The Battle for High-End Graphics Cards

As some of you may have heard, there is a global semiconductor chip shortage that is impacting the supply chains for all sorts of products around the world. Cars, PS5s, graphics cards, cell phones and many other electronics are being impacted and based on several recent reports, it doesn’t look like the chip shortage is going to end any time soon.

That brings me to graphics cards, also known as video cards or GPUs (graphics processing unit). The graphics cards market is really struggling right now due to this chip shortage since there are a ton of people who want high-end graphics cards. In fact, there are three personas of the people looking to acquire a high-end graphics card:

  1. Gamers & Enthusiasts
  2. Cryptocurrency Miners
  3. Scalpers

Let’s start with the Gamers & Enthusiasts. These are the people who want high-end graphics cards so they can play video games on their computer at the highest resolution with no graphics lag and insane frames per second (FPS). With today’s technology, these new games, such as Cyber Punk 2077 look AMAZING on a QHD, UHD, 4k resolution monitor. However, in order to be able to play these games at those resolutions, you’ll need a very high-end graphics card such as the Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti, 3070, 3080 or 3090 plus a solid CPU.

Moving on to Cryptocurrency Miners. These are the people (I’m definitely included in this group) that want to hoard as many high-end graphics cards as possible in order to put them to use to mine cryptocurrency. Right now, mining Ethereum is incredibly profitable and every high-end graphics card has the ability to increase your hash rate (basically the number of calculations your GPU can do) pretty significantly, so the more graphics card you own, the higher your hash rate, and the more money you can mine. For example, I recently purchased a 3090 and this graphics card can generate around $15/day mining Ethereum.

Finally, there are the Scalpers. In every market where there is an opportunity for arbitrage, that’s when the scalpers come in. These scalpers similar to miners are looking to acquire as many high-end graphics cards as possible so they can resell them for a significant markup. For example, right now, you can purchase an RTX 3070 for $500-750 and resell it for $1200-1400! It’s absolutely crazy.

Bots Gone Crazy

Now all 3 of these types of people are looking to get their hands on a high-end graphics card and there are only limited quantities available across all retailers. What’s even worse is that these days, given how desirable these graphics cards are, many people have actually created bots to check every website to see if inventory has been replenished and if it is, the bot will automatically buy it. I’m actually on a Discord server that also uses bots to look for available inventory and notifies me whenever a specific graphics card becomes available. However, it’s basically a losing battle since whenever I’m notified, even when I happen to be ready to click, by the time I click on the link and the page loads up, the card is already sold out. I’m talking gone within seconds. It’s pure insanity. I’m actually currently trying to figure out how to create my own bot to see if I can get it to work for me.

Micro Center, it’s Black Friday every day

As some of you all may recall, back in the day before COVID and e-commerce changed how we shop for stuff during Black Friday, people used to line up outside a store’s entrance to try to get their hands on a heavily discounted item or even when it wasn’t Black Friday, people would line up in order to become the first person to get a heavily sought after item (i.e. concert tickets). I remember camping out at Best Buy right after Thanksgiving when I used to live in southern California and it was insane how early some people would start lining up. 

Anyway, this tradition continues at the computer electronics retailer, Micro Center, where on a daily basis, people will just camp out at a Micro Center across the country to try to be one of the first few to get their hands on a new graphics card inventory shipment that generally arrives in the morning. As the year 2021 has progressed, the lines have gotten worse and worse even when it was freezing cold. In late 2020, you could show up just a few hours before the store opened and would likely easily get a high-end graphics card. Now, you probably need to start lining up around 3-4 PM in the afternoon the day before a “drop day” (generally Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday). If you came in around 6 AM, you would likely be 25th and most supply drops are around 15-25 cards and the most coveted graphics cards, the RTX 3080 and 3090 are only a fraction of that total inventory drop.

Team Green vs. Team Red

There are two major graphics card manufacturers: Nvidia and AMD. Nvidia is known as “team green” and AMD is known as “team red” and their color designation is simply due to their brand colors. These companies both make incredibly fast and awesome graphic cards. However, at least from my observations, it seems there are more Team Green people vs. Team Red people. Often at Micro Center, when there are drops, the Nvidia cards will sell out immediately and there often will be a few AMD cards leftover. The AMD cards are still eventually picked up by someone, but their half life is considerably higher than that of an Nvidia card but they still are heavily demanded. I personally favor Nvidia cards because I’ve had better experiences with them, they seem to be more efficient than AMD cards in some aspects and I own a good amount of stock in $NVDA.

Graphics Cards are Expensive

My friend told me about how profitable GPU mining was a few months back, but given some annoying software issues I was dealing with when trying to install the mining software, I didn’t get started again until late February and it’s crazy just how profitable mining is right now even for older graphics cards. To elaborate, I bought a high-end graphics card back in January 2018 when there was a similar graphics card shortage we are experiencing today due to cryptocurrency skyrocketing in late 2017 and early 2018. I bought an Nvidia GTX 1080 for $550 and back then I was making $2-4/day mining and I mined for a few months before Bitcoin and all the other cryptocurrencies crashed and mining became fairly unprofitable. Today, 3 years later, I am still able to make upwards to $4/day with my old graphics card. What’s even crazier is that I can actually still sell my used graphics card on eBay for $500-700! That’s wild since I have definitely used my graphics card a lot since buying it back in 2018.

Anyway, fast forward to 2021, I learned that when purchasing a graphics card, there are two types of cards you can buy:

  1. Reference or Founders Editions
  2. Add In Board (AIB)

The reference or founder’s edition for the Nvidia RTX 3090 is $1,499 MSRP but these are nearly impossible to get. Then there are the AIBs, which is basically a card that was given more bells and whistles and marked up pretty significantly. For reference, I bought a 3090 AIB and that cost me $2,167 before tax. So as long as current pay rates remain the same, it will take me 5-6 months just to break even on my purchase price. Compare that to buying a reference card, you could break even in just 3 short months!

My Quick Journey to Finding a High-End Graphics Card

As I mentioned, it’s pretty hard to get a high-end graphics card right now. I have had no luck whatsoever with buying them online since the bots always beat me. Best Buy has a “restock” date every few weeks, and they usually have a good number of cards available, but unfortunately, every time there is a “drop,” I of course have an important meeting that I can’t miss. So, e-commerce be damned in this case, lol.

So given my personality, I tried to find other avenues to acquire a card without paying scalper prices. After some research, I learned that there was a Micro Center Discord server that had a bunch of people working together to update one another on inventory or line updates. As I mentioned above, a lot of people lined up in the morning to give themselves a good shot at landing a card but for me, as someone that’s still pretty concerned about COVID and with two toddlers, that just wasn’t an option. I did learn that the Chicago Micro Center occasionally had  “mid-day” drops where a Fed Ex truck may drop off a set of cards randomly in the early afternoon. So, that was what I was hoping to do to get me a high-end graphics card, I would wait for a stock alert on a mid-day drop. I guess I was pretty lucky, since within just a few days of finding this server, I heard about a Tuesday mid-day drop and I was there within 10 minutes and was able to snag an Nvidia RTX 3090. Funny, I thought I was going to pay $1,499 for a Founder’s Edition, but nope, I ended up with an MSI AIB and that cost me a pretty penny.

Banned for 30 Days

What stinks is that shortly after securing a 3090, I was hoping to get another few cards to set up a mining operation and of course Micro Center begins a nationwide 30-day ban on individuals who recently purchased a card. They didn’t ban you from the store, but they banned you from buying another graphics card. Heck, you can’t even “hold” it for someone else. So, alas, I am still banned from buying another card for a few weeks because of this rule. What’s crazy is that even after instituting this policy, the lines haven’t really gotten any shorter.

Finding Community with Enthusiasts & Miners

What’s really interesting about what’s happening in the graphics card market is that people are banding together and finding community in their desperate attempts to find a rare high-end graphics card. They chat with one another, they help one another with questions about building a computer/mining, they become friends with one another, heck on the Micro Center Discord, people that have already gotten their graphics card still stick around to just “hang out” with other enthusiasts.

Wrapping Up

It’s been a fun little journey so far in trying to procure a high-end graphics card. My 3090 is definitely mining but it’s also part of my new system build where I also use it to watch videos and do video calls. It’s definitely overkill, but I figure I may eventually need the 3090 for a computer game that requires a high-end graphics card to play in UHD resolution.

Anyway, hopefully you all found this random story about the graphics card market interesting. It has definitely been an interesting and engaging experience the past few weeks as someone who just recently jumped in.

Resources & Links

Whattomine – Information on the most profitable cryptocurrencies
NiceHash – The software I use for mining ethereum (referral link)
Verge Article on Street Graphics Card Prices

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