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Why are GPUs Expensive?

Why are (GPUs) Graphics Cards So Expensive Right Now?

If you’ve tried buying a graphics card in 2023, you were probably shocked by the high prices. Almost all GPUs, budget to high-end, are selling at more than 50% above MSRP. But what’s causing these outrageous prices, and how long will they last?

As an avid gamer and, by extension, a heavy GPU user, I sought out some of the reasons for these price hikes and came up with something to share with you.

In essence, graphics cards are primarily expensive because of an ongoing chip shortage in the market. Without enough chips, manufacturers can’t meet the GPU demand, which is soaring due to other factors such as cryptocurrency mining and scalping. 

Now, let’s look at the GPU crisis in 2023 in detail and see whether there is hope for a better GPU future. 

Keep reading to learn why graphics cards are so expensive and if they’re worth buying at those prices.

What Are GPUs?

A Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) is a hardware component that processes all the graphical data of a computer. The term “GPU” is used interchangeably with “graphics card,” but there’s a subtle difference.

Just like a motherboard holds the CPU, a graphics card refers to an add-in board that holds the GPU. The board also contains components that allow the GPU to connect with the rest of the system (PCIe and power connectors).

Types of GPUs

There are two main types of GPUs: discrete and integrated.

Integrated graphics cards (iGPUs) are embedded in some CPUs (often referred to as APUs) to work out of the box without needing an additional graphics card. 

For instance, intel APUs come with the intel HD and Intel Iris series, while AMD has the AMD Radeon and AMD Vega series. These iGPUs allow most office PCs to display video without a discrete card.

Discrete graphics cards, on the other hand, sell as stand-alone units to be plugged into a computer’s motherboard. They are typically more powerful than iGPUs because they have their own video memory, separate from the computer’s RAM.

While many computing applications can run perfectly with iGPUs, some graphics-intensive tasks like gaming require a discrete card.

GPU (Graphics Card)
Graphics cards

What Are They Used For?

GPUs process graphical data and output it in video form. Basically, the graphics card on your PC sends the visual information to your monitor, which displays it. Therefore, without a graphics card, your monitor will not display anything.

That said, discrete graphics cards are primarily used for gaming. Some GPUs are also used in 3D rendering, machine learning, and statistical analysis. Additionally, modern graphics cards can be used to mine cryptocurrency.

How Expensive Are Graphics Cards?

Graphics cards are anything but cheap in 2023. For instance, the average price of an EVGA graphics card is $513, while an average MSI card costs $292

To put it into perspective, the average price of an EVGA card in 2019 was $286, and the MSI was retailing at  $150 at the same time.

Why Are Graphics Cards So Expensive in 2022?

There are many reasons behind the high GPU prices. Here are some major reasons that stood out everywhere I asked.

1. High Demand Caused by the Pandemic

One of the main reasons behind the GPU shortage is high demand. A basic economic principle explains that when demand outpaces supply, prices rise.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, gaming was reserved for kids and a small group of enthusiasts. However, with most people working from home for the past 2 years, they’ve had a chance to explore and appreciate PC gaming. This led to high demand for gaming graphics cards, resulting in high prices.

2. Increased Crypto Mining Activities

Cryptocurrency is an outstanding achievement for financial technology. However, for crypto to work as a currency, it needs to be mined. 

Crypto mining is an intensive computational task that requires a great deal of computer processing power. Most miners maximize their computational power by using high-end GPUs.

GPU manufacturers have realized this and started to make tailored crypto mining GPUs, abandoning traditional gaming and multi-display graphics cards. 

Since mining GPUs are an investment in a lucrative tech venture, they cost more than common GPUs and have a wider profit margin. Therefore, GPU companies have less incentive to continue making gaming and multi-display cards.

3. Artificial Shortage Created by Scalping

If you’ve tried to buy a graphics card in recent months, you probably noticed that it’s easier to find a used one than a brand new one. Even more surprisingly, used GPUs are now more expensive than brand new units.

Scalpers use advanced bots to buy out full shipments as soon as the GPU company releases them. They later sell them for exorbitant prices on the used market. As a result, there is always an artificial shortage, regardless of how hard the manufacturers try to fill the gap.

4. The Chip Supply Shortage

GPUs need a chip to function. However, there’s a huge chip shortage in 2022. The shortage is mostly caused by supply chain disruption stemming from massive layoffs during the pandemic. Other factors include the China-US trade war,  severe weather in semiconductor factories, and fires at facilities.

Also, we all know how logistics became a nightmare during the pandemic. Fewer chips were manufactured as a result hence leading to a critical GPU shortage.

Without enough chips, GPU manufacturers cannot meet their production targets, creating a GPU shortage. Of course, this leads to high prices.

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Why Are Old Graphics Cards So Expensive?

Surprisingly, it’s not just new GPUs that are experiencing high prices. Older cards like the RTX 20 series from NVIDIA are also more expensive in 2023 than when they launched a couple of years ago.

These high prices are mostly a trickle-down effect of expensive new graphics cards. Since most people can’t get their hands on a new GPU, they’re turning to older cards, creating high demand. 

As we’ve already established, increased demand leads to higher prices.

Why Did Graphics Card Prices Skyrocket?

Although GPUs were still expensive last year, there was a steep price hike earlier this year. This was mostly caused by the chip shortage that began in late 2021.

The semiconductor industry has been experiencing supply chain issues since 2020, but it peaked in 2021 due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, thus creating a chip shortage. Since the chips were so hard to get, the cost of producing GPUs rose, affecting the market prices.

Why Is There a GPU Shortage?

There are many reasons behind the ongoing GPU shortage. However, the main reason is GPU scalping. 

GPU manufacturers have been trying to produce enough cards for the market, but scalpers keep finding a way to hoard them and create an artificial shortage.

The Most Expensive Graphics Cards

High-end graphics cards are retailing for as much as $3000! Here are some of the most expensive GPUs in  2023.

RTX 3090 Ti

The NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 Ti is the latest and greatest card from NVIDIA’s RTX 30 series. There are several versions of the GPU, with NVIDIA citing an MSRP of $1999.99 for the base model. 

However, with the GPU shortage, it’s likely to sell for much more in the used market.

The base 3090 Ti has 10,752 CUDA cores and a base clock of 1670 MHz. It also comes with 24GB of GDDR6 video memory.

GTX 1660 Super

NVIDIA’s GTX 1660 Super is a mid-range gaming graphics card from 2019. While its MSRP was $229, it’s hard to find it for less than $450 in 2023.

The 1660 Super is great for 1080p gaming and has 1408 CUDA cores. It also has a base clock of 1530 MHz and 6GB GDDR6 memory.

Radeon RX 6700 XT

The RX 6700 XT is one of AMD’s latest gaming graphics cards. It was released last year with an MSRP of $479. However, it’s currently retailing at around $650

The card features 12 GB GDDR6 memory and a base clock of 2321MHz. It’s also raytracing capable with 40 raytracing acceleration cores.

 Will Graphics Card Prices Drop Any Time Soon?

Unfortunately, graphics card prices aren’t likely to drop soon. For one, the chip shortage is still ongoing with no end in sight. As a matter of fact, NVIDIA CEO, Jensen Haung, said he expects the shortage to continue throughout the year.

All is not lost, though. NVIDIA and AMD have been working on ways to curb the bots used by scalpers. While this won’t make GPU prices drop dramatically, they’ll be more available, reducing the demand.

Is It Worth Buying a Graphics Card Now?

It depends on how much you need the graphics card and your budget. If you really need a GPU and have the money, you might as well buy now because the prices won’t drop any time soon. 

But, if you have a small budget for a gaming graphics card, you should reconsider your options. For example, you can buy a console or a high-end APU with a good iGPU.

How and Where to Buy GPUs Amidst the Current Shortage

Even with the deep GPU crisis, finding a graphics card is still possible, albeit at a higher price. If you need a new card, you can start by looking in brick-and-mortar stores like Micro Center and Best Buy.

If that fails, you can always try to bid for the card on used markets like eBay and Craigslist.

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