I just gave up on Nvidia RTX 3080 stock and bought this instead

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090
(Image credit: Nvidia)

Graphics card stock shortages are going to get worse before they get better. Both Nvidia’s RTX 30-series and AMD’s new Radeon RX 6000 GPUs are near enough impossible for the average consumer to buy at reasonable prices; trying to find where to buy the Nvidia RTX 3080, in particular, is an exercise in superhuman luck as much as it is in retail detective work.

This week, both companies addressed the issue, and both companies broke my fragile PC gamer heart: production would not be able to meet demand for another several months at least. Worse, it appears that the few cards that do emerge from the sold-out void — if only for a few seconds before someone buys them all — are going to get even more expensive.

You can probably guess at this point that I was hoping to upgrade to one of these cards, specifically the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080. And faced with another half-year of disappointment, I snapped: at the earliest glimpse of a hint of a whiff of an opportunity to get something into my basket without a 404 error, I spent more than twice as much on an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090.

Deep down I knew this was a questionable move. The RTX 3080 would have already breezed through top-quality 1440p (my favored resolution) gaming as if the pixels weren’t even there. So I was giving up drastically more money for unnecessary power consumption and almost comically excessive horsepower.

And yet, I’m not sorry. From MIA stock to greedy hoarders, playing the “sensible” waiting game for new graphics cards has never looked so senseless.

Supply shortages — with more to come

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

First, some specifics on those AMD and Nvidia developments. Nvidia has blamed the slow production of RTX 30 models on numerous constraints, including the low yield of the 8nm Samsung nodes and a shortage of GDDR6 memory used for its latest graphics cards. Whatever the cause, don’t expect a fix anytime soon: The Verge reported that supply won’t meaningfully increase until late April.

AMD’s Dr Lisa Su, meanwhile, has said that the Radeon line’s own component shortages will continue their knock-off effect on the cards themselves for the entire first half of 2021.

Obviously, no-one truly needs a new graphics card right this instant, and my inability to get more 60 frames per second in Horizon Zero Dawn is not an actual ailment. But when you hear these kinds of timeframes, which are surely best-case scenarios anyway, it would be a cold-blooded PC owner who wouldn’t lose heart.

Is it so bad to spend some extra cash just to end this exhausting cycle of checking, missing out, checking, missing out? Maybe if there was some hope that any day now, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang would ride over the hill on a mighty green-and-grey stallion, a million RTX 3080s lined up behind him. But there isn’t, and he won’t, no matter how much fanart I draw of it.

The mining boom and rising prices

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Another reason to take comfort in my loss of $1,499 is that GPU prices are likely headed upward anyway. One of the biggest driving forces looks to be that old nemesis of affordable PC hardware: cryptocurrency mining.

Gaming graphics cards are instrumental in crypto mining, so when Bitcoin and other such digital money recently boomed, the already-strained supply lines for new GPUs were overwhelmed completely, as prospective miners looked to snap up both old and new models to mine as much as possible. In short, we could be seeing a repeat of the 2017 graphics card shortage, when a sustained cryptocurrency goldrush — for those mining operations that still benefit from GPU power — depleted stocks and sent prices skyrocketing.

Then there’s the Trump tax. This won’t affect me as I’m in the UK, but the outgoing U.S. President’s 25% tax on goods imported from China no longer gives an exemption to graphics cards and motherboards. The good news for stateside friends that this hasn’t immediately resulted in on-the-shelf prices shooting up as well, but it wouldn’t be a surprise as manufacturers start feeling the squeeze.

There’s an old, increasingly unfunny joke among PC builders that pokes fun at the infamously volatile pricing of new parts: “When’s the best time to build a PC? The week after you do it.” Now it’s looking like the best time might not be for another few months.

This might seem like nitpicking given the sheer expense of the RTX 3090, especially compared to the RTX 3080. But at least I only paid the launch MSRP for it, and since it’s the Founders Edition it’s as cheap as any RTX 3090 model can possibly be. No tax-inflicted inflation, no price gouging to take advantage of mining interest. Why wait longer just to pay over the odds anyway?

Scalpers and bots running rampant

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Of course, nothing raises a GPU’s price higher than a scalper setting up his eBay listing. It’s fair to say that the battle against hoarding, against bot-wielding crooks misusing tech to buy and resell hardware at laughable prices, is lost: countermeasures like CAPTCHAs have proven ineffective at stopping the scalpers and their bots from automatically buying up fresh stock as it becomes available.

Low supply is still a factor here, of course, and the scrabble to grab a piece of the latest restock no doubt includes innocent, legitimate PC enthusiasts who have kept their eye on the ball. But when you see a stock alert tweet or Discord message, click on the store link within seconds — literally seconds — of it appearing and the prize is nonetheless already gone, it can feel like fighting a futile war against the machines.

Scalpers will argue that the real value of any item is just what people are willing to pay for it, and if someone out there is willing to drop $1,500 on a $699 card, then reselling is merely a service: an amoral but not immoral push from the invisible hand of the market. 

But this ignores, probably wilfully, that the scarcity that drives those high prices is one of their own making. There’d be no need for anyone to pay so far over the MSRP if ordinary consumers simply had access to the products they want, which instead sit stacked in the garages of someone who bought a shopping script. If there’s a hand involved anywhere in this, it’s perfectly visible and it’s flipping buyers the bird.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One solution might be to purchase a bot yourself, simply for the single purchase. While this would level the playing field, it’s still money going into the pockets of grey marketeers who build tools integral to the rip-off tactics of full-time scalpers.

Why, though, has their victory driven me into the arms of the RTX 3090? Simple: it’s the graphics card scalpers are least interested in. At least, that’s the conclusion I’ve drawn from a few weeks of “research” (despondent clicking on stock tweets), which showed that new RTX 3090 stock would at least take a couple of minutes to sell out again, rather than a couple of seconds.

Buying this graphics card was not my greatest moment of fortitude. It flies in the face of advice I myself have given others thinking about a new GPU. But given the painful wait for a return to normalcy, and the grifters circling like sharks, I’m convinced it was the only option I had left.

James Archer

James is currently Hardware Editor at Rock Paper Shotgun, but before that was Audio Editor at Tom’s Guide, where he covered headphones, speakers, soundbars and anything else that intentionally makes noise. A PC enthusiast, he also wrote computing and gaming news for TG, usually relating to how hard it is to find graphics card stock.

  • mkfink
    admin said:
    I've just splurged $1,499 on the Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 — here's why.

    How the great graphics card shortage had me panic-buy an Nvidia RTX 3090 : Read more

    I did the exact same thing for pretty much the same reasons 3 weeks ago at MicroCenter. The website listed some 3080s as maybe in stock at the store, but instead they had one 3090. I was already on the fence about getting a 3080 vs. waiting for a 3080 Ti to be released (Had a 2080 Ti FE, which still struggled with RTX at 4k, so a 3080 would've been a decent upgrade, but the rumored Ti would've been preferable), so it didn't take a lot to talk myself up to a 3090.

    At the time, I was fairly happy with my choice, the extra cost offsetting the effort hunting one of these cards down (and also mitigated by selling my old card). In the weeks since, the price of the card I got (MSI Gaming X Trio) has jumped by about $340 in response to the tariffs (now costs over $2,000!). And then there was the lack of a 3080 Ti announcement at CES, and the rumors that it's delayed indefinitely. So no regrets right now.
  • Keng Yuan
    Me too, after finishing Cyberpunk; 4k, raytracing and hdr together really is something, never been more immersed in game graphics, I have no regrets.
  • RoMacNChz
    At least you got a 3090 for that money.
    I just paid $1525 for a Gigabyte Xtreme Waterforce 3080. Admittedly this is a $1k MSRP card, so I "only" paid about 50% more than retail vs say a 3080 FE selling for $1400 (100% more), but for the money i would have preferred a 3090 FE. I just am not fast enough to buy one so i ended up with the 3080 from eBay.

    It was the last part i needed for the first pc I've built since 2010. I was running an original i5-750 and a GTX770. I felt like i had no choice to get something that would push the 4k LG CX55 I already had. The 770 was basically unable to play any modern game at all.
  • Nightseer
    Personally I don't like seeing people giving in and panic buying 3090, because this sends really terrible message to nVidia. That message is basically saying 3080 is too cheap and 3090 is very affordable. Meaning what incentive does nVidia have to not make 4080 1400USD card and 4090 2000USD cards. I mean if people are so easy to sell more expensive cards, nVodia would be crazy to not rise prices. And every single person giving into it is like 1400 votes, one per dollar spent fir price increase, while everyone having enough sense to make do with old and not giving in is 1 vote against it. Did everyone forgot why Turing increased prices? It was because people were mass buying Titans and nVidia saw all those dollar votes in favor of increasing prices. Just saying.
  • Frogalicious1
    I bought a 3090 FE from Best Buy earlier this month. It was too big and required too much power for PC. It was also too much money. I am unfortunately going to wait for the 3080 FE to come into stock. It will probably be around $800 MSRP, but it still saves me $800 after tax considering the 3090 FE was $1,625 after tax, a bit too much for comfort. The performance is not worth the money I paid for that card. It just isn't.
  • Odw
    In my opinion, you spent $1500 on an access pass to a buggy gaming experience.

    RTX works in a dozen games, and works well in maybe a quarter of those. In many games, RTX looks worse, because the game's art wasn't composited around the concept of realistic light transport. Also, RTX + DLSS gives pretty shadows, but very jarring texture noise.

    So my opinion? A 3080 or 3090 is only worth it if you spend 8 hours a day in Blender.

    Something like a $350 GTX 1660 super can run everything worth playing well enough, and by the time RTX implementation matures in games there will probably be some RTX 3060 stock.
  • Deadllhead
    I did the same crazy thing. Never planned on a 3090FE but they appeared on Nvidia site and I was still 6 months or more away from getting my 3080. I talked myself into it for the reasons you mentioned pretty much. My only thinking now is that I should consider going up to 4k resolution to get more benefit from all the VRAM.
  • GritMonster
    mkfink said:
    At the time, I was fairly happy with my choice, the extra cost offsetting the effort hunting one of these cards down (and also mitigated by selling my old card). In the weeks since, the price of the card I got (MSI Gaming X Trio) has jumped by about $340 in response to the tariffs (now costs over $2,000!). And then there was the lack of a 3080 Ti announcement at CES, and the rumors that it's delayed indefinitely. So no regrets right now.
    Summed up perfectly. Spending even 15 minutes a day hunting for graphics cards quickly turns into a mountain of time and disappointment (while cursing bots, miners, and some retailers).

    Deadllhead said:
    I did the same crazy thing. Never planned on a 3090FE but they appeared on Nvidia site and I was still 6 months or more away from getting my 3080. I talked myself into it for the reasons you mentioned pretty much. My only thinking now is that I should consider going up to 4k resolution to get more benefit from all the VRAM.
    Those new monitors they announced at CES this year are looking pretty tempting... Only problem now is the few+ month wait!
  • HC1Gunner
    1. It's basically too late to use a Bot, 99.99% of regular retail stores have no stock, and what they did have was mostly taken earlier by Bots. Those cards are all listed on eBay or other store fronts under 3rd party sellers for...near, at, or over double retail.

    2. Demand is higher than normal, and supply is lower than normal, but still, if manufactures worked together with retailers, Bots could all but be stopped in their tracks, basically neither of them really care that the normal home user / gamer can't find a card to buy, because they are instantly selling all new graphic cards.

    3. I read a couple of good articles from programmers saying they could implement simple software run sales where it would be a 3-step process to buy a card, and and a Bot wouldn't work, nor would multiple user accounts, or email address.

    4. When the demand is high, and you have an instant sell-out of a product, what difference does it make to a retailer whether they sell out in a matter of minutes, or (3) days, they are still going to have sold all their stock, and have the same amount of funds in their piggy-bank. So if a multiple step process was used, and it took a couple of days for a home user to purchase card, how would they be loosing anything. What they are really doing is running on greed, and don't care who is buying their cards, and crapping on loyal customers that have done business them for years.

    5. All the big name store fronts will tell you the same thing, Bots "can't" make purchase on OUR site, yet I've seen scalpers so bold , they are bragging about their Bot purchases, and showing redacted screenshots of cards scored on Amazon, Newegg, etc. The captcha's (protection - verification) they are using, are being blown right past by most Bots.
  • Xkelx90
    Buy from scalpers, issue chargeback. Bet they won't scalp again. There's a special place in hell for these people who buy something that others are passionate about, but they don't even care about so they can price gouge the living hell out of people. It's absolutely immoral, and they deserve to feel what it feels like to be ripped off.