In the immortal words of CJ, “Ah, s#$%, here we go again.” If you’ve been keeping up with the tech news in the last year, you no doubt know that “Artificial Intelligence” is the next big thing — heck, you can even use it to search for info from PCWorld’s archives. That kind of growth potential has investors salivating and engineers scrambling for hardware. Unfortunately, it looks like consumer-grade GPUs are a great way to boost your processing power for AI computations…just like they were for crunching numbers for cryptocurrency.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because the crypto boom in the late 2010s and the start of the pandemic in 2020 created an absolute nightmare for anyone who wanted to buy a GPU. Graphics card street prices ballooned to double or even triple their retail value, with scalpers and buyer bots making it all but impossible for regular old PC gamers to get a new card. Fortunately that’s died down and GPU prices have normalized, but plenty of PC gamers are still smarting from the bad times, like Dust Bowl migrants hanging on to their trauma.
The new boom in AI is causing big investments in companies like Nvidia, which recently had its best quarter ever largely on strong sales to AI firms. Twitter and Tesla’s eXuberant CEO Elon Musk has reportedly purchased thousands of GPUs for a new AI project. This shift in the market has reportedly led Nvidia to all but halt production of the RTX 4000 series (which is experiencing less demand from gamers anyway, thanks to poor bang-to-buck ratios on cards like the RTX 4060 Ti) in favor of “Hopper” cards for B2B sales to corporate AI firms.
So between startups bootstrapping consumer-grade graphics cards to make new AI services, and larger companies taking up all the manufacturing throughput of companies to make GPUs in the first place, analysts are anxious that we might see yet another card shortage just a year or two after the last one finally ended. The idea started spreading after an executive for Comma, the maker of AI-powered self-driving software, tweeted a photo of dozens of freshly-purchased RX 7900 XTX graphics cards.
Fears of a new shortage haven’t played out in the market so far. If anything, GPU prices are slightly below retail at the moment, with Intel coming on strong with several excellent bargain options and AMD poised to introduce new mid-range cards later this year. But if you’re planning a new gaming PC build or upgrade with the best GPUs, you might want to get a purchase in sooner rather than later.