What’s old is new again. Chipmakers are continuing to sound the alarm over shortages continuing into 2021, so Nvidia plans to release stocks of its older GTX 1050 Ti and RTX 2060 to make up for global GPU shortages.
In a statement to PCWorld, which initially broke the news, an Nvidia spokesperson confirmed it was re-releasing the GTX 1050 Ti and RTX 2060 to board partners so that they can release new hardware. The spokesperson noted that the GPUs were “never EOLed [end-of-lifed]” and that Nvidia was merely “meeting market demand, which remains extremely high.”
So why turn to old, arguably obsolete graphics cards? While Nvidia wowed everyone last year with its new 3000-series GPUs, the ensuing chaos after launch ensured that most people couldn’t get their hands on one. Some of that can be attributed to global supply chain woes spurred on by the pandemic, but graphics card scalpers also made the problem worse as bots snapped up the coveted GPUs to be re-sold at ludicrous prices. After one RTX 3080 supposedly sold for an egregious $70,000 on eBay, a Gizmodo investigation found that the GTX 3080 was at the heart of a legitimate bot civil war during which pissed off users fired back against scalpers to drive up prices and hopefully get their listings deleted. In October, Nvidia also pushed back the launch of the RTX 3070 to avoid further angering customers.
According to PCWorld, trotting out the older GPUs is a savvy move because they can be manufactured using established process tech, thereby lowering costs. In the case of the RTX 2060, a card that supports ray tracing and first launched in 2019, Nvidia gets to spend less while getting a relatively current GPU into the hands of manufacturers. The GTX 1050 Ti, meanwhile, is considerably older—it launched in 2016—but it’s still capable of handling less-demanding games or meeting the needs of newer PC gamers. Another benefit is the GTX 1050 Ti is equipped with older GDDR5 VRAM, making it incompatible with Ethereum cryptocurrency mining, which requires more than 4GB of onboard memory. Because yes, people who are trying to cash in on the cryptocurrency bubble right now are also exacerbating the GPU shortage by snapping up newer, more powerful models.
At the same time, this “solution” isn’t as affordable for consumers as it might initially seem. The GTX 1050 Ti launched at $140 in 2016 but is currently going online for upwards of $200, with some reaching prices above $400. The RTX 2060 is even more expensive, selling for over $700 when the launch price was $350.
The chip shortage is troubling enough that even the Biden administration has pledged to take action. Bloomberg reports that Biden is expected to sign an executive order for a government-wide supply chain review, after leaders at chip companies like Intel, Qualcomm, and AMD wrote the administration asking for support. Even so, that’s not likely to immediately fix the current shortage.
In the meantime, you’ll likely have to keep a sharp eye on prices and rely on luck. If your current setup is chugging along, you might want to try to remain zen about the whole thing for a while longer.