Why Graphics Cards Are Expensive in 2021


Many PC builders and enthusiasts have found themselves unable to get their hands on Nvidia and AMD's high-end graphics cards for the better part of the past year. When they could, the graphics cards were often sold for a higher price, even via official commercial channels.

A series of multiple issues all coming together at the same time has led to a drastic shortage in graphics cards and a dramatic price increase in 2021.

As a result, many have decided to wait things out. The common belief is the release of newer models would help alleviate the rising cost of high-end graphics cards.

We're now approaching halfway through 2021 and know that such a thought is all but a pipedream at this point. The price hikes have only become worse. So bad, in fact, that it's even extended to entry-level models like the Nvidia GTX 1650 and the AMD RX 570.

What's the Reason Behind The Expensive Graphics Cards?

A combination of cryptocurrency miners, scalpers, and a global semiconductor chip shortage has made it difficult to get your hands on even one high-end graphics card today.

Getting your hands on the latest Nvidia and AMD graphics cards was already difficult due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, as the infectious virus harmed the entire manufacturing and supply chain.

Not to mention, the entire situation also led to an increase in the demand for graphics cards, as well as computer hardware in general, with people forced to stay at home for their safety. Companies and schools also shifted to a different arrangement with their employees and/or students staying at home to continue their work or education.

Further compounding the problem are cryptocurrency miners and scalpers that tend to empty retailer inventories within minutes of making the graphics cards available.

With fewer stocks available and a marked increase in demand, retailers simply couldn't keep up.

However, what arguably drove the prices through the roof are the tariffs imposed on Chinese imports by the Trump administration.

The said tariffs took effect on December 31, 2020. Previously, traffic exemptions covered PC components such as graphics cards and motherboards. Unfortunately, the exceptions weren't extended, which saw the price of high-end graphics cards like the Nvidia RTX 3090 and AMD RX 6800 XT increase in price by as much as 25 percent.

Without the tariff exemptions, building a PC in 2021 could get even more expensive going forward. Even though the price hike is most evident on graphics cards and motherboards, the increases will likely extend to other components soon enough.

Will Graphics Card Prices Improve Soon?

With the value of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies steadily climbing, don't expect the stocks of graphics cards to improve, even if the shipping industry manages to recover and return to normal levels.

It's certain that the situation will definitely improve. It's only a matter of time before things get back to normal levels. However, graphics card prices are likely to get even more ridiculous before that happens and the tariffs aren't the sole crux of the issue here.

One of the biggest proponents of the overall increase in the price of graphics cards, as well as other electronic components, is the surge in demand for semiconductor chips and the overall lack of supply.

Again, this all circles back to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the demand for consumer electronics increasing significantly, either for work or for entertainment, there just isn't enough supply for semiconductor chips used in manufacturing a lot of widely used electronic products to go around to satisfy everyone.

The effects of the pandemic also extend to international shipping costs. Rates have gone up significantly in the past year. Shipping companies have had no choice but to adjust to the current climate with the pandemic affecting international passenger transport and causing employee shortages resulting from sick leaves and lockdowns.

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With that said, several industry analysts suggest that the stocks of graphics cards will suffer until 2022.

Even then, we can't get our hopes up just yet. There's still the issue with scalpers and cryptocurrency miners. Even if retailers find a way to address their prevalent use of bots to secure supplies before everyone else, there's no stopping them from finding other ways to get ahead of the line and clear out inventories.

Scalpers, in particular, make a living out of doing this. They literally buy out entire stores worth of graphics cards, only to sell them at a higher price for profit. Add in the miners, some of which are also scalpers, and the problem likely isn't going to get better anytime soon.

Should You Build a PC in 2021?

Unless you are willing to pay a premium, building a PC in 2021 will cost you significantly more than it did in 2020 for the same level of performance.

What's currently happening right now is what many refer to as the "perfect storm".

While retailers and manufacturers are trying their best to supply interested parties with the graphics cards that they want at their suggested MSRPs, there's just so much that's outside of their control. Until the supply can keep up with the rising demand, don't expect to get yourself a high-end graphics card for its minimum MSRP rate.

So, what does this mean for those who want to build a gaming PC in 2021? Well, unless you plan on building a $500 gaming PC, we suggest that you don't.

If you currently have a mid-end gaming PC that you built with components bought and/or installed within the last couple of years, we suggest that you hold on to it. The current prices won't agree with your wallet. As a matter of fact, you could probably sell your current set-up for as much as you paid for it years ago if not more, depending on the components.

If you're building a PC from scratch, being patient and thorough is crucial. It's impossible to avoid price hikes. However, you can avoid paying for overpriced graphics cards from scalpers if you reach out to retailers and ask to be put on their waitlist if they have one.

You can also check online marketplaces for second-hand graphics cards from people who aren't looking to cash in on the whole price hike and are selling their older graphics cards for a fair price.

There are also other viable alternatives, such as:

Buying a Console Instead

A good alternative is to buy a PlayStation 5 or an Xbox Series X if you're going to use the gaming PC exclusively for gaming anyway.

Sure, they're not exactly easier to get your hands on, and they're also just as prone to scalping. But, the whole stock shortage is starting to show signs of improvement and should only get better.

Getting a Gaming Laptop

If you do really need a gaming PC, we also suggest getting yourself a gaming laptop instead.

At the current price that desktop-grade graphics cards and processors are going, their laptop counterparts currently present a much better value. Plus, you get the added benefit of the laptops being much more portable.

Final Thoughts

We'll be the first to tell you not to expect the prices or stocks to stabilize with the launch of new graphics cards. The only plausible positive from having more models to choose from is that it might dissuade others from buying the graphics card that you want or can only afford. But, still, try not to get your hopes too high up.

Until the situation gets better, we recommend that you either exercise as much patience as possible or be prepared to pay a bit more extra.

Ray Ampoloquio
Ray is based in the Philippines. He is a lifelong gamer and a PC hardware enthusiast. He builds and repairs laptops and computers for friends and family in his spare time. You can find Ray on Twitter.