Don’t Buy a Graphics Card for More than 0 Right Now

Don’t Buy a Graphics Card for More than $500 Right Now

If you’re looking to upgrade your PC with a new, high-end graphics card that costs more than $500, hit the pause button. While GPU prices continue to drop and some cards might look particularly tempting — like the RTX 3090 Ti for $920 below its obscene $1,999 (opens in new tab) launch MSRP — the best graphics cards are about to get some serious competition. That’s especially true for the cards at the top of our GPU benchmarks hierarchy. So if you’re eying that RX 6950 XT for ‘only’ $934 (opens in new tab), I suggest you wait. 

Today’s top cards — anything that’s above an RTX 3070 or, quite possibly, an RTX 3070 itself — are likely to be displaced by faster models within the next two or three months. If you buy such a card now, you may kick yourself in November when you can get a better card for the same price, or the same, now-last-gen card at a discounted price. Still, cards that currently cost $500 or less, like the RTX 3060 Ti or below and RX 6700 XT or below, are less likely to be replaced in the near future. However, I’d suggest sticking to the sub-$250 space if you can’t wait, as it’s hard to beat the value you get right now from Radeon RX 6600 (opens in new tab) and RTX 2060 (opens in new tab).

If you need three good reasons to wait on upgrading your graphics card, I’ve got them: Nvidia RTX 40-series Ada Lovelace GPUs, AMD RX 7000-series RDNA 3 GPUs, and Intel Arc Alchemist GPUs. That last one probably won’t land anywhere near the top of the performance ladder, but if Intel wants to gain some market share the A770, A750, and A580 could be priced very aggressively. That could cause AMD and Nvidia to respond with price cuts to the midrange and budget GPUs. In other words, everything is in a state of flux, from budget to midrange to high-end and extreme GPUs.

Which isn’t to say nobody should purchase a new graphics card. If you’re in dire need, or if you’re building your first PC and simply can’t wait any longer, it’s okay to buy a decent budget or midrange offering. There’s always new stuff coming down the pipeline, and potentially waiting until 2023 is probably too long for some people. Again, there’s less likelihood of major pricing changes in the budget to midrange sector, so if you need a new GPU, that’s where I’d look.

Let’s quickly recap what’s happening at the top of the GPU performance stack.

Nvidia GeForce RTX 40 launch?

(Image credit: Nvidia)

Everyone expects Nvidia to reveal the RTX 4090 at the very least on September 20 at the GPU Technology Conference. Nvidia has said it will talk about the next GeForce architecture, and why discuss the architecture without launching at least one graphics card? Nvidia will probably provide details on the RTX 4080 as well, and maybe even a Titan card.

Rumblings about performance indicate we could be looking at far more than a 50% improvement over the current fastest GPUs. Prices might set new records as well — in a bad way — but if you’re considering upgrading to a new Nvidia GPU that costs more than $500, I’d definitely wait and see what happens. And if you’re eying an RTX 3090 Ti, you might as well wait a month and then go whole hog and swipe your credit card for the RTX 4090, assuming it really is up to 75% faster. Or be sensible and pick up the RTX 4080.

In short, I fully expect RTX 4090 cards to go on sale by October at the latest. There’s a good chance RTX 4080 will follow within a few weeks, if it doesn’t launch concurrently. That will put pressure on Nvidia and its partners to clear out everything from the 3080 and up, which in turn should impact prices on the 3070 and 3060 series as well.

AMD RDNA 3 demo

(Image credit: AMD)

AMD may not be too far behind with its RDNA 3 GPUs. It demonstrated an unnamed but presumably high-end card at the unveiling of the full Ryzen 7000 CPU lineup. Let the dust settle from the CPU launch, which will happen on September 27, and AMD might be ready to shift over to new GPU launches by next month, certainly before the end of the year.

As with Nvidia, I expect AMD to start with its fastest GPU, Navi 31. The top model should have at least 50% more memory bandwidth and capacity compared to the RX 6950 XT, and if the current rumors are accurate, it will more than double the theoretical compute performance. Will AMD steal some of Nvidia’s thunder and deliver a GPU that can beat the RTX 4090? It’s possible, though we’ll have to wait and see. The bad news is that if AMD actually does deliver superior performance, it will likely be equally expensive.

But again, you don’t need to splurge on the top-shelf model. AMD should have a slightly trimmed down RX 7800 XT launching at the same time as or shortly after the RX 7900 XT. The potential for massive changes in price to performance don’t stop there, either. RX 6700 XT is probably about as high as I’d go on a GPU purchase, as the newcomers will inevitably affect prices elsewhere, though the further down the stack you go, the less likely things are to change much in the next month or two.

Arc A770 Limited Edition

(Image credit: Intel)

The budget to midrange sector is also where Intel’s higher spec Arc graphics cards come into the picture. Intel has demonstrated — using its own benchmarks, so apply a dose of skepticism — competitive performance from both the Arc A770 and Arc A750. Based on the recently published Arc specs, even the mainstream Arc A580 might offer some decent competition in the sub-$250 market.

Intel knows where things stand, and it knows it has an uphill battle for market share. Earlier reports of flaky drivers on the Arc A380 aren’t going to instill confidence, which means even if Intel’s Arc A770 can match or beat the RTX 3070, it won’t be able to charge RTX 3070 prices.

I suspect Intel’s A770 will go after the RTX 3060 Ti instead, the A750 will target the RTX 3060, and A580 will take on the RTX 3050. Possibly even more surprising is that Intel might even win each of those match ups. At which point Nvidia could easily reduce prices, which again points back to the recommendation to wait a bit.

Potential Upcoming GPU Specifications Compared
Graphics Card RTX 4090 RTX 3090 Ti RX 7900 XT RX 6950 XT Arc A770
Architecture AD102 GA102 Navi 31 Navi 21 ACM-G10
Process Technology TSMC 4N Samsung 8N TSMC N5 + N6 TSMC N7 TSMC N6
Transistors (Billion) ? 28.3 ? 26.8 21.7
Die size (mm^2) ? 628.4 308 + 228 519 406
SMs / CUs / Xe-Cores 128? 84 92? 80 32
GPU Shaders 16384? 10752 11776? 5120 4096
Tensor/XMX Units 512? 336 —? 512
Ray Tracing Units 128? 84 92? 80 32
Boost Clock (MHz) 2000? 1860 2500? 2310 2100
VRAM Speed (Gbps) 24? 21 18? 18 17.5
VRAM (GB) 24 24 24 16 16/8
VRAM Bus Width 384 384 384 256 256
Last Level Cache (MB) 96 6 192 / 96 128 16
ROPs 192? 112 192? 128 128
TMUs 512? 336 368? 320 256
TFLOPS FP32 65.5? 40.0 58.9? 23.7 17.2
TFLOPS FP16 262 (524)? 160 (320) 117.8? 47.4 138
Bandwidth (GBps) 1152? 1008 864? 576 560
TDP (watts) 450? 450 400? 335 225
Launch Date Oct 2022? Mar 2022 Nov 2022? May 2022 Sep 2022?
Launch Price $1,999? $1,999 $1,499? $1,099 $399?

I’ve put all of the rumored specifications together — though the A770 doesn’t have rumored specs anymore, other than the price. I’m reasonably certain on the maximum configuration for Nvidia’s AD102 GPU and Nvidia’s Navi 31, but how many of the functional will actually be enabled, and what clock speeds will the chips run at? These are basically unknown, at least to me, though there have been loads of rumors — many less reliable than others. I’ve also plugged in “educated guess” pricing, but remember that price is the easiest thing to change at the last minute.

Arguably the most important specifications will be the GPU shader counts and theoretical compute. Experience indicates that such data ends up being a comparison between apples and oranges due to the differences between the various architectures, but assuming AMD and Nvidia both improve, and depending on final clock speeds, we could be in for a very interesting showdown in the next month or two.

For the current generation GPUs, Nvidia has a whopping 40 teraflops of theoretical compute on the RTX 3090 Ti, while the RX 6950 XT only has 23.7 teraflops. The potential specs for RTX 4090 put it at around 65 teraflops — a 60% increase — while the RX 7900 XT could go as high as 59 teraflops or more — more than double the current halo AMD GPU. Intel lands far below those two, with the A770 already behind the existing halo parts, but again that’s to be expected since it will be going after the higher volume mainstream market.

Perhaps more important than the upcoming AMD and Nvidia heavyweights will be the penultimate GPUs. RTX 4090 and RX 7900 XT will almost certainly carry premium pricing to new levels, but what about RTX 4080 and RX 7800 XT? Past experience suggests stepping down one notch might reduce potential performance by 10–15%, while also cutting the price nearly in half. $999 for an RTX 4080 that’s 30% faster than the existing RTX 3090 Ti? Yeah, that’s one possibility. The same goes for RX 7800 XT versus the RX 7900 XT.

AMD GPUs

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Again, I don’t know for sure where any of these upcoming cards will actually land on price or performance, or even specifications. That’s why I run all the benchmarks when the GPUs actually launch. About the only thing I’m confident in stating is that all the new GPUs will immediately sell out. What I hope is that supply will catch up to demand much more quickly than in the past two years. Miners won’t be propping up unreasonable prices, so if the stars align we could see decent availability and pricing before the end of the year.

And even if the prices on the next-generation GPUs end up being more than you’re willing to spend, the reported glut of current generation graphics cards building up in warehouses should inevitably lead to lower prices on existing cards. Worst-case, you wait a month or two and end up saving a few bucks (unless another “perfect storm” hits). Best-case, you end up with a 50% or more increase in performance without spending anything extra.

But hey, I’ve been wrong before, though admittedly not many people properly predicted the ramifications of the whole pandemic, or the 2020 cryptocurrency boom causing chaos in the GPU market. Unfortunately, even without those, scalpers might ruin the upcoming launch parties and holiday shopping season. Patience is still a virtue.

Like I said at the start, if you really need something right now, I’d look to cards priced below $500, and probably closer to $250. Take a gander at the Radeon RX 6600 (opens in new tab) and RTX 2060 (opens in new tab), both of which are excellent values. You can move up to something faster once things settle down. If those aren’t fast enough, AMD’s RX 6700 XT (opens in new tab) and RX 6650 XT (opens in new tab) are  also good values, and the 12GB of VRAM on the 6700 XT and RTX 3060 (opens in new tab) also warrant consideration.

I wouldn’t go much higher on a GPU purchase right before new hardware is set to arrive. There’s usually a trickle down effect on pricing, and Nvidia’s cards in the $300–$600 range are still selling above their official MSRPs, which means they definitely have room to come down another $50–$100.

https://www.tomshardware.com/news/wait-to-buy-a-new-high-end-gpu

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