Last week, AMD’s long-awaited Ryzen 5000 CPUs finally hit store shelves (and online catalogs), only to almost instantly fly off of them. It’s a story we’ve seen before, and coming so soon after the RTX 3000 launch debacle, AMD should have known that this would happen. But according to Chief Architect of Gaming Solutions Frank Azor, it did. Why, then, are we still facing a shortage of units? Does this qualify as a paper launch, and can we expect to see more stock soon?
I look forward to taking your $10 :)September 24, 2020
Azor first started bragging about AMD’s ability to provide plenty of supply for its upcoming releases in September, when a VR developer who was frustrated about the inability to buy an RTX 3090 jokingly bet $10 that each of AMD's upcoming product releases would also face a “paper launch.” Azor joked back with his own “I look forward to taking your $10,” confidently challenging the developer’s prediction.
A few weeks later, we’re not sure who won the bet. There’s no definitive answer to what exactly constitutes a “paper launch,” but the term generally refers to product releases that ship with such low supply that they don’t exist for customers to actually be able to buy the product so much as for companies to be able to officially say that a product has launched. Right now, you can’t buy a Ryzen 5000 chip unless you shop aftermarket, but Azor argues that doesn’t mean the launch was only on paper.
There's a big difference between a "paper launch" and shipping tons of units but demand exceeds supply.November 8, 2020
Azor's reasoning for his claim that Ryzen 5000 didn’t have a paper launch is because the company still shipped “tons of units,” with demand simply exceeding even that supposedly large number.
I’m not an economics expert, so I can’t speak to the lost profit opportunity from not accurately predicting that demand would be so high, or whether AMD could have taken Nvidia’s recent gaffe as a learning opportunity. It’s possible that AMD simply couldn’t produce more units than it shipped, or that demand might have met supply regardless of how many Ryzen 5000 chips were available- which is possible, given the prevalence of bots buying recent hot tech releases up to sell back to hungry consumers at a higher price. What we can dig into, though, is whether AMD actually shipped “tons of units.”
Scan UK (opens in new tab) is a British computer and component seller that, much like Danish electronics retailer ProShop has been doing with Ampere graphics cards, posted today revealing how much unfulfilled Ryzen 5000 stock it’s still waiting to get in its hands. Unfortunately, Scan UK’s data isn’t as detailed as ProShop, but it still gives us an idea of what the situation looks like for retailers.
As of now, Scan UK has 2,698 customer pre-orders for Ryzen 5000 CPUs. That includes 280 orders for the Ryzen 5 5600X, 329 orders for the Ryzen 7 5800X, a whopping 1,538 orders for the Ryzen 9 5900X and 551 orders for the Ryzen 9 5950X. All of these orders are still waiting to be confirmed.
Unlike ProShop, Scan UK also has an extensive FAQ section on its pre-order data page, with the first section trying to explain “what happened during the 5000 series launch.”
“We went live at 2pm for the launch of the 5000 series as planned,” Scan UK writes. “Demand was extremely high and the launch stock we had sold through extremely quickly making it the fastest selling CPU launch we have ever seen. This was echoed across all of the launch retailers.”
This claim seems to hold true, given the chips’ sold-out status across all official retailers, plus celebratory posts from other stores like Mindfactory, which called the Ryzen 5000 series release “The best CPU launch EVER, EVER, EVER.”
"The best CPU launch EVER EVER EVER"Mindfactory reports thousands of CPUs sold and inventory exhausted within 2 hours.#AMDRyzen5000 pic.twitter.com/M7sdnwXGj6November 6, 2020
The rest of Scan UK’s FAQ is mostly dedicated to answering basket error questions and other issues specific to its store, but the company also has an important note snuck into the section that applies to everyone looking for a Ryzen 5000 processor.
“We are assured by AMD that stock coming through for the new CPUs will be significant so the wait time for current pre-orders should not be long.”
This marks a significant departure from how Nvidia is handling the RTX 3000 situation, as that company is telling customers to expect shortages into next year.
Still, 2,698 missing chips for one store does paint a picture not unlike that of Ampere’s availability. Currently, ProShop is reporting (opens in new tab) that it is waiting to receive 4,718 of its RTX 3070 units- the Ampere GPU that launched most recently. That’s about 2000 more missing units than with Scan UK’s Ryzen 5000 inventory, but ProShop’s numbers also extend beyond outstanding customer orders, which currently sit at 780.
At the end of the day, though we’re still looking at limited sample sizes from different sources and for drastically different products. We’ll have to wait to see whether AMD holds true to its promise that many more Ryzen 5000 chips will come soon, but the company says it's already learning lessons from this launch.
Yes, we made a strong effort & succeeded in many cases. It's a battle that is never completely won but I applaud our teams efforts & those of our partners during this round. We continue to learn & adapt with every launch. We want our products in the hands of their intended users.November 7, 2020
“We continue to learn and adapt with every launch,” Azor said in a series of tweets. “We are analyzing what has gone well and what hasn’t from different recent launches and adapting our plans as we learn.”
He also asserted that “We want our products in the hands of their intended users,” denying speculation that manufacturers don’t care who buys their products so long as they get paid.
That brings us back to the question of whether the Ryzen 5000 release was a paper launch. Because we’re only ever going to get thin data on this question, it’s tough to call. But what we do know is that, as with previous recent heavily anticipated product launches, scalper bots ate up most of this release as well, which makes us wonder whether more stock would have solved the issue of sold-out shelves, or simply given scalpers more inventory to snatch up.
It could be that the RTX 3000 and Ryzen 5000 launches were just grim previews of how most future major tech launches will play out, regardless of manufacturer prep, unless companies find strong countermeasures to combat bot orders. And since most major purchases happen online now, retailers have less incentive to aid in developing these systems than before than pandemic, when launches could bring people into stores.
The PS5 and Xbox Series X both launch this week, and AMD’s first Big Navi cards will follow them the week after. It’s likely that bots will hit these products too, and that their manufacturers will also face “paper launch” accusations. But if every new release is a paper launch, then will that term still hold any significance?
We’ll report on whether AMD’s promises of “a lot” more stock coming soon hold up. But unless retailers find a way to stop bots from purchasing products in seconds, it's possible that nothing but time could stop each new successive Ryzen 5000 restock from being a repeat of the launch. Failing that, consumers might have to prep for a dystopia where they're forced to arm themselves with bots of their own.