A few weeks ago, I wrote about how it's a terrible time to buy a graphics card—at least a high-end card. The reasoning is simple: GPUs like the Nvidia RTX 3080 are coming soon, and AMD's Big Navi isn't far behind. If you want yet another reason to not buy a high-end card, however, just look at prices. Six months ago, the RTX 2080 Ti could be found for around $1,050, and the RTX 2080 Super was regularly available for $650. Now, you'd be lucky to find either GPU at the original launch prices of $1,200 and $700. If that's not enough to go on, I've heard some companies will have 'final' Ampere GPUs as early as next week.
Perhaps COVID-19 caused a spike in demand. People are staying home, working from home, and social distancing via games. We've seen supplies of certain devices, like webcams, practically evaporate during the pandemic. But high-end GPUs don't really fall into that same category.
A far less likely scenario is that the recent increase in cryptocurrency prices is to blame, but I don't think so. Before the massive plunge to under $5,000 that happened in March, Bitcoin was at $7,000 to $11,000 for quite a while. It's now back to $11,000, the highest price in nearly a year, but that doesn't make it a great mining investment. Current calculations suggest you could mine alternative cryptocurrencies and trade for Bitcoin to earn about $2.15-$2.50 per day with an RTX 2080 Ti, but after electricity costs, you'd be looking at closer to $1.50 per day in profit. That's not nothing, but at current prices it would take over two years just to break even, and cryptocurrency is far too volatile for most to consider a two-year investment in hardware.
The most likely cause is that consumer Ampere GPUs are nearly here. Nvidia and its partners have supposedly halted production of the top Turing products in preparation for the incoming Ampere launch. Nvidia isn't saying anything officially, but a quick look at some popular system integrators suggests the top GPUs are indeed being phased out. Yes, you can still find a pre-built PC with an RTX 2080 Ti if you look around, but many SIs don't appear to stock the part any longer. And why would they, considering they know better than anyone what sells and are likely briefed on when Ampere will land? Top-tier soon-to-be-outdated GPUs shouldn't be on anybody's shopping list right now.
If you're wondering, the cheapest RTX 2080 Super I can find in stock right now comes from Walmart for $720, and many places are sold out, including Nvidia's own RTX 2080 Super FE. You can find a few RTX 2080 Ti cards for under $1,200 at Newegg, but they're refurbished; the least expensive new RTX 2080 Ti I can find sits at $1250. Again, Nvidia's RTX 2080 Ti FE is out of stock. When Nvidia isn't even trying to sell its highest performance cards, it's a safe bet the replacements are nearly here.
There's potentially bad news as well, however. While the RTX 2080 Ti and 2080 Super are becoming less common, RTX 2070 Super and lower are still reasonably available. My thought right now is that the RTX 30-series Ampere GPUs will start at the extreme end of the performance and pricing spectrum, which could mean prices of $1,000 or more at launch. Maybe I'm being pessimistic, but if RTX 3090 (or whatever the top part is called) ends up pummeling the RTX 2080 Ti the way I expect it to, it could easily go for $1,500 or more. RTX 3080 (3080 Ti, 3080 Super, 3080 whatever) could then take over the $1,000 mark, and RTX 3070 would fill the $700 slot. Yuck.
Hopefully I'm wrong. Hopefully we'll see RTX 3070 for $500 and RTX 380 for $700—possibly less if you like to dream, since dreams are free. Whatever the price, there are plenty of indications that Ampere will land in September, maybe even late August. Is that too soon? I've heard credible rumors that system integrators and Nvidia's add-in board partners will have final retail products in the next week or two, giving them time to gear up for launch.
All I have to say: It's about freaking time. Ampere rumors have been swirling since last year, and many (including myself) expected a spring 2020 launch. We're well past that now, at least in part thanks to COVID-19. I haven't had a properly 'new' GPU to test since last year's AMD Navi launch! With plenty of time to clear out inventory of previous generation parts, Ampere RTX 30-series GPUs launching in the next month would be perfect timing from a business standpoint. Then people can head back to 'virtual' school while getting distracted by video games running on a shiny new graphics card.
Note: As with all of our op-eds, the opinions expressed here belong to the writer alone and not Tom's Hardware as a team.