We’re coming up on a year since Ampere launched, but anyone hoping for a new graphics card at MSRP in the near future may be out of luck. “I would expect that we will see a supply constrained environment for the vast majority of next year is my guess at the moment,” Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang told investors on a Thursday conference call. “A lot of that has to do with the demand being so great.”
According to PCMag, Huang stated Nvidia has only upgraded roughly 20 percent of its customer base to Ampere, despite the fact that the GPU has been on the market for 11 months. Supply shortages and demand surges related to the pandemic have constrained GPU production, while cryptocurrency mining has siphoned off a huge number of GPUs that otherwise would have been sold to gamers.
We decided to take a look at Ampere’s adoption rate to see how it compares with Turing and Pascal. Turing was not well-adopted. Nvidia’s decision to raise prices hit the GPU’s attractiveness hard, especially since Pascal GPUs were selling for excellent prices during the first few months of Turing’s life. Turing and Ampere both launched in September, so we can check some comparisons between the two based on adoption trends at the time. While the Steam Hardware Survey is not particularly accurate and should not be treated as the absolute word on which GPUs are popular with enthusiasts, the numbers should still give us a broad indication of how many GPUs of each family were purchased by gamers.
In July 2019, Turing had 3.39 percent market share according to the SHS. The RTX 2070 was the most popular GPU, with 1.2 percent market share. In July 2021, the Ampere-based RTX 3070 leads the pack with 1.58 percent market share. Ampere holds a total of 4.85 percent market share today, suggesting that Turing’s price increases may have helped goose Nvidia profits, but they weren’t well-received by buyers. Nvidia now makes more money per quarter than it made per year five years ago, so I wouldn’t count on Team Green changing its tactics any time soon. But what about Pascal?
Pascal was also hit by shortages and production delays, but the data from March 2017 (10 months after launch) is very different from what we see today. The GTX 1060 alone was at 4.45 percent market share and Pascal collectively accounted for 11.43 percent of the graphics market. The metrics used in the SHS changed between 2017 and 2019, so we can’t be 100 percent certain that we’re seeing apples to apples here, but the gap between Turing, Ampere, and Pascal is stark. It’s also mostly focused at the bottom of the market. 10 months after Pascal debuted, Nvidia had already launched midrange and budget cards like the GTX 1060, GTX 1050 Ti, and GTX 1050. GPUs like the GTX 1070 already held 3.26 percent market share, compared with 1.2 percent (RTX 2070) and 1.58 percent (RTX 3070) at the same point in their respective life cycles.
Nvidia and AMD have made a calculated decision not to push ray tracing into midrange hardware, likely in the hope that gamers will agree to pay a premium for it. This has led to some absurdities, like the AMD Radeon RX 6700 XT being priced at $479 MSRP when you can buy an entire Sony PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X with a mostly identical GPU configuration for $499. While it’s true that console manufacturers typically sell at or near manufacturing price before factors like R&D, marketing, and distribution are counted, this does not account for the massive price difference. If the SoC inside the PS5 or Xbox Series X was a $350 part, there’d be precious little left over for everything else. The comparison here is not exact, but the trend is clear: PC gamers are being asked to pay a steep premium for ray tracing, and midrange gamers are getting shafted. AMD’s $379 6600 XT launch specifically discussed its suitability for 1080p rasterized gaming, not ray tracing. GPUs like the GTX 1660 Ti are faster than the GTX 1060, to be sure, but not necessarily fast enough to represent an appealing upgrade — especially since they’re based on a last-generation architecture to start with. The fact that we still see so many gamers using GTX 1060s even with the GTX 1660 family in-market for two years indicates a lot of GTX 1060 owners didn’t see the GTX 1660 as a viable upgrade path.
Jen-Hsun is almost certainly correct when he predicts ongoing high demand for Ampere. Turing’s unpopularity means that a substantial number of gamers are still running old hardware. The GTX 1060 offers very close performance to the GTX 980, which means a substantial number of gamers are stuck with hardware that was cutting-edge seven years ago. At the same time, if GPU production is still constrained, AMD and Nvidia may have no interest in launching affordable cards. An excellent deal on a GPU right now would further inflame demand at a time when companies are struggling to meet it. Hopefully, we’ll still see prices coming down over the next year, even if demand remains elevated.
The big winner in all of this is the GTX 1060, which has reigned as the most popular GPU for roughly five years now. That’s a testament to how well Nvidia positioned that card and what an excellent value it offered. It’s also an indictment of the company’s failure to move the needle ever since. Neither AMD nor Nvidia have covered themselves in glory where the midrange is concerned, and neither company seems particularly interested in changing the new status quo.
We don’t doubt that demand for Ampere and RDNA2 is above normal; gamers have waited most of the last year to upgrade. It would just be nice if the next-generation GPUs intended to meet that demand didn’t all position ray tracing as a feature you need to pay $330 or more to get. Given the realities of the pandemic, midrange gamers who want ray tracing without being forced to pay a premium for it may have to wait until 2022 or 2023 before AMD and Nvidia get around to launching a full-featured replacement for the GTX 1060.
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