It is the best of times; it is the worst of times . . . when it comes to building a high-end gaming PC. Both Nvidia and AMD have either already launched or are about to launch new premium graphics cards that offer higher levels of performance for really reasonable prices. On top of that, AMD is about to introduce its new Ryzen 5000 CPUs, which could overtake Intel when it comes to gaming speed, particularly when sharing memory with the company’s new Radeon GPUs.
However, right now and perhaps for the rest of 2020, it’s a terrible time to buy a graphics card. You’ll have serious problems finding one of Nvidia’s RTX 3080, 3090 or 3070 cards in stock, unless you’re willing to pay exorbitant scalper prices on eBay. Just last night, Newegg had a few RTX 3070 cards in stock and they sold out within minutes.
We don’t expect the new AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT, RX 6800 or RX 6900 XT to start selling until November 18th and, even then, it’s possible that they’ll sell out quickly and remain mostly out of stock for the near-term future. If you want to build your system around AMD, it also makes sense to wait for the Ryzen 5000 chips, which will be available November 5th, but could also sell out fast.
So where does all this change leave someone who wants to build a gaming PC within the next few weeks? The answer really depends on your budget.
Low-End Cards and CPUs: You Can Buy Now
If your overall budget is $1,200 or less or, more specifically, you don’t plan to spend more than $300 on a video card, you can buy and build right now. Neither Nvidia nor AMD has new GPUs announced or likely to come soon on the low-end of their stacks. So, if what you really want is a GTX 1660 Super card or an RX 5600 XT or something even cheaper like a GTX 1650 Super, you can buy now, because those cards aren’t going to be replaced or getting significantly cheaper in the very near future.
On the CPU side of things, we won’t see new CPUs from Intel until Rocket Lake chips launch sometime in Q1 2021. AMD’s Ryzen 5000 chips, based on the company’s new Zen 3 platform, will arrive in November, with the cheapest SKU (or at least initial SKU) being the Ryzen 5 5600X, which will carry an MSRP of $299. That chip replaces the Ryzen 5 3600X, which is selling for $235 these days. it may get a bit cheaper as a result of the new launch, but AMD doesn't have an immediate need to launch an inexpensive Ryzen 5 5600 alternative. If your CPU budget is around $200, the Ryzen 5 3600 and Ryzen 5 3600XT are good options, or maybe the Core i5-10400. But if you're eying a Ryzen 7 or Ryzen 9 CPU, or Core i7 or i9, wait and see how the new ones perform.
Mid-Range: Good Reasons to Wait
Your choice of whether to build or wait gets more complicated if your budget is around $1,500 total or you are considering a card that’s in the low mid-range category right now, specifically an RTX 2060 / 2060 Super or RX 5700 / 5700 XT card.
You can still find RTX 2060 and 2060 Super cards in the $300 to $400 range sometimes, though many are out of stock or have jacked up prices to more than $500. That’s ludicrous at this point, because the RTX 3070, if you could get it, goes for $499 and is 50 to 60 percent faster. The 2060 series hasn’t officially been replaced yet, but leaks indicate that an RTX 3060 Ti could be launched in November for $450.
The next level up in Nvidia’s stack, the RTX 2070 / 2070 Super is nearly impossible to find, costs more than $550 if you can get one and has been replaced by the RTX 3070 which is 30 to 40 percent faster. The only problem is that the $499 RTX 3070 is selling faster now than hand sanitizer was in March, with an initial batch on Newegg selling out in just minutes.
You can easily get your hands on an AMD RX 5700 XT, which sits in between the RTX 2070 and 2070 super on our GPU benchmarks hierarchy, for $400 to $450. However, a few months ago, you could get these cards for a little less, say in the $379 range. It’s quite possible that the price will drop again soon, and it’s even possible AMD will announce a replacement, but we don’t have any evidence of that.
So, the bottom line for mid-range gaming PC builds: You can get an RTX 2060 / 2060 Super or Radeon RX 5700 / 5700 XT if you can find them at reasonable prices ($400 or less). Both are likely to be replaced in the near future, but if you need something in this range right now, they might be acceptable.
High-End Gaming PC Builds: Wait, Get Lucky or Pay a Scalper
If you can spend $450 or more for a graphics card, you should not settle for a last-generation card, either from Nvidia or AMD. That means your minimum card at the moment should be the RTX 3070, which costs $499 on the off-chance you can get one, and your ideal card right now is the RTX 3080, which would be $799 or so, if you could get one. But these Nvidia cards are nearly impossible to find in stock and, as soon as one appears, it’s sold out within minutes. The RTX 3090, which is overkill for pretty much everyone, is $1,499 and also impossible to get.
If you are lucky enough to find an RTX 3070 or 3080 card on sale, by all means, pull the trigger. However, scalpers with bots are ending up with a lot of these cards and, if you want one so badly that you’re willing to pay close to double the MSRP, you can find one on eBay (but we don’t recommend it). Or you could just delay your purchase until you can get one at a reasonable price or something better -- and in stock -- comes along. You could be waiting a while as, Nvidia’s CEO himself said demand for the RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 will likely outpace supply until sometime in 2021. And few indications tell us any different about the RTX 3070.
AMD’s new RX 6800 XT ($749) and RX 6800 ($579) are very promising cards and due out in mid-November. AMD boasts that the cards will be slightly faster than their direct competitors, the RX 3080 and RX 3070. However, we haven’t tested the cards yet and the numbers AMD shared at its announcement do not include performance with ray-tracing enabled.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the AMD GPUs are really fast and more-or-less on par with Nvidia’s new offerings. They may sell out just as quickly as Nvidia’s cards have. Sure, AMD has said that it will have more stock and fewer bot buyers than Nvidia, but even if that’s true, these cards are likely to fly off of shelves, too.
If you’re willing to spend $300 or more on a CPU, you shouldn’t even consider buying an AMD processor before the new Ryzen 5000 models come out November 5th. Based on the company’s new Zen 3 architecture and a 7nm process, the new chips promise a 19 percent increase in IPC (Instructions Per Cycle) over their predecessors, along with higher boost clocks and the potential to, for the first time, outperform Intel’s current-generation processors when it comes to 1080p gaming, the one area where team blue had a real lead.
AMD also claims that, when its Radeon RX 6000 cards are combined with a Ryzen 5000 series processor, the performance will be up to 13 percent faster than the same graphics card used with a competing Intel processor or an older AMD chip. The GPU and CPU will be able to get speedy access to each other’s memory using a process AMD calls Smart Memory Access, though we’ll have to see how well that works when we test it.
Intel’s processors won’t get any updates until sometime in Q1 of 2021 so, if you were planning to build around Intel now, it’s safe to buy a current-gen CPU. However, you still need a graphics card.
One Solution: Buy a Prebuilt Desktop
If you don’t have your heart set on building a PC and you’re willing to consider a prebuilt desktop, you have a better chance of getting a computer with the new components inside. The OEMs who build these systems have access to different stock than retailers do.
As of this writing, Best Buy has a CyberPowerPC with RTX 3080, Ryzen 9 3900X and a 1TB SSD for $1899 that’s available and ready to ship. Alienware has RTX 3080 and 3090-powered Aurora R11 gaming desktops ready to ship within two weeks and starting at $2391. iBuyPower has some RTX 3080 and 3090-powered desktops ready for pre-order.
If you’re spending less than about $1,250 on your PC build or, more specifically, less than $300 each on your graphics card and CPU, you can buy those components now without facing quick buyer’s remorse when AMD’s new GPUs and CPUs launch or Nvidia’s cards are finally easy to come by.
If your gaming PC budget is higher than that, you’ll need a lot of patience, because it could be several months before stock levels stabilize. Or you could buy a prebuilt where stock might be better.
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.