Nvidia RTX 4090 cards are reportedly being hoarded for sale to China by unscrupulous scalpers, which could continue to drive prices up

Piles of RTX 4090 cards reportedly being hoarded for sale in China
(Image credit: @I_Leak_VN (X))

The Nvidia RTX 4090 currently reigns as the king of consumer graphics cards, sitting atop our GPU benchmarks hierarchy. It's one of the best graphics cards for gaming, AI, and other work — except RTX 4090 prices have been increasing ever since the cards were put on the U.S. export controls list a few months back. Did that suddenly increase demand for the GPU? Perhaps not among individuals in most areas, but scalpers and profiteers appear to be snapping up as many cards as possible.

X user I_Like_NV posted several pictures reportedly showing a Vietnamese "trader/scalper" with piles of RTX 4090 cards that are intended to be shifted into China. How such individuals plan to move the inventory — no doubt at a significant profit — wasn't discussed, but it's no secret that the PRC isn't particularly fond of the new export restrictions. Unofficial back doors and smuggling seem likely candidates.

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Nvidia RTX 4060 Ti: now $449
RTX 4090 Prices: from $2399
Radeon RX 7800 XT: now $519
Radeon RX 6600: now $189

Nvidia doesn't specifically list unit sales for specific GPUs, but top-tier parts like the RTX 4090 aren't nearly as popular among gamers as mainstream offerings. The most recent Steam Hardware Survey for example put the number of RTX 4090 users at 0.62%, compared to 1.79% for the more recent RTX 4060 — a card that has only been on the survey for three months. When demand for a high-end part like 4090 suddenly skyrockets, it can take months for supply to catch up.

This is all reminiscent of the GPU shortages we saw back in 2020–2021 with the RTX 30-series and RX 6000-series GPUs being bought up en masse for use in GPU cryptocurrency mining operations — primarily Ethereum. Demand for GPUs plummeted when Ethereum halted proof-of-work mining last year, and the RTX 40-series and RX 7000-series cards have generally been selling at or slightly below MSRPs for the past year. Now, things are starting to change.

There are numerous other reports of consumer GPUs, including the RTX 4090, RTX 3090, and RTX 3080, being dismantled and reconfigured as AI and data center solutions. That includes the use of blower-style coolers, and in the case of the RTX 3080, doubling the VRAM. The 30-series cards likely consist mostly of used mining GPUs, while the 4090 cards likely didn't get used for mining.

It's a strange situation, and shows once again the many unintended consequences that can result from policy changes. RTX 4090 cards from major add-in card partners can't be assembled in China either, which is also impacting prices. There are still rumblings of an RTX 4090 Ti or Super circulating, which would join its lesser sibling on the list of banned-in-China GPUs. But being officially banned doesn't mean there aren't other routes into the Middle Kingdom.

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Jarred Walton

Jarred Walton is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on everything GPU. He has been working as a tech journalist since 2004, writing for AnandTech, Maximum PC, and PC Gamer. From the first S3 Virge '3D decelerators' to today's GPUs, Jarred keeps up with all the latest graphics trends and is the one to ask about game performance.

  • bit_user
    Like a bad rerun of the cryptocurrency mining horrors of 2021.
    Seems like somewhat of a stretch. The crypto craze initially hit the low/mid-range of the market, before eventually working its way up to higher-end cards. This seems like it'll be limited to RTX 4090 and maybe RTX 4080 cards, due to both memory capacity and the compute power of lower-end cards making them way less useful for LLMs and some of the other cutting-edge AI applications.

    We'll probably see some demand-displacement, with would-be buyers of higher-end cards going down-market, but the limited number of folks willing & able to buy a RTX 4090 who don't already have one will probably be readily absorbed by mid-market inventories.

    I've been contemplating a RX 7800 XT, and the only thing I see this doing is keeping its price from falling into the next year. If I were planning on a RX 7900 XTX, I might be a bit more worried about its pricing and scarcity.
    Reply
  • Argolith
    bit_user said:
    Seems like somewhat of a stretch. The crypto craze initially hit the low/mid-range of the market, before eventually working its way up to higher-end cards. This seems like it'll be limited to RTX 4090 and maybe RTX 4080 cards, due to both memory capacity and the compute power of lower-end cards making them way less useful for LLMs and some of the other cutting-edge AI applications.

    We'll probably see some demand-displacement, with would-be buyers of higher-end cards going down-market, but the limited number of folks willing & able to buy a RTX 4090 who don't already have one will probably be readily absorbed by mid-market inventories.

    I've been contemplating a RX 7800 XT, and the only thing I see this doing is keeping its price from falling into the next year. If I were planning on a RX 7900 XTX, I might be a bit more worried about its pricing and scarcity.
    Kinda bittersweet to think that what potentially "saves" gamers is the fact that the current line of GPU has a memory subsystem so horribly castrated that to any professional it's just garbage being sold for up to 1K.
    Reply
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    bit_user said:
    Seems like somewhat of a stretch. The crypto craze initially hit the low/mid-range of the market, before eventually working its way up to higher-end cards. This seems like it'll be limited to RTX 4090 and maybe RTX 4080 cards, due to both memory capacity and the compute power of lower-end cards making them way less useful for LLMs and some of the other cutting-edge AI applications.

    We'll probably see some demand-displacement, with would-be buyers of higher-end cards going down-market, but the limited number of folks willing & able to buy a RTX 4090 who don't already have one will probably be readily absorbed by mid-market inventories.

    I've been contemplating a RX 7800 XT, and the only thing I see this doing is keeping its price from falling into the next year. If I were planning on a RX 7900 XTX, I might be a bit more worried about its pricing and scarcity.
    My impressions of the 2020/2021 timeframe are apparently different, because it started with RTX 3080 and 3090 going through the roof. Right after launch, the 3080 was being scalped for $1000+ — just because of scarcity. Then crypto hit around December and prices shot up to $2000+ for a few months. And you could pull in something like $15 per day on a 3080 for a month or so, which is a big part of why that happened. The 3090 was going for $3000 or so on eBay. That had a knock-on effect all the way down the product stacks, and previous generation parts that could mine were impacted as well. But it really began with 3080 tripling in price.

    The 4090 obviously isn't anywhere near those levels, yet, but pictures like this of some place with hundreds of 4090 cards stockpiled is exactly what we saw in 2020/2021 as well. "Look at all of my GPUs that you can't buy! Hahaha..." Hence, a bad rerun. It shouldn't be as impactful this time around, since 4080 and below are still able to be exported to China. Unless the US gov't decides to lower the bar on compute once again.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    JarredWaltonGPU said:
    My impressions of the 2020/2021 timeframe are apparently different,
    I was thinking back to 2017 or so. I remember prices first got inflated on GTX 1070 and below. We bought a GTX 1080 at my job, and it sold for the normal list price. However, we also bought an AMD RX 580 and that card came at something like a 50% markup, as did GTX 1050 Ti's that we also bought.

    The 2021 situation was different, in part because you also had the pandemic fueling demand.

    JarredWaltonGPU said:
    It shouldn't be as impactful this time around, since 4080 and below are still able to be exported to China. Unless the US gov't decides to lower the bar on compute once again.
    I don't see why the China ban changes much. If Nvidia was able to make enough RTX 4090's to satisfy China's demand before, then they should still be making enough to address it now. If anything, there should be more RTX 4090's for the rest of us, because there's no way China will be able to consume as many at the inflated price they're now having to pay.

    IMO, the only thing that's really pushing up demand for RTX 4090's is the ban on H100's and derivative datacenter GPUs. Some of the demand for those GPUs is probably translating into demand for RTX 4090's, instead. But, that would be affecting China's demand for RTX 4090's, regardless of whether the 4090 was itself banned.
    Reply
  • btmedic04
    bit_user said:
    I was thinking back to 2017 or so. I remember prices first got inflated on GTX 1070 and below. We bought a GTX 1080 at my job, and it sold for the normal list price. However, we also bought an AMD RX 580 and that card came at something like a 50% markup, as did GTX 1050 Ti's that we also bought.

    The 2021 situation was different, in part because you also had the pandemic fueling demand.


    I don't see why the China ban changes much. If Nvidia was able to make enough RTX 4090's to satisfy China's demand before, then they should still be making enough to address it now. If anything, there should be more RTX 4090's for the rest of us, because there's no way China will be able to consume as many at the inflated price they're now having to pay.

    IMO, the only thing that's really pushing up demand for RTX 4090's is the ban on H100's and derivative datacenter GPUs. Some of the demand for those GPUs is probably translating into demand for RTX 4090's, instead. But, that would be affecting China's demand for RTX 4090's, regardless of whether the 4090 was itself banned.

    The issue is 4090 cards can't be manufactured in China by AIBs. They have to move 4090 card manufacturing first and that's going to take time. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if 4090s were quietly discontinued due to the aforementioned
    Reply
  • bit_user
    btmedic04 said:
    The issue is 4090 cards can't be manufactured in China by AIBs. They have to move 4090 card manufacturing first and that's going to take time.
    Okay, that makes sense.

    btmedic04 said:
    Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if 4090s were quietly discontinued due to the aforementioned
    I can't agree with that part. There seems to be enough demand and Nvidia seems to have pretty good margins on them, even if they're not as high as their datacenter products.
    Reply
  • btmedic04
    bit_user said:
    Okay, that makes sense.


    I can't agree with that part. There seems to be enough demand and Nvidia seems to have pretty good margins on them, even if they're not as high as their datacenter products.
    That's a fair and reasonable point. My counterpoint to that is why sell AD102 as a $1600 4090 when they can shift those dies to the $5000 and up ai/hpc parts considering there's a 52 week lead up on orders as it is?
    Reply
  • bit_user
    btmedic04 said:
    My counterpoint to that is why sell AD102 as a $1600 4090 when they can shift those dies to the $5000 and up ai/hpc parts considering there's a 52 week lead up on orders as it is?
    We've been reading about bottlenecks in the advanced packaging process that's needed for products with HBM, for one thing.
    https://www.tomshardware.com/news/nvidia-gpu-supply-packaging-chip-wafers
    I also wonder if their HBM supplier(s) can keep up with their demand.
    https://www.tomshardware.com/news/ai-boom-sees-memory-makers-ramp-up-hbm-memory-production-report
    If they can't get enough HBM or package them fast enough, what's the point of diverting even more wafers from consumer GPU to datacenter versions?
    Reply
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    Yeah, the whole China thing is creating a lot of unintended side effects. No manufacture of AD102 (or A100/H100) in China has to increase the costs. Then, no sales of A100/H100 to China, nor lower tier AD102 parts, means they're looking for alternatives. I don't know how widespread the demand is for AD102 chips, because they're still not at the same level in terms of VRAM capacity and interconnection speed as the A100/H100, but clearly some groups are pursuing this.

    I can't help but think the China export restrictions might be part of why RTX 4090 Ti / Super / Titan RTX Ada haven't happened, and may not happen. We're still waiting to see how that all plays out, though.
    Reply
  • aberkae
    If you are still shopping for a 4090 this late in the game even though the suprim liquid 4090 that easily oc to 3ghz was selling for $1539 at Lenovo's website 2 months ago, definitely check pcpartpicker for the low bearing fruit. For eg. Gamestop had an PNY 4090 last week for $1639. Asus had a 4090 Touph for $1899 yesterday. Do not buy scalped 4090s from this market manipulation bs!
    Reply