For the past couple of years, I’ve been scouring the web for any glimmer of hope that graphics card prices might be coming back to Earth – an ongoing shortage of GPUs has left us scrambling for inventory, resulting in high prices and high entry costs in the wonderful world of PC gaming. Largely unsuccessful, of course.
Today, however, I can be much more positive about my findings.
Look for major retailers in the UK, EU and US and you’ll find something odd as you browse their virtual shelves for the rare graphics card. Not only are there GPUs in stock, but there is a wide availability of many models and versions to suit various budgets. scroll Best buy, overclockersor MindFactory and you will be pleasantly welcomed listing after listing touting “in stock”, “available to buy” or “add to basket”.
However, only a few, if any, are for graphics cards at or near MSRP.
The only GPU that is regularly sighted near or on the MSRP is AMD’s RX 6500 XT, one of the latest additions to the RX 6000-series lineup. It’s not a card we’re completely in love within all honesty, but it’s a modern GPU that resembles something close to affordable.
Additionally, the 3DCenter website kept an eye on graphics card prices over the past year, and its last report from Germany shows AMD and Nvidia graphics cards with average prices of around 25% above the MSRP. That’s the smallest graphics card premium noted in the site’s report in over a year, and no doubt the improved supply put an end to the frenetic demand that saw graphics cards double or triple their original value.
But how long can graphics card price inflation last if the stock keeps improving?
I don’t think it will take long, although it’s not as simple as going back to ‘business as usual’ and offering cards on the MSRP anytime. Business as usual for two years has been nothing close to the MSRP, and that has all sorts of implications across the supply chain.
With hundreds of graphics cards listed as in stock at several major retailers in Western Europe and North America, there is undoubtedly a competitive advantage for retailers who can lower prices even further than others. Although this is a double-edged sword for most: manufacturers faced high prices for key components, and this was passed on to the retail chain. More often than not, it’s the customers who end up footing the bill, but if demand declines entirely and supply improves, it may be retailers who bear the brunt of lower prices.
These increased component costs are supposedly decreasing now and in the next few months. We’ve also heard directly that GPU maker Asus is aggressively lowering prices on many of its GPUs.
However, for existing inventory at retailers today, these costs are less likely to have an immediate impact. After all, these SKUs were likely purchased at a higher cost to the retailer months ago. Delivery times for GPUs have been so long over the last few years that we’ve heard of retailers ordering well in advance to guarantee stock.
Though retailers may have little choice if all goes well for GPU supply. It’s like a Jenga price tag: if one retailer lowers prices, the rest are likely to follow.
Talking to Dr. Thomas Goldsbythe Haslam Chair of Logistics at the Online Master of Science Program in Supply Chain Management at the University of Tennesseeon this same topic, he told me that there is a push for retailers to act this way when it is clear that supply is catching up with demand.
“As for the graphics card situation, I expect prices to drop when it becomes evident that supply is picking up and they are readily available,” says Goldsby. “A supplier will be nervous about having a sizable supply for an item that has a limited shelf life (with newer cards coming onto the market) and will make the move to eliminate that excess inventory. follow that lead. And back to balance we we fell.”
Graphics cards absolutely fall into the category of items with a limited lifespan. While they won’t go moldy or turn into fetid fridge sludge, AMD and Nvidia will always be pushing the performance envelope to deliver gains with every generation but also keep up appearances as companies at the forefront of technology. That’s exactly what the two companies are doing, developing new Lovelace and RDNA 3 graphics cards for release later this year.
Intel is also about to release its first Intel Arc graphics cards on mobile platforms, which adds even more pressure to what’s available today.
So those cards have to go, and if demand isn’t there at today’s high prices, something has to give.
Big UK tech retailer Box said it expects “things to come back at a more attractive price” by late April/early May, in a chat with Techradar.
What also fuels a competitive retail environment is customers’ ability to discern where and what they buy. You can’t be picky when supply is non-existent, but once there’s a broad church of availability between model and retailer, customers are back in charge.
The key will be whether this recent influx of graphics cards will be sustained over a period of months. If that is possible – and the signs point to a best offer throughout the second half of the year– so PC gamers can finally have the freedom to choose what’s best for them, at a fair price, and not have to run rampant through a webpage for a chance to get the best value cards.
Now, graphics cards that aren’t inherently of great value to begin with, like the RTX 3080 12GB (not to be confused with the amazing 10GB version), it can stay that way. But a few bad apples shouldn’t ruin the barrel, and you never know what might lead to a desperate price cut eventually.
The reasons for the improved supply could be many, but speaking to Goldsby, he says the impact of people returning to “normal life” post-Covid-19 cannot be underestimated.
“By virtue of Omicron putting on this ugly head and luckily starting to give in – it helps us both ways,” says Goldsby. “It helps us in terms of people coming back and starting to live a little bit more towards a normal life. And also our ability for our supply chains to function at a pre-Covid level. explain why maybe the supply has improved a little, maybe prices are starting to drop a little.
“But I’m seeing some glimmers of hope, as are you,” he continues.
It might be risky to say those words, but I’m really starting to get a little hope for the graphics card market in 2022.
For that reason, there’s a good case to be made for those considering a graphics card refresh in 2022 to bet on stock getting even better and prices dropping relatively quickly. After all, you’ve waited so long, why not a little longer and try to get an RTX 30 series GPU at or under MSRP? These letters are now closer to the end of their lives than to the beginning of them, and no one we must be paying more than the odds for them.
It’s still a gamble, but I’m increasingly considering it to be worth it as 2022 progresses.