Inside the GPU Shortage: Why You Still Can't Buy a Graphics Card

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How scalpers, a pandemic, and a cryptocurrency boom formed a perfect storm that continues to make PC building an exercise in futility.
(Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 Founders Edition)

Want to build a PC with the most up-to-date parts? Good luck. The industry has been grappling with a component shortage for years, but the problem was laid bare in 2020 as the pandemic delayed shipments just as people retreated to home offices and started shopping for the gear they needed to keep their businesses afloat.

Then, as new GPUs hit the market, scalpers—some of whom were trying to make ends meet after having lost jobs during the pandemic—used bots to scoop up the sought-after cards and sell them at inflated prices. Others turned to GPU-intensive cryptocurrency mining.

Chipmakers and retailers have taken steps to fight the scalpers and crypto miners, but execs still predict the supply will remain tight into 2022. Here's how we got here.

Pre-COVID

Years in the making: As our sister site ExtremeTech explains, pre-2020 GPU shortages trace back in the near term to limited yields on 16nm GPUs in 2016 and cryptocurrency-related demand in 2017 and 2018. (Mining setup in your mom's basement, anyone?) At the same time, Intel was dealing with a slightly more complicated CPU shortage.

February 2020

Nvidia gets spooked: As COVID-19 cripples the global supply chain, Nvidia lowers its revenue projections for Q1 2020 by $100 million. Turns out, it didn't have much to worry about, but more on that later.

March 2020

Image: Zoom

The pandemic goes global. Shortly after the World Health Organization officially declares COVID-19 a pandemic, cities lock down, borders close, and millions are laid off. Major retailers swap indoor shopping for curbside pickup, and those who have money to spend turn to online shopping, overloading sites like Amazon, where ship dates for PC parts quickly slip to late April.

Everyone needs a PC. The Zoom life begins, and for many people, sharing one family computer no longer does the trick. Chromebook and tablet sales boom, and we kick off what will become the biggest year for PC demand in a…
PCMag Staff
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