Date Published: Mar 16, 2018
April Update: We've added an April 2018 update on GPU pricing here (with good news).
Unless you've been living under a rock, current graphics card prices are sky-high at the moment. And that's if you can even find your favorite GPU in stock, let alone be quick enough to purchase before a cryptocurrency/Bitcoin miner snaps it up.
This guide will answer the most common questions about the current graphics card price inflation dilemma, and what to do if you want to upgrade your gaming system at this time.
I've Been Living Under a Rock. What's Going On?
It started last year, but this year it's gotten worse. Due to the current popularity of mining Bitcoins and other digital currencies (which require GPU power and the more cards the better), the demand for graphics cards have risen quite a lot.
Therefore, GPU prices have gone up accordingly. Economics 101; the law of supply and demand. The price of a graphics card as of March 2018 can be up to 2x the normal market cost.
So Is Building a PC a Bad Idea Right Now?
At the time of writing, if you care about maximising bang for your buck and not overspending AND, yes - building a computer is generally not recommended as you're going to pay through the nose for a graphics card so you're better off finding an alternate solution.
If you don't care about paying a lot more than you normally would for a new build, then go right ahead and build a system as you still get the benefits of having a fully-personalized system without the downsides of many pre-built PCs (such as generally lower-quality PSUs/other parts, bloatware programs, etc).
But yeah, building a gaming PC right now is not (in most cases) going to allow you to save money which has always been one of the biggest benefits of building.
There is, however, one way you could get a graphics card at its normal price: waiting for a card to come in stock directly on NVidia's site and being quick to buy when it comes in stock.
But besides this option which relies on luck (or you checking your email obsessively every second of every day until there's a card in stock), overall, it's pretty much neck and neck between building and buying a pre-built PC in terms of bang for your buck.
Should I Buy a Pre-Built Gaming PC Then?
This is the first time we've ever said this, but drastic times call for drastic measure: since building and buying a desktop is around the same right now in terms of value for money, this is definitely an option to consider if you don't mind getting a pre-built and you can find a decent one that has decent-quality parts throughout.
If you shop smart and know what to look for, you could very well save money doing this (as opposed to building) at this point.
What About Buying a Second-Hand Card?
Yes, this is definitely an option to consider if you don't mind buying second-hand and can find a good deal. Buying a used current-gen card at a decent price may be possible, but you'll probably have to resort to getting a previous generation GPU to find a decent deal.
Using an older GPU model isn't a bad thing as they can still pack quite a punch, but try to buy as recent of a card as you can so that they'll have support for modern games.
For budget desktop builds, you can get similar performance to the GTX 1050 with a GTX 950, GTX 760, or R9 270 instead.
If you were planning on a 1050 Ti for more power, look for a GTX 770, GTX 760, or R9 270X.
For mid to high-end builds that would normally include the mighty GTX 1060, look at alternative cards like the GTX 780 (or "Ti" version), R9 290 (or "X" version), GTX 980 (or "Ti"), or the R9 390 (or "X").
As for top-tier gamers and enthusiasts that were hoping for a killer 1070, 1080 or better...you're pretty much out of luck 'cause these powerhouses cannot be matched by older cards.
When Will Graphics Card Prices Drop?
The million dollar question. Truth is, no matter what anyone says on Reddit, YouTube, or some blog, nobody knows exactly when prices will drop and/or return all the way back to their standard MSRP.
But normalize they will...it's only a matter of time. Many experts predict this could likely occur by the end of the year, but like I said before, who really knows. Could be earlier, could be even later.
At the time of writing this there's an overall downward trend of Bitcoin and if this continues then perhaps GPU prices will drop sooner rather than later.
A hobbyist game programmer turned hardware enthusiast, Julien "cyberjulz" is the founder of BGC and has kept a keen eye on the latest in DIY gaming ever since starting BGC back in '06 as an almost laughably-basic and brief 20 page site with the aim to make building PCs more accessible to the average gamer since most resources weren't too noob friendly. Over countless reinventions and reiterations to the quality, depth and usefulness of the content over many years the site has steadily grown into the expansive, comprehensive and ever-updated first-time PC builder resource that it is today that now reaches and helps thousands of gamers and power users each month to more easily plan optimal setups for their exact needs. You can learn more about the BGC mission and ways to support it here.
Have a question or enjoyed the article and want to share some feedback, constructive criticism, or report an error to help us keep making BGC the best beginner building resource around? We're listening: feel free to comment or message on our Fanpage or email us here.
For those wanting comprehensive 1 on 1 help with planning the right build for your specific budget and needs to ensure you buy a good parts-list and don't waste your money, I also offer a personalized parts-list email service where you send in your exact build requirements and for a small tip I'll spend whatever time necessary to do the painstaking, in-depth research for you to thoroughly plan the perfect parts-list for your exact situation.