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GPUs are headed in the wrong direction

GPUs are headed in the wrong direction


Editorial: Nvidia’s latest flagship RTX 4080 and AMD’s RX 7900 XT are inflated more than inflation itself — and that’s not normal.

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The RTX 3080 on top of the RTX 4080
The RTX 3080 on top of the ginormous RTX 4080 — which, by the way, is the same size as a 4090.
Photo by Tom Warren / The Verge

This year’s long-awaited flagship graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia aren’t normal. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect them to be. In 2020, AMD finally showed it had the potential to catch up to Nvidia in raw gaming performance, and of course, Nvidia desperately wants to maintain that lead.

Inflated more than inflation

But as a result, both companies’ new GPUs have bloated in a way we’ve never seen. They’ve inflated more than inflation itself. They’re suddenly both far more expensive and physically huge in a way we haven’t seen this decade if ever.

Here, I made a chart to show you:

The chart shows dramatic rises in volume and price with 2022’s graphics cards, volume was mostly flat previously and prices previously rose slowly.
This is not normal.
Line chart by Sean Hollister / The Verge, using Flourish, with some dimensions by Tom’s Hardware

We’re in the middle of a dramatic economic downturn, if not an outright recession — we’ve had 15–16 percent inflation since 2020, when Nvidia and AMD released their last flagship GPUs. But the RTX 4080’s starting price is 71.5 percent more expensive than the RTX 3080. AMD’s 7900 XT is 38.5 percent more expensive than the 6800 XT.

When my colleague Tom reviewed Nvidia’s new graphics card, he did find it 50 percent faster than the previous generation, but such gains aren’t unheard of gen-on-gen without a corresponding jump in price. And I’d argue that performance is almost beside the point. Both Nvidia and AMD regularly release uber-enthusiast class GPUs like the 3090 Ti or Titan with excess memory and / or exotic cooling for those who’ll pay for every scrap of performance, but the 4080 and 7900 XT aren’t those: they’re the “normal” flagships, and both companies are now targeting that kind of GPU at a more exclusive audience.

Performance doesn’t matter if you can’t afford a $1,000 GPU at all or if you can’t afford to fit it in your case — again, the volume of these GPUs has also grown 30 to 60 percent in a single generation (2.5 slots or even 3 slots’ worth of GPU is the new normal, apparently).

We’d already seen almost every third-party GPU vendor selling these companies’ last-gen chips on boards with bloated prices and sizes, but I’d hoped Nvidia and AMD themselves would stay the course. As one reader suggests, perhaps the high prices are just meant to point gamers towards these companies’ excess inventory of last-gen GPUs, but it sets a bad precedent either way.

I’m not the only one noticing these trends — many RTX 4080 reviewers aren’t pulling their punches with headlines like “a powerful GPU with a big pricing problem,” “overpriced by $500,” and “a great GPU where the math doesn’t always add up.” But I also see plenty of praise for AMD managing to undercut Nvidia on price, and yet AMD’s flagships are still starting at that bloated 38 percent price increase over 2020’s GPUs.

And I kind of doubt these companies will be deterred: the great GPU shortage showed that some will pay any price for the latest and greatest. When it comes to girth, the unprecedented size of the PS5 didn’t stop it from becoming the fastest-selling PlayStation. PCMag reports that Nvidia’s RTX 4080 instantly sold out during its launch day today, with all the usual e-tailer shopping cart annoyances.

I can only hope this bloat doesn’t trickle down to the rest of Nvidia and AMD’s GPU lineups. It’s been amazing to watch the renaissance over the past decade in portable and affordable small form factor PCs, and trends like these make them less viable. If I can’t stick a future 5060 Ti or 8700 XT into a delightfully small case come 2025, I’m probably going to cry.