Yesterday, AMD’s Vega 56 GPU went on sale — and immediately vanished from the market. Availability was exceptionally brief, possibly only a matter of minutes, and the cards are now sold out at every retailer we’ve checked (Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg). Obviously new stock may trickle out to manufacturers, but snagging a card is going to require lightning-fast reflexes and a good memory for one’s own credit card number. Once again, the likely culprit is cryptocurrency mining; AMD GPUs have been exceedingly difficult to find in-market and NV cards, while easier to locate, aren’t exactly selling for their MSRPs. The cheapest GTX 1070 available at Newegg is $429, with many models pushing into $489+ territory.
A year ago, I slagged both AMD and Nvidia for low GPU availability and higher-than-expected MSRPs, noting that cards like the GTX 1070 were running ~$440, compared with a $379 target. Today, the situation is damn near identical, only with marginally better availability for NV and even worse availability for Team Red. AMD has confirmed it isn’t raising its own GPU prices, which means it isn’t benefiting from the increased demand — or, at least, it isn’t benefiting any more than it would be if gamers were buying those cards at their target prices.
That makes the current situation different from last year in at least one respect: None of the companies in question can be accused of launching GPUs with no realistic ability to meet demand absent a cryptocurrency-driven shortage. But it does raise the question of what consumers in the market for a GPU should do, given these price increases.
The Vega 56 is a stronger competitor to the GeForce GTX 1070 than Vega 64 is to the GTX 1080, and if all these cards were selling for MSRP / SEP we’d recommend consumers investigate both. If you happen to come across a card selling for its actual expected price, we’d recommend pulling the trigger on either, depending on your preference. But the bottom line is this: The Vega 56 is a moderate improvement on the 1070 at a significantly higher price, while the 1070 itself is once again selling for at least $50 over retail. When the GPU was brand-new, you could at least argue jumping on Pascal would yield long-term dividends in performance. With Volta now expected to launch in less than a year, that calculus is less certain. If your current GPU is an HD 5000 or GTX 4xx series, you’ll still see a major performance uplift from one of these two GPU families, but it’s hard to recommend anyone pay a substantial premium over suggested MSRP/SEP under these conditions.
At the same time, however, it’s impossible to know how long these issues will persist or how long the cryptocurrency market will remain overheated. If new GPUs from Nvidia or AMD offer dramatically better mining performance and the market hasn’t cooled by then, it could only exacerbate the problem. That makes it even harder to give a long-term forecast — nobody wants to buy at the high point, but waiting an indefinite period of time for a price drop that could take 4-6 months to materialize isn’t a great option, either.
If you are in the market for a new GPU, the Vega 56 is a pretty good option. But regardless of which company you prefer, keep Nvidia’s $379 and AMD’s $399 targets in mind.