As if a deadly pandemic, rising sea levels, AND a botched Cyberpunk 2077 launch are not enough, today’s gaming-PC buyers are faced with an additional unpleasant situation: Product unavailability! When will it end?!
Oh, and… Greetings.
2020 has now come to close, and if you have tried to buy any recently launched CPU or GPU, you are already familiar with the situation: All recently launched hardware is either unavailable, or has absurdly high prices. Not $50 or $100 extra, but $300-$500 extra! In some cases, that is a doubling of the price! Frustrating!
We can talk about how these new CPUs and GPUs are so much better than the previous generations, which is causing very high demand and making inventories run dry. Or we can discuss the pandemic, which has forced/convinced so many millions of people to work from home, driving up the demand for “home PC” hardware. Or maybe we can look at how good modern bots are, buying up items from online stores instantly so that bot-owners can resell them at scalper prices. Or instead write angry paragraphs that lay the blame on AMD/nVidia for not producing enough chips to satisfy demand?
There is even a reasonable argument to be made that we should direct our righteous wrath at console peasants: The Xboxonex (or is it XboxseriousX?) and Playstation Mambo #5 both launched recently, and they both use chips on the 7nm process. There is limited 7nm production capacity, so the new consoles are diverting production capacity away from items needed by us Real™ True® gamers.
All that is possible (and so much fun!), but the truth is that the market situation probably results from a combination of all of the above—and anyway, there is a different question many people have in mind: When will this be over? When will we go back to normal prices and normal availability?
I do not have an answer, but I have an estimate, based on history. Logical Increments has been sensitively monitoring all hardware prices with extreme interest for 10 years now, so here are some former price hikes from the past:
1. The ‘2013 Litecoin Inflation’
Bitcoin in 2013 was a well-known thing, but the difficulty of mining bitcoin meant that GPU mining was not popular. Litecoin came and changed that, making it easy to mine cryptocurrency on GPUs again. Litecoin caused about ~6 months of GPU inflation. You can read about what happened here.
2. The ‘2017 Ethereum Inflation’
This was an exact copy/paste of the above, just replacing “Litecoin” with the new “Ethereum“. We documented this in this article, and the images in that article STILL HURT! The inflation hit at (roughly) the middle of the year, and lasted for ~6 months, ending in November of 2017.
3. The ‘2018 Maximum Insanity Inflation’
This was possibly the worst one yet, since it started in January 2018 and the previous inflation had barely ended by December 2017. There was no new currency; it was caused by a twinned price hike of both Ethereum and Bitcoin, and it lasted for ~6 months. We talked about it here.
In all three previous “price hike and non-availability” crises, the duration was about 6 months. Now it is easy to simply extrapolate and say it will last 6 months this time too, but that would not be fair. Previous spikes were caused by cryptocurrency, while this one is caused by multiple simultaneous issues. That said, almost everyone involved in the situation is working on fixing the root causes that are driving up prices and making products unavailable.
Let us take a look at what is being done by various actors involved in the issues underlying the current price hike.
3. More companies are preparing for employees to return to normal work, meaning less people are expected to work from home in 2021.
4. The latest Xbox/Playstation launches were in November, and are now both over, so the initial mega-demand for those consoles will drop down to much lower volume in the coming months. More production capacity can then be allocated to PC-targeted chips.
The root causes that are causing the hardware paucity of 2020 are being addressed as we roll into 2021, so we can confidently say that better days are coming. If no new calamity hits (*touch wood*), we might be seeing a return to something resembling the old normal hardware market as soon as spring, if we are being optimistic.
The Near Future
And the material I’ve just presented in the previous section, I think, is why we can say: Based on historical price hikes and current efforts to combat the root causes of the current situation, ~6 months is a sensible estimate of how long this price hike will last. Since it started in September, it is reasonable to expect that prices and availability will be close to normal by April 2021.
If we are estimating that hardware supply and prices will only come back to normal in April, what are the suggestions that we have for buyers interested in buying hardware right now? And what happens if some new disaster hits and it takes 9 months instead of 6?
1. If at all possible, wait. If your current hardware still works, use it. Do not pay prices set by malicious reseller, because that hurts all of us.
2. We have a list of certain alternative items from the previous generation suggested. These are not as good as current-gen parts, but they are more available and affordable.
3. We will be adding special pages to look at product availability soon, so you can have an at-a-glance place to see if modern hardware is available.
If April comes and the issues have not been resolved, then we can sit down together and feel sad. We at Logical Increments are feeling the same woes as you are, and my 7-year-old R9 290 only gets decent frame-rates on Cyberpunk by switching to embarrassingly low settings!
Let me know if you agree with my estimate, and whether you have better suggestions, in the comment section below!