A new graphics card in 2021? Forget it.
It makes no sense to buy one this year, here are all the reasons why
It was never supposed to be that way, yet here we are: well over a year into the COVID-19 outbreak the tech industry is still a mess, with no prospect of things getting back to normal anytime soon. Some sectors were hit harder than others but none more than hardware for personal computers: those suddenly went from "not needed much" or just "nice to have" to "absolutely necessary" for a lot of people, so demand for specific PC hardware - for either work or entertainment - went through the roof almost overnight. Inventories were depleted in record time, backorders piled up and the production arm of this industry proved to be totally unprepared for this kind of situation.
How unprepared? How about this: one year into the pandemic and it is still nigh-on impossible to find a recent high-level graphics card for a PC. The bad news? Things will not get much better for many months, if at all. The good news? You can stop caring: you do not want to buy a new graphics card in 2021 anyway.
There is more than one reason for this but it has to do with availability, market conditions and timing, all at once. As of mid-April, there's still almost no availability to speak of: GPU shortages are so severe that most e-tailers - walking into a retail store and finding powerful graphics cards on shelves has not been a thing since last spring - get only a handful of units each week, which disappear as soon as they appear online. Even then, many of those do not actually end up in the hands of consumers, but in the hands of either scalpers (who post them on eBay asking ridiculous amounts of money for them) or cryptominers.
This has been going on for a year now without nVidia, AMD or any retailer actually doing anything about it - so chances are it will go on for as long as demand outstrips supply. These market conditions have led to graphics cards commanding eBay prices of two to three or even four times the recommended retail price they'd otherwise do. What's more, even manufacturers themselves have raised prices of their cards, not following the suggested costs nVidia or AMD have set for their various GPUs. Paying a small premium for getting something first or getting it really quickly is one thing. Paying a hefty, difficult to justify or borderline insane premium for a product because there are not enough units built and properly channeled is quite another. Pandemic or no pandemic.
And then... there's timing. Let us suppose, for the sake of the argument, that somehow, someway GPU production improves after the summer, that graphics cards become more widely available and street prices start returning to something approaching "normal levels". Intel, nVidia, AMD, TSMC and others do not believe this will happen - they have all actually warned against such a possibility - but hey, let's just be hopelessly optimistic here and assume that GPU production does improve by fall. Well, in that case, we are already in Q3 marching into Q4 of 2021. It's just too late.
What this means in practice is that even if nVidia and AMD "release" rumored variants of existing graphics cards in the meantime - like the GeForce RTX 3050 Ti/3070 Ti/3080 Ti or the Radeon RX 6500 respectively - by the time they can be had at reasonable prices, we'll be too close to 2022. Both companies' roadmaps lead to new GPUs and new product lines for Q1 2022. Who in his right mind would pay even RRP prices for a winter 2021 graphics card - after waiting for so long, let us not forget - when new, surely better (or even much better) graphics cards are just around the corner?
The current GPU situation is not just a messy one right now, it's a messy one that will be affecting the PC market for some time after it is eventually resolved. It's fair to say that, for graphics cards in particular, 2021 is already a lost year. There's the distinct possibility that if GPU production does not normalize by January 2022, PC gamers will be facing difficult choices during much of the next year too. Here's the bright side: with COVID-19 hitting gaming development hard as well, there are extremely few PC-exclusive titles that actually need a new graphics card in 2021. Plus, there are amazing offers on amazing current PC games to take advantage of - assuming there's no back catalog in one's Steam or Epic Games Store library, of course, and... let's be real, there is.
So… resist the temptation. Avoid the frustration. It makes no sense to buy a graphics card in 2021 unless (a) it's absolutely needed for work or (b) you're OK with paying through the nose for one. If neither (a) or (b) apply, save that GPU money for 2022. Your PC with thank you for it.