Graphics card prices are ludicrous. Here's how to keep gaming in the coin mining era

Waiting for the pain to stop

Credit: Brad Chacos/IDG

2017 might have been a standout year for PC enthusiasts, but these early weeks of 2018 are nothing short of a nightmare for PC gamers. Graphics card prices are downright ludicrous, as the cryptocurrency craze skyrockets in lock-step with Bitcoin’s rising price.

That’s nothing new. Miners have been inflating graphics card prices since the middle of the year. But the damage was limited to the middle of the market for most of 2017. Currently, virtually every gaming-class graphics card is affected. The theoretically $200 3GB GeForce GTX 1060 currently goes for $380 to $550—when you can find it in stock, that is. The Radeon RX 570, RX 580, and 6GB GTX 1060—graphics cards with suggested retail prices of $200 to $250—are selling for $500 to $800 on Newegg. And if you thought the GTX 1080 Ti’s $700 price tag was steep, prepare to clutch your chest: Nvidia’s gaming flagship can’t be found for less than $1,300 on Newegg today.

It’s bleak. Real bleak. And the prices for used graphics cards are just as depressing.

rx vega prices Camel Camel Camel

The $600 Radeon RX Vega 64 sometimes sells for $1,800.

So what’s a poor PC gamer to do? Maybe your existing graphics card died, or maybe you’re building your first gaming rig. If you need to get your game on during this graphics card hellscape, here’s our advice.

Wait it out

If you’ve got a working gaming PC already, just sit pat. Don’t bother looking for new video cards right now even if your existing rig is starting to feel a bit long in the tooth. Dial down the graphics settings and resolution of your games, or consider overclocking your graphics card for some extra performance while you wait out this nightmare.

Use entry-level graphics

If you absolutely, positively need a new graphics card right now, you could pick up a cheap short-term solution rather than paying through the nose (and other orifices) for most graphics cards. Then you can sell it and replace it when hardware prices return to normal.

dsc01072 Brad Chacos

MSI's 2GB GeForce GTX 1050.

We’d suggest a Radeon RX 560 or GeForce GTX 1050 (not the GTX 1050 Ti) for most people. Don’t get me wrong: At $120 or $140 for the cheapest available RX 560, or $130 to $150 for the most affordable GTX 1050s, you’re still paying more than suggested pricing for these $100 cards. But they deliver enough firepower to match console gaming performance (read: 30 to 60 frames per second at 1080p with Medium graphics settings) and won’t completely break the bank. The Radeon RX 550 and Nvidia GT 1030 are even cheaper for a temporary fix, starting around $100 and $75 respectively, but they’re best suited for e-sports games, or Medium-quality 720p gaming in triple-A titles.

If your CPU happens to be an AMD APU—which merges CPU and GPU on a single chip—you might be able to get by on that rather than investing in a stop-gap graphics card. They’re acceptable for e-sports games like League of Legends, Rocket League, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but you’ll need to turn the resolution down to 720p and graphics settings to Low to play much of anything else. New Ryzen-based APUs are expected in February with more potent Radeon Vega graphics. 

Pairing AMD’s Radeon GPUs with a FreeSync-compatible display to kill tearing and stuttering could ease the sting of a downgrade if you’re coming from more potent hardware. FreeSync displays can be found at affordable prices. For example, the Acer KG251Q FreeSync display costs just $130 on Amazon right now. It’s not fancy, but like these low-cost GPUs, it’ll get the job done.  

Buy an Xbox One or PlayStation 4

Suggesting that PC gamers buy a console? Blasphemy, I know—it hurts my heart to suggest it. But when graphics cards that are supposed to be selling for $170 are going for over $500, picking up an Xbox One S for $190 at Target (normally $280) or a PlayStation 4 with the latest Call of Duty for $300 at Gamestop feels like a downright bargain. If my graphics card died today, I’d pick up a console to hold me over rather than buy a throwaway $130 GPU.

You won’t have access to your backlog of PC games if you switch to a console, and you’ll lose the PC’s many other benefits as well—including buttery-smooth 60-fps gaming. But the current generation of consoles have a solid library of games available, and if you decide on an Xbox One, you’ll also be able to play some Xbox 360 and original Xbox games, as well as be able to bring your “Xbox Play Anywhere” games over to your Windows 10 PCs.

Need more oomph? The powerful new Xbox One X ($499 on Amazon) meets or beats the firepower of most modern gaming PCs for less than you’d spend on a graphics card that’s supposed to be $200. With support for 4K resolution at 60-fps speeds, Microsoft’s machine closes the gap between PCs and consoles to a startling degree. In fact, the Xbox One X almost lured one of our contributors away from PC gaming over the holidays.

The major drawback? Console games cost considerably more, for considerably longer, than their PC counterparts. You won’t be able to play your console games on your PC either, aside from Xbox Play Anywhere titles.

Buy a prebuilt PC or gaming laptop

This advice stands no matter whether you need a whole new gaming rig, or simply want a new graphics cards.

cyberpowerpc rig CyberPowerPC

The CyberPower Gamer Xtreme GXIVR8020A4 prebuilt gaming PC costs $720.

The insane prices of graphics cards and memory have made building PCs unfeasible right now, as Jason Evangelho chronicled thoroughly at Forbes. But companies that build PCs—like Dell, HP, and boutique builder Falcon Northwest—are less subject to the wild pricing variations of the DIY market, and offer prebuilt rigs cheaper than anything you could slap together yourself. For example, the entry-level Dell Inspiron 5680 costs $750 for a Core i3-8300, 8GB of DDR4 memory, a 1TB hard drive, and a 3GB GeForce GTX 1060. The ($200 MRSP) 3GB GTX 1060 is going for $380 to $500 in standalone form, remember. Evangelho did the math and a comparable DIY build sourced on Newegg would cost $921.

Likewise, the CyberPowerPC Gamer Xtreme GXIVR8020A4 packs a Core i5 processor and a 4GB Radeon RX 580 for $720 on Amazon. Surprise: It’s currently backordered—that graphics card by itself will set you back $500 to $750 on Newegg right now. The CyberPowerPC Gamer Xtreme GXiVR8040A4OPT pairs the same graphics card with a beefy Intel Core i7-7700K for $983 on Amazon.

You can’t build those rigs at those prices on your own anymore. Hell, the state of today’s graphics card market makes some gaming laptops an enticing value proposition—words I never thought I’d utter.

Buying a whole prebuilt PC can also make sense if you’re only looking for a new graphics card. Sure, you’re laying out more cash up front, but if you shop smart you can grab a prebuilt gaming PC, rip out the graphics card for yourself, and sell the rest of a rig to make up the difference. You might even make a profit if everything works out right (though you shouldn’t count on it).

Pro tip: If you plan on doing this, don’t buy a PC with an AMD processor unless you have an old graphics card to swap into it. AMD Ryzen processors lack onboard graphics, so they can’t send an image to a monitor without the help of a graphics card. Intel chips have onboard graphics, so those PCs are usable even without a graphics card.

Suck it up and pay

geforce gtx 1080 ti 2 Gordon Mah Ung

The beastly GTX 1080 Ti is expensive even when it's cheap.

Finally, you could just pay the ludicrous bounty and get the graphics card you desire. You’ll spend about twice what it’s worth, and those prices could come crashing down at any minute, but hey—you’ll be able to game right now without sacrificing visual quality or reselling other hardware, you beautiful rich bastard. Maybe start coin mining in your spare time?

Really, though, most people should just buy an Xbox or an entry-level graphics card, even if you can afford the markup. Paying a 2X price premium on nearly two-year-old graphics cards doesn’t make a lick of sense if all you’re doing with it is gaming. Fingers crossed these dark days end sooner rather than later.

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Brad Chacos

Brad Chacos

PC World (US online)
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