GPU Prices Could Be About to Drop, but Is This the Time to Buy?

GPU Prices Could Be About to Drop, but Is This the Time to Buy?

After spending the first part of the year stuck in the stratosphere, there’s reason to think GPU prices could actually dip lower than normal in the back half of summer. The culprits? Dwindling demand for GPUs used in cryptocurrency, a potential overstock issue between Nvidia and one of its partners, and the potential launch of upcoming graphics cards from Nvidia.

We have to acknowledge up front that the word “could” is in the title for a reason. Much of what we’re discussing here — including rumors that Nvidia had to take $300K of GPUs back due to an overstock issue — is supposition. There are, for example, rumors of an Nvidia launch at Gamescom in August, even though Nvidia’s CEO has also told the public that the next-generation GPU launch wouldn’t happen for quite some time. We’ve also heard rumors that the launch in August (if a launch is happening) might only focus on higher-end cards. Much would also depend on availability — manufacturers don’t necessarily start clearing supplies of older cards until they know they’ve got enough new stock to replace them, even if the newer cards are the intended replacements for the older GPUs.

GPU Prices Could Be About to Drop, but Is This the Time to Buy?
A Pascal Streaming Multiprocessor (SM).
A Pascal Streaming Multiprocessor (SM).

The better question is: Should you buy an old GPU when new cards could very well be on the way? And the answer to that is more complicated than it might seem. Last time AMD and Nvidia did a refresh, they might have technically launched GPUs in May and late June, respectively, but those cards were still impossible to find at market several months later. When considering whether to buy a card on the market today or a GPU that might launch in late August or early September, the first thing we recommend asking is whether you feel differently about that comparison when it comes to buying in July versus, say, November or December.

The second issue to consider is how quickly you tend to need a new GPU in the first place. There’s a relationship between how quickly performance improvements stack up in hardware and how quickly game engines move to take advantage of those improvements. The fact is, Pascal’s debut in 2016 is the last time we really saw the dial move. Now, unleashing a new next-generation Nvidia GPU is going to lift all boats — eventually — but it also takes time for any new card family to replace the old. The best way to gauge whether or not you’d be happy with a GPU you could buy today is to examine your own past buying habits: Are you the kind of customer that wants to stay on the bleeding edge, or are you content with older cards?

If you know a GPU typically lasts you 3-5 years and you’ve always been happy with a midrange card without paying any particular attention to the specifics of release cycles, then you’re probably golden in this case as well. Keep an eye on prices and if you see a good deal that you know likely fits your own personal use cycle, go for it.

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