Scalpers across Asia stripping RTX 4090 cards from pre-built PCs to smuggle into China

Acer desktop with RTX 4090 inside
(Image credit: Acer)

According to a report shared by MyDrivers, people in countries neighboring China have been buying full pre-built PC systems equipped with GeForce RTX 4090 GPUs only to strip out the graphics cards and sell them into the Chinese market despite US sanctions forbidding the practice. For example, it says that someone bought 20 powerful PC systems packing RTX 4090 graphics costing more than US$4,500 per system (total spent was over US$91,000) in the pursuit of quick and easy profits. The root causes of the above shenanigans include the U.S. tech sanctions on China and the “castrated” GeForce RTX 4090D that Nvidia provides as an alternative.

Apparently, the small-time entrepreneurs of Asia have been snatching up stocks of desktop GeForce RTX 4090 cards as quickly as they hit shelves to sell to the sanctions-hit Chinese. Retailers thought they might stop this market disruption by implementing full system bundling tactics where people wanted to upgrade to one of the best graphics cards available in 2024. However, the necessity to buy high-end and expensive systems just to get a hold of an RTX 4090 doesn’t seem to have doused desires for the flagship GPU. There must still be healthy profits to be made.

MyDrivers says that PC and components markets in Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, and other countries have all been affected by the surge in interest in the RTX 4090. According to the source report, some markets where buyers are happy to sanction swerve and ship out RTX 4090 cards to Chinese customers are seeing prices on their home markets rising by as much as 60%.

We checked listings on Taiwan’s PCHome24, and plenty of GeForce RTX 4090 cards were listed without any requirement to purchase in a bundle or a full system. Purchasing from this online outlet requires a local SIM card, in a place where SIM cards are quite strictly controlled and tied to government IDs, so it might be quite resistant to ne’er-do-well scalpers. The best-priced cards at PCHome24 were TWD$62,990 (about US$2,000), including 5% VAT.

Less regulated outlets than PCHome24 may be more vulnerable to individuals or organizations willing to risk capital on buying for China. The MyDrivers report specifically mentions a retailer in Taipei where the headlining 20 complete PCs equipped with RTX 4090 cards were sold. In our experience of buying PCs and components in Taiwan, it is possible to buy ‘cash’ and save on the already rather low VAT rate (5%) when visiting brick-and-mortar or computer mall stores.

Behind the headlining desktop PC stripping, to get RTX 4090 cards for China is obviously the recently implemented U.S. sanctions, which now cover consumer GPUs exceeding certain performance limits. The U.S. should probably lean on allies a bit more to ensure customs officers are up to speed on the latest rules regarding GPU exports to China.

Mark Tyson
Freelance News Writer

Mark Tyson is a Freelance News Writer at Tom's Hardware US. He enjoys covering the full breadth of PC tech; from business and semiconductor design to products approaching the edge of reason.

  • nookoool
    The "D" Chinese version is only 12% worst in cuda score. Is it really worth all this trouble and additional cost for that performance?
    Reply
  • Junry
    Your not understanding the article correctly.
    They are stripping the full version cards that are meant for countries without restrictions. These cards that are being smuggled are not the watered down version. Why would they smuggle something legally allowed to be sold to them.
    Otherwise they would not use the word SMUGGLE!
    Reply
  • gg83
    Imagine making a profit after spending $4500? The 4090 must bring a $6000 tag?
    Reply
  • slightnitpick
    gg83 said:
    Imagine making a profit after spending $4500? The 4090 must bring a $6000 tag?
    They aren't trashing the other components.
    Junry said:
    Your not understanding the article correctly.
    They are stripping the full version cards that are meant for countries without restrictions. These cards that are being smuggled are not the watered down version. Why would they smuggle something legally allowed to be sold to them.
    Otherwise they would not use the word SMUGGLE!
    Are you replying to nookoool? If so I think you're reading nookoool's comment wrong. It seems to me to be asking why a mere 12% increase over the legal performance is worth all of this effort and cost.
    Reply
  • PEnns
    gg83 said:
    Imagine making a profit after spending $4500? The 4090 must bring a $6000 tag?

    They could put other GPUs in them and resell them!
    Reply