Have you tried buying a graphics card recently? If you have, you will have noticed of the chaos that reigns in the market, and that it is impossible to find a unit at a minimally reasonable price.
It is not something that happened overnight. It began to take shape with the takeoff of Bitcoin, and was consolidated throughout the month of December, a date in which it was almost impossible to find a new generation graphics card at its recommended price. At that time, a friend asked me for help to get a graphics card, and in the end he was lucky and ended up with a custom RTX 3060 Ti for 455 euros, a little more than the price of the NVIDIA Founders Edition model, which positions at 419 euros.
The impact that cryptocurrency mining has had on the general consumer graphics card sector has been massive, so much so that I can confirm that it was worse than the one that occurred during the previous Bitcoin bubble, which reached its peak in 2017, and exploded at the beginning of 2018. At the end of that year it hit rock bottom, going from being around $ 20,000 to being worth “only” $ 3,200.
Why can’t I buy a graphics card: a bit of context
We have already pointed out a culprit, the rise of bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies in general. Its value has not stopped growing in recent months, and in a very marked way, which has caused interest in mining to unleash a veritable fever that has ended up draining practically the entire stock of graphics cards on the market. Not even the models of previous generations have been saved.
Take a look at the attached graph. This reflects the value that Bitcoin has had since the end of 2013, with just over $ 100, to this day, which is around $ 51,390 (at the time of writing the article). The first big peak that we see in the pre-2018 strip represents the first bubble that said cryptocurrency lived, and that produced a huge shortage of graphics cards in the general consumer market.
Starting in 2018, a long standardization process began which took a long time to complete, that is, it was not to burst the bubble and that’s it, stock and normal prices, nothing is further from reality, I remember perfectly that it took a few months for this normalization, both in terms of prices and out of stock, it really started to show. In fact, in April 2018, when the puncture was already evident, we were talking about a partial normalization of the NVIDIA GTX 10.
What happened with the previous bubble tells us many things about what we can expect from this new rally in Bitcoin, but before getting into the matter we are going to continue looking at that graph, since there is still another important thing that I want to make clear. Look at the date when the new explosive growth of Bitcoin occurs. The starting point is October 2020, and in November of that year its value had practically doubled.
Now let’s think, for a moment, when we said that the graphics card shortage became apparent, in December 2020. It’s not by chance, the dates match perfectly, and they point to the main culprit for the lack of stock and inflated prices. Yes, the explosion of value that Bitcoin has experienced, and the craze for mining that has followed, are to blame for not being able to buy a graphics card.
When will the situation normalize? Will I be able to buy a graphics card this year?
I would like to say yes, but the truth is that I see it very complicated. The previous Bitcoin bubble taught us something very important, and that is that, although the value of this is reduced to such an extent that we can speak of a punctured bubble, normality takes at least a few months to arrive.
We must also bear in mind that at that time neither NVIDIA nor AMD had the chip shortage problems, and other key components for the manufacture of a graphics card, which they have right now. Speculators dedicated to reselling were not on the rise either, which leaves us with a clear and simple conclusion, and it is very likely that the stock and prices will not normalize until 2022, and assuming that a series of important factors concur, among which stand out:
A very marked increase in the production of graphics cards. A major drop in demand. A puncture, or significant loss of value, of cryptocurrencies that discourages miners.
Even in the event that these three factors occurred, which is unlikely, everything is said, market normalization would not be immediate. Stock would take time to recover to acceptable levels, especially because of the shortage of chips and other items that we have referred to, and retailers would remain reluctant to an immediate drop in sales prices. The latter already happened in the previous bubble.
On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that speculators would keep trying to maintain some control over prices sales to do business to the end, which could lengthen and further complicate that recovery.
What can I do if I need a graphics card? Wait, and arm yourself with patience
There is no other option, unless you are willing to accept the abusive prices that resellers ask through platforms such as eBay, where we can find units that are sold at a price that starts from the 1,700 euros, and that can overcome, in some models, the 3,000 euros. The situation has reached such an absurd level that they are even selling stock replenishment notifications for 5 euros.
Following trusted retailers closely and being vigilant may help you get a unit, but chances are, the unit is not reasonably priced and you will end up overpaying. If it is a reasonable figure, as in the example of the RTX 3060 Ti that I gave you earlier, go ahead, otherwise, wait.
The second-hand market has not been immune to this situation, and unfortunately prices have also inflated to crazy levels. An RTX 2060, which shouldn’t cost more than 200 euros Following the announcement of the launch of the RTX 3060 for 329 euros, it is being sold on the second-hand market for prices that range between 300 and 400 euros. If we look for superior models, we can find dizzying figures «ad nauseam» which are obviously unacceptable.
However, we still have some options. In this guide we offer you five inexpensive and interesting alternatives that we can find at a reasonable price in the second-hand market, and that can help you get out of trouble. Look for models that are not profitable for mining, but that they continue to perform well in games, it is the best way to get out of the way if we have an emergency.
So, for example, if your graphics card has broken and you need one yes or yes, right now it is better to buy a second-hand unit that covers, even if it is fair, our needs than to pay crazy prices. The GTX 970 and GTX 980 They are “wild card” models because of how well they continue to perform in games, and how affordable they are. In case you need something more powerful, you have it very complicated, since even the GTX 10 have gone up a lot in price.
Are we facing a cyclical problem or are they isolated cases?
After all we’ve talked about, I think this is the key question that we can best end this article with. It goes without saying that there is nothing definitive, and that Everything that I am going to tell you below is the result of a personal analysis based, yes, on reality that the previous bubble left us, the present reality and in an estimate of the role of cryptocurrencies in the years to come.
The 2017 bubble caught us by surprise, and made us think that we were not going to see ourselves in that situation again, especially when Bitcoin sank to $ 3,200. However, the exponential growth that this cryptocurrency has experienced has taught us that we were very wrong, and has highlighted that cryptocurrencies are here to stay.
Both NVIDIA and AMD manufacture graphics cards to meet the needs of a specific market that has, despite its changes, a relatively stable demand. When that demand is abnormally increased, there is a stock shortage that cannot be resolved overnight, as both companies need chips and other components to make graphics cards, and these are obtained through orders which, in some cases, may take months to complete.
TSMC, for example, works under a strict ordering regime, and takes several months to complete production cycles which were also planned well in advance on a certain manufacturing process. What does this mean? Well, very simple, that AMD cannot obtain a larger supply of chips overnight to make more graphics cards.
With all of this in mind, it is easy to understand that responsiveness that have the big of the sector before an abnormally big demand it is very limited, and that they are not prepared to deal with such situations. We already saw it in 2017, and we are seeing it today. Therefore, the conclusion is clear, we are not dealing with isolated cases, but with a reality that will be repeated as long as the right circumstances concur.
Neither NVIDIA nor AMD is profitable to make an abnormally large number of graphics cards in normal times, so an explosion in the value of cryptocurrencies will always catch both companies off guard, and it will have a very big impact on the general consumer market. Its duration will depend on the three points that we have seen previously, and buying a graphics card may end up being something “impossible” for quite some time.
Given that cryptocurrencies are not going anywhere, at least in the short and medium term, and that even Tesla has bet on Bitcoin with an investment of a billion, I think the story tells itself, we are before a problem that will accompany us for a long time, even if it does it intermittently and with periods of greater or lesser intensity.
Do I mean by this that there is no possible solution? We might think so, launch specific mining equipment that is more profitable than buying a graphics card, and commercialize it on a large scale. However, even in this scenario, such equipment could end up being less attractive to minerssince it has a degree of specialization that takes away its resale value. If there were a massive puncture, it would be easier for miners to sell graphics cards on the second-hand market than to recoup some of their investment in specialized equipment.
There is no fully effective and satisfactory solution, but putting into practice everything that we have seen in this article it would be possible to alleviate, in part, the current reality, and it would not be so difficult to buy a graphics card in the general consumer market at its normal price.