Power Supply + EVGA Gaming Keyboard + Xbox Game Pass for PC 6 Month Membership + Microsoft 365 Personal 1 Year Subscription all for $1,200 – which is what just the graphics card alone would cost these days. (TIP: You have to be quick, because this offer sold out in less than five minutes as my brother found out when I forwarded the email to him. But he kept watching and snagged a RTX 3060 package deal on another day with a different bundle of stuff.)

How about you? Have you been in the market for a graphics card lately and have you been lucky enough to find the one you wanted?

1 Comment

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  1. Very informative article Tab. I realized how serious this was when car dealerships in our area started having fewer and fewer cars on their lots. Maybe time to invest in chip stocks?

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