Never mind how more expensive video games may get later on due to the current situation regarding graphics cards. Prices have gone as high as twice the MSRP and are keeping consumers from building their dream rigs. Imagine finally being able to save up enough to build your own rig after working so hard in that call center job or whatever else you have. Your household is in order, and you just want to be able to play games after coming home from a hard day’s work. However, you either can’t or have to settle with an inferior GPU because you can’t get a better one.
Here in the Philippines, it gets even more expensive as tariffs and the higher exchange rate brought on by the decline of the Peso at the early days of the Duterte administration make high-end graphics cards even more out of reach for ordinary Filipino consumers.
As of this writing, the global markets have been chaotic. It may signal the coming of yet another economic recession, almost exactly ten years after the last major one. That makes things even worse as there seems to be no end in sight yet with this GPU-pocalypse, even with the crypto crash that may see a surplus of used graphics cards in the second-hand market.
Recent Personal Experience in Shopping for a GPU
As of this writing, I helped a friend out in putting together a whole new gaming rig in the previous week. I had recommended an AMD Radeon RX 570 for his purposes before. Unfortunately, it seemed like every shop we went to in Gilmore was fresh out of AMD cards and they only had Nvidia cards available. It was easy to determine that miners were to blame for this short supply.
He got an Nvidia GTX 1050 Ti instead (4GB VRAM), which I thought wasn’t too bad at all for 1080p gaming. He just wanted to play Overwatch with it anyway, so it shouldn’t be too bad at all. However, if market conditions were like in late 2015 when I bought my Nvidia GTX 970 for PhP 15,000 (I bought it to play Fallout 4, funny enough), then he could have gotten a much better card.
It’s somewhat funny to think this GPU-pocalypse is how younger people are being introduced to the Law of Supply and Demand in the real world. As soon as there’s stock of high-end video cards, especially from AMD, miners snatch them up by the truckload. Of course, manufacturers and retailers wouldn’t refuse that since it’s good business.
The gist of it is when Bitcoin first came about in 2009, the handful who were in the know were able to mine with just laptops. CPUs were enough to do the job during the old days, but they became less viable as difficulty went up. The longer the blockchain gets as more transactions are made, the more difficult it is to process—most likely the main flaw of public blockchain.
It was then figured out that graphics processing units were more efficient as they consumed less power for the amount of work needed for mining. Crypto miners run their power bills through the roof, so efficiency is always a factor. Once everyone has caught on to that, they started hoarding video cards for mining. Another benefit is they can then sell those cards after some time to recoup expenses.
Nowadays, Bitcoin’s difficulty has gone so high that GPUs aren’t viable for mining it anymore. Therefore, the current GPU mining craze is mostly for alternative cryptocurrency, or altcoins. Ethereum, Monero, Litecoin, Dogecoin (Yes, that’s what it’s called), and Ripple are some of the more well-known altcoins out there.
From what I’ve heard, much of the GPUs bought lately were most likely for mining Ethereum, whose platform has tremendous potential in other applications as well. Of course, there will be a time when GPUs won’t be enough to mine most of the major altcoins out there. That’s when GPUs will be picked up for trendy cryptos that will come and go. Right now, it looks to be Ripple.
Other Cases of Hardware Price Hikes
The one I can remember off the top of my head is the price increase on RAM back in 2013 when a major Chinese factory burned down. Earlier that year, I bought an 8GB stick of DDR3 Corsair Vengeance Low Profile RAM (which I had to have replaced because the first one had errors and was crashing my PC constantly). I bought that for around PhP 2,000 or so, if I remember correctly—quite cheap compared to 8GB sticks these days.
The problem is RAM is still quite expensive to this day, twice what it used to be. An 8GB stick of DDR4 at 2400MHz these days will cost you PhP 4,500, which just a little bit under a 3TB mechanical hard drive. That’s the main reason why I didn’t go Skylake when I upgraded my rig back in early 2016, instead buying an Intel i7 4790K that I still use now because I didn’t want to switch from the DDR3 RAM I still had to DDR4.
Watch out for hard drives also possibly facing a similar situation due to the quiet emergence of Burstcoin, which uses free disk space instead of processors for mining. It’s purported to be a “green” cryptocurrency, but that may just mean more people will just hoard hard drives for things other than data servers and network-attached storage (something I’ll be doing later this year).
Things may take a turn once Nvidia and AMD start working on the idea to actually cater to cryptocurrency miners. Whether it’s for the better or worse, I’m not entirely sure. If they’re able to come up with products specifically for cryptocurrency mining, then maybe that’ll bring down the demand for gaming graphics cards and normalize prices again.
The biggest fear here is that even when crypto miners taper down on hoarding GPUs, prices won’t go back down and the inflated prices may become the new normal. Then again, I’m not an expert on the PC hardware market—that would be something you should go to B2G for.
Even with the recent cryptocurrency crash, they’re still better off than where they were at the beginning of last year. There may be a whole slew of new investors and miners who were just waiting for things to crash before buying in themselves to ride the wave to the next possible boom.
Meanwhile, the best you can hope for is for prices to somehow go down and maybe buy a bundled PC with a GPU already included if you really want a cheaper option at the moment.
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Also published on Medium.