It's been nearly a year since Nvidia launched its Ampere GPUs with the GeForce RTX 3080, and things have not gone to plan. Normally, we expect new GPUs to sell out quickly for the first couple of months, then supply catches up to demand and you start to see cards regularly in stock and waiting on store shelves. The RTX 30-series and RX 6000-series — and any thing else worthy of mention in our best graphics cards list — continue to sell out in rapid fashion. Today, August 26, Best Buy had 17,000 Nvidia GPUs for sale at various locations around the U.S.
I ran over to my local store, a location in Fort Collins, Colo., just to check out the scene and see how many people were waiting for a new GPU. The answer: far more than there were cards available.
The pictures here are the remnants of the crowd, gaming hopefuls that didn't catch the worm. I was told people started lining up as early as 11 a.m. yesterday, with many camping out overnight. At 7:30 a.m., Best Buy employees went down the line, asking people what card they wanted and giving them a photo of the card in question — assuming that card was still available. All told, the Fort Collins store received 120 RTX 30-series GPUs, all Founders Edition models ranging from the RTX 3090 down to the RTX 3060 Ti. There were perhaps 200 people in line, and many left disappointed.
The lucky ones were admitted into the store starting at 8 a.m. to acquire their hard won reward: RTX 30-series cards sold at Nvidia's MSRPs. I figure quite a few people will end up flipping those cards on eBay for a tidy profit, as our GPU price index indicates the average price for a 3090 still sits at over $2,250. But of course, most people were far more interested in a less extreme, more affordable card.
By 10 a.m., there were still five unclaimed cards left on the shelves, from people that either had a change of heart or simply failed to show up. Yeah, I know: Who waits in line for hours, perhaps overnight, but then decides not to buy the part they got a ticket to purchase? (Answer: People that only wanted an RTX 3080, most likely.) There were still maybe 30 people in line, but another 100 or more people had arrived too late and didn't bother waiting around. The employees let us know that there were two RTX 3060 Ti cards, one RTX 3080 Ti, and two RTX 3090 cards. The last three cards make sense, but the 3060 Ti was a bit surprising.
In our testing, which you can see in our GPU benchmarks hierarchy, it's nearly as fast as an RTX 3070, and it beats the previous generation RTX 2080 Super by a few percent. More importantly, it was available for just $400. Incidentally, right now RTX 3060 Ti sells on eBay for an average price of about $930, more than double the MSRP. Worst-case, someone could buy the card and then immediately turn around in sell it for a nice profit. Not that we'd encourage people to do that, but it was surprising any GPUs were still waiting for the late arrivals.
Interestingly, one of the people at the front of the line had actually managed to get an RTX 3080 Ti earlier in the morning, but he had a severe case of buyer's remorse. (Note: No one wanted to provide me with names, choosing to remain anonymous.) That's not too surprising, considering the $1,200 asking price. He was waiting to swap the card out for the RTX 3060 Ti, which meant someone else in line would be able to buy the 3080 Ti. The fifth person waiting for the 10 a.m. deadline said he figured he was going to get an RTX 3090, as likely those two cards would be the last to go. It might be the fastest GPU on the planet, but $1,500 is still a bitter pill. When I asked if he planned on mining with the card, he said no, but he wasn't sure he'd actually keep it long-term. Such is the market we live in right now.
The last person I spoke with, who managed to land one of the remaining RTX 3060 Ti cards, told a story that's become all too familiar during the past year. He'd been planning a new build for over a year, hoping to replace his old PC with something more capable, but shortages had kept him waiting. Luck smiled at him today, though, and the new GPU should go nicely with his Core i5-11600K build that he's been using for the past month, playing StarCraft on Intel's integrated Xe Graphics while he waited for a GPU, "because that's about all the integrated graphics can handle."
I wish we could say there was light at the end of the tunnel, but it's still likely to be another six months or more before the supply of new GPUs can even come close to keeping up with demand. Maybe a few Best Buy locations didn't sell out quite as quickly, but 17,000 cards is a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of PC gamers apparently still waiting to upgrade. The lesson here is that if you really want a new graphics card and hear about another big drop happening somewhere, pitch your tent and plan on spending the night. Otherwise, the only other real option would be to pay exorbitant scalper prices.