The ongoing shortage of gaming graphics cards has kept prices for AMD’s and Nvidia’s midrange and high-end GPUs in the stratosphere, and retailers are taking steps to try to give gamers a better chance of buying the in-demand cards before cryptocurrency miners can snatch them up.
In case you’re not aware of the situation, here’s what’s going on: Cryptocurrency mining requires immense computational power, and miners figured out years ago that the chips in many high-end graphics cards are well-suited to the task.
The values of cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum and bitcoin have skyrocketed in recent months — a single bitcoin is currently worth well over $11,000, although that figure is in flux and has been trending downward since a peak above $19,000 last month.
This has led people to put together “mining rigs” — after buying multiple consumer graphics cards for the necessary computing power — and then try to turn a profit on their investment by mining for cryptocurrency like Ethereum.
For instance, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070’s suggested retail price is $380, but it was selling for upward of $450 last year and is now going for more than $700.
Lower-end cards like the GTX 1050 and 1060 weren’t affected initially, but miners have moved on to them as the better cards have sold out, pushing up prices for the cheaper GPUs as well. And, as the value of bitcoin spiked in December, prices rose even further.
Last week, it was reported that Nvidia is suggesting that its retail partners take measures to help ensure that they can sell graphics cards to gamers ahead of miners.
Cryptocurrency Mining Has High End Graphics Cards Reaching Insane Price Levels
Nvidia and AMD declined comment to Polygon, with both companies citing quiet periods — a business term referring to a waiting period prior to the release of a quarterly fiscal report.
But some retailers have told Polygon that they are indeed taking action on this front.
Micro Center is taking the most exceptional measure, having implemented a policy in the past week that is specifically designed to prioritize people who are building (or have recently built) a gaming computer. The boutique retailer published a note to customers this week in which it said that it limits quantities, a practice that it implemented last fall when the shortage wasn’t as severe.
“Our foremost goal is to serve our core customers and ensure that Micro Center has enough graphics cards for our customers in the [build your own] and gaming market segments,” a Micro Center spokesperson told Polygon.
“We have put internal policies in effect to help safeguard our graphics card inventory so that we do not sell all of our inventory to crypto currency miners.”
Micro Center has now gone even further. The company has raised GPU prices on its website in line with retailers like Amazon and Newegg: For example, the cheapest price for MSI’s GeForce GTX 1070 Gaming X (MSRP $459.99) is $945.99 on Amazon and $988.99 on Newegg; it’s not much lower at Micro Center, which has it listed at $919.99.
However, Micro Center noted in its letter that it is offering further discounts for “in-store bundled components” to reach “a final price well below the market,” and advised customers to “see a store manager to receive our best price.”
In other words, if you walk into a Micro Center to buy a graphics card as well as other PC components — as in, the kind of purchases you’d be making if you were building a gaming rig — a manager can provide a discount.
Some customers said in a Reddit post today that they were even able to get the deals without a “bundle”; they simply told an employee that they wanted to buy a GPU for gaming purposes.
“It’s not available in any store”
To be clear, the discount will make the price more reasonable, but it probably won’t drop it all the way down to the MSRP. (Let’s take a second to note how strange this is: Everyone usually criticizes retailers for the practice of selling hot-ticket items in expensive bundles, but here, Micro Center is doing it as a good-faith effort to help gaming consumers!)
Reached for comment, a representative for New York-based electronics retailer B&H told Polygon, “In general, when we know an item is especially sought-after and is in short supply we will limit the quantity we will sell per transaction and monitor transactions to check if the same customers are placing multiple orders.” The spokesperson acknowledged that the system “is not perfect,” but said “it has proved to be effective in the past.” B&H lists the aforementioned MSI graphics card for $559.89, $100 above its MSRP — a veritable steal!
— but it is out of stock.
As the shortage continues, it seems like the only truly effective solution will be for cryptocurrency mining to become less profitable — which might only happen if the bottom falls out of the cryptocurrency market.
For now, gamers are left wondering just when the bitcoin bubble will burst.