This month I have been testing laptops: At least we never had to queue up for gaming laptops. And I've been looking at some more affordable options lately, the Gigabyte G5 and MSI Cyborg 15.
Next month I hope to be testing a cheaper graphics card: It'd be nice to have some more affordable options for mid- and entry-level gaming PCs. Come on Nvidia, AMD, give us a cheaper chip.
We'd probably all rather forget 2020–2022. For obvious reasons I don't need to talk about those years being a bit of a mess, even just in terms of PC gaming. Graphics cards were hit hard by shortages and soaring demand that honestly we've talked about to death on PC Gamer. But there is a clear delineation between those horrid moments and the launch of Nvidia's latest, the RTX 4070, and one that makes me a little thankful we're no longer in The Bad Times.
There are many important dates you should revisit if you ever get hold of a time machine: humanity's earliest days, the destruction of the dinosaurs, the Acropolis of Athens at its height; the list goes on. But no, let's go back to June 3, 2021: the launch of Nvidia's RTX 3080 Ti.
It was a day like any other for most, but for PC gamers it was when you'd have to queue up around the block for a chance of receiving a golden ticket. Not an actual golden ticket, just a slip of paper handed out by a weary-eyed Best Buy employee at some damned early hour of the day that would allow you to buy a graphics card once the store opened.
If you weren't in the queue before the break of dawn, or in some cases the day prior to launch, you were out of luck. Many major stores, including the only place you could pick up a Founder's Edition for many of Nvidia's GPUs, Best Buy, had ditched the idea of selling these things online for fear of bots. And the ones that were available online were snatched up by said bots for profit on eBay at extortionate prices or to shift to cryptocurrency mining warehouses.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, congrats, you were one of the lucky ones to avoid it.
It felt at the time that very few GPUs made it into the hands of gamers, even though in retrospect there were still fairly significant numbers inside gaming machines. Just nowhere near enough to satiate demand, and you often had to pay over the odds to get one.
One would-be customer going by JSCarnage on Twitter estimated that more than 200 people were waiting outside their local Best Buy for an RTX 3080 Ti.
They tell me Best Buy only had 40–50 tickets available on the day, and most in the queue went home with nothing. JSCarnage among them, they did get lucky later and win one of those sick Halo-themed cards, though. A rare silver lining.
James Galizio took this picture while waiting in a car queue for a GPU drop in early 2021. You can see the Micro Center they're aiming at just off in the distance.
But it wasn't all bad, and in tough times there can be a real sense of hard-wrought community. Take this pic, for example. Some queue-goers set up a projector and played Super Smash Bros while waiting for Best Buy to open in a moment captured by nomadben over on Reddit.
Cut to today and you can buy an RTX 4070 right off the shelf from Newegg, for MSRP, maybe a dollar or two over/under, not even two weeks following its launch. And that's a card that we do rate highly for its roughly RTX 3080-grade rasterized performance with the added benefit of DLSS 3, Frame Gen, and its low-power operation.
And you can pick pretty much any other graphics card from both Nvidia and AMD's latest generations and find one to buy within a reasonable distance of MSRP. And while we're lacking any cheaper options, for which I'm still not best pleased, there are plenty of last-gen cards selling with massive discounts.
There are a litany of reasons why this is the case today. Supply challenges have mostly cleared up: Nvidia now uses TSMC for its RTX 40-series GPUs, as does AMD for its GPUs, but even Samsung, who produced the green team's RTX 30-series, has settled down in line with a more general downturn in chip making. The demand factor is part of the same parcel, and there's a definite lull for GPUs generally compared to 2021.
Why demand might be lower could be due to all sorts of reasons: cost of living increases, inflation, no viable cryptocurrency to mine, or just a more general malaise to cards that have been generally received as too expensive.
Nvidia told us it expected to have lots of the RTX 4070 cards ready to go at launch and would be able to satiate demand—not something I would have believed a year or two ago. It's looked to be true, however, though likely somewhat down to that lessened demand, at least according to some behind-the-scenes figures.
Best CPU for gaming: The top chips from Intel and AMD
Best gaming motherboard: The right boards
Best graphics card: Your perfect pixel-pusher awaits
Best SSD for gaming: Get into the game ahead of the rest
But I, for one, am here for it. Sure, GPUs are still so expensive, but there are some really great budget GPUs on the shelves for under MSRP today, and I like not having to scramble around for the hot new thing. I especially loathed back when I was telling would-be PC gamers that now is not the time to buy into the hobby, simply because the shortages had left us without any viable budget or mid-range builds. Nowadays, you can get a lot of PC for $1,500.
I still don't think we're in the best place for PC gaming hardware right now, but I am incredibly relieved we're nowhere near the levels of stress and frustration of trying to buy a graphics card in 2021. That's sort of a win? And looks like there's more of those going around.