If there's one thing I remember from high school biology, it's that the GPU is the powerhouse of the PC. Ask PC gamers what build they're running, the first words out of their mouth will usually be the name of the graphics card their beast is packing. Even the CPU, the brains of the whole operation, will often be left playing second fiddle. It's the part we dedicate most of our PC spending, bragging, and drooling on.
The GPU can also say a lot about what you're trying to achieve from a build. Someone running a tight setup with an RTX 4000-series Nvidia card, for example, is looking to get the best of the best without care for the cost. Older cards paint a picture too. Someone with a GTX 1080 is likely to be attractive, smart, and responsible with money regardless of how much they desperately want something better.
Steam's video card stats (opens in new tab) in the latest Steam Hardware Survey results paint a broad picture of the PC gaming community, giving us a look into what's popular en masse as of February. Currently, they're telling a story that sees many turning to the previous generation's mid-ranged RTX 3060, with the popularity of these cards actually increasing as the current generation rolls out.
The RTX 3060 (opens in new tab) was rolling along quite nicely in October last year as one of the fastest growing cards on Steam, but with the release of new cards, holiday sales and gift-giving we saw those numbers start to drop off over November. Not hugely, but enough to harken in a new generation of cards as expected.
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The following months were fairly steady for RTX 3060 uptake, but in February we saw the highest numbers since the previous December. The percentage of RTX 3060 users on Steam appears set to grow further as it currently sits in fifth place for popularity on the platform (opens in new tab). That's behind much older cards, its equivalent RTX 3060 laptop GPU, and the RTX 2060.
But these numbers don't really surprise me much. It felt like Nvidia's 30-series barely saw the light of day out from under the crush of GPU mining demand, and the chip shortage, before the RTX 4000 cards came careening around the corner. While powerful, the new series is huge, has massive power draws, and is wildly expensive.
When an RTX 3060 (opens in new tab) goes for under $400 and the cheaper RTX 4070 Ti (opens in new tab) is still sitting at over $800, it makes a lot of sense. Perhaps the RTX 4070 will come in at a better price (opens in new tab), but until then I doubt we'll see many beyond the higher tier of enthusiasts rushing out to adopt the latest gen.
Though it is still interesting that, despite being cheaper, more powerful, and widely available, the competing AMD RX 6000-series cards are barely seeing any change in the charts. The best the red team can hope for is a 0.01% uptick in RX 6800/XT and RX 6600/XT cards, while the one that we would 100% recommend gamers go for over and above the RTX 3060, the RX 6700 XT, is basically flat and miles behind the slower more expensive GeForce GPU.
Mindshare and brand loyalty is a hell of a thing.
It's also a good reminder of what the average PC gamer is actually running at home. It's easy to get swept up in the hype of top-tier builds and want the most powerful piece of kit, but you don't really need it for most games. The glorious GTX 1060 still sits in second place, surpassed only by the GTX 1650 (opens in new tab). Maybe I should be a little more respectful towards my own GTX 1080. It's still higher on the popularity list than any RTX 4000-series card after all.