According to a recent report, Nvidia is increasing the supply of GTX 1650 cards for the consumer desktop market after prioritizing the GPU for laptops. This is good news. The GPU market is so hectic, we’re currently recommending readers to look at cards like the eight-year-old R9290 or R9290X if they have to buy one. Any improvement in this situation, including increasing the availability of low-value cards so that people can get them Something To buy, is a positive development.
However, Turing’s increased availability on the lower end with no ray tracing capability, or a reboot of the GTX 1050 Ti, isn’t exactly what PC gaming is supposed to offer. The supply of Ampere and RDNA2 GPUs is still very tight, with recent reports from ODMs such as Asus and MSI indicating that the situation has worsened. Some of these issues are said to be caused by Samsung’s yield issues, some by the pandemic-induced semiconductor shortage, and some by new demand for crypto-mining. It’s not clear how much responsibility each should be assigned, but reports now suggest that the GPU shortage may not improve until 2022.
Short term deficiencies can be tolerated. As long as your GPU doesn’t die completely, it will continue to deliver acceptable performance in older titles, and a lot of people have a backlog of older games they’ve never played before. In the short term, cryptocurrency mining is a nuisance. In the long run, it could be an existential threat to PC gaming as we’ve known it since the invention of the GPU. I’m not arguing that PC games are going to die – I don’t see that happening – but they might change a lot, not for the better.
When the prices of a good or service are higher than what the market can bear, people look for alternatives. In this case, the alternatives to PC games are consoles like Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X, and cloud gaming services like Stadia or GeForce Now. All three consoles have their own shortcomings and problems, but the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 are now much less expensive than the graphics card on eBay.
The RTX 3070 should be a $500 GPU. They currently sell on eBay for between $1,200 and $1,700. Your Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5 will set you back between $750 and $850 based on a survey of recently sold listings on eBay. As long as console prices continue on a downward trend and GPUs don’t, the gap will only increase.
This problem is exacerbated somewhat by the problem of ray tracing. Right now, turning on ray tracing in an AMD or Nvidia GPU yields heavy performance that isn’t always dampened by 1080p. Ampere and RDNA2 both offer more ray tracing performance at a lower price than Nvidia debuted with Turing in 2018, but gamers who specifically want ray tracing cards will have to buy at a higher price if they also want acceptable performance. PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X support ray tracing out of the box, for a much lower price than you’d pay for an Ampere or RDNA2.
These results from our 6700 XT review show just how severe the blow can be. Running ray tracing on an RTX 2080 or 6700 XT can lower the frame rate depending on the game. Gamers who want ray tracing, even at 1080p, need to buy a high-quality GPU that can handle it.
What happens when PC users can’t buy new GPUs in the long run?
Not all computer game players build their own machines and not all builders games. But there is a lot of overlap between gamers and the DIY market, especially if you include people who might buy an OEM PC but upgrade the GPU. If the PC add-on board market continues like this, we look to a future where paying OEM prices for component upgrades looks like sane Selection. This does not bode well for the DIY gaming market or the CPU retail channel. If enough players are cut off from buying upgrades, developers will respond by targeting the capabilities that PCs have, not those they don’t.
It’s tempting to say that this is a short-term problem that will work itself out, but this is the third cryptocurrency shortage in seven years. By the time we hit Pascal’s fifth anniversary in May, the GPU market will be overheated and overpriced for 29 out of 60 months. AMD and Nvidia may end up releasing alternatives to RDNA2 and Ampere without the current generation being widely and regularly available at MSRP.
High GPU prices won’t completely kill PC games, but the continued loss of access to high-end 3D hardware will fundamentally change the types of games we can play. One of the reasons GTX 1650 desktop cards have a hell of a chance to stick around is that their 4GB of VRAM buffers and their small number of cores make them less likely targets for mining. Computer games have led the GPU market for decades, and now gamers are forced to dig through its edges for junk that the cryptocurrency market doesn’t want.
In a worst-case scenario, where GPU prices remain high and drive gamers out of the market, we will see changes in the types of games people have launched on PC. There will be fewer AAA titles but likely a thriving indie scene. One can even imagine AMD and Intel stockpiling their own integrated GPUs in an effort to partially compensate.
Consistently high consumer GPU prices may push gamers towards cloud services a lot. This would still be seen as destroying “computer games as we knew them”, but it’s not the same thing Literally Destroy computer games. There have been many “as we know it” events in the past, including the invention of 3D acceleration itself.
I think GPU prices will eventually come down. The epidemiological deficiency will ease. The cryptocurrency market will almost certainly collapse again. But if the next five years look like 2016-2021, we’ll write about how GPUs have spent less than half an entire decade available for sale at MSRP, coming 2026. The best outcome, if cryptocurrency mining remains high and the source of erratic demand, is that upgrade cycles PC also gets very erratic and starts when crypto mining is unprofitable, with at least some players turning to various cloud services for AAA titles. The worst result is that people give up the hobby completely in favor of other devices.
Either way, we’re looking at a situation where uncontrolled demand is slowing progress in PC gaming by stifling sales of new hardware to actual players. Nobody wants to be left holding a bag when the bubble is bursting and all that extra capacity is not needed. This makes foundries nervous about building to meet the needs of the cryptocurrency market that could shrink 50-75 percent by this time next year or the year after that.
The type of damage I am referring to occurs over several years. They appear over time, and will be demonstrated by people who hold onto cards much longer than they have before. The most dangerous aspect of our current situation is the suggestion that GPU prices may remain high for at least 15 months (starting with the launch of Ampere in September 2020). This is a longer period of time than any of the previous cryptocurrency bubbles have lasted. It’s long enough for people to get tired of waiting and buy something else.
Companies like Nvidia, AMD, and Intel are making a ton of money thanks to continued high demand, but don’t be fooled. AMD reported strong results for its Radeon business when the first cryptocurrency bubble inflated, but its market share was dropping like a rock at the same time. In the case of cryptocurrency mining, it seems that what is good for GPU manufacturers and what is good for gamers are two different things. Nothing that’s going on in the market right now is good for PC gaming if you love the way it works right now.