Steam Data Shows Ampere GPUs Barely Trickling Into Market

As the GPU shortage continues, what constitutes “success” is being rapidly recast. Several publications have recently run stories claiming that an uptick in Ampere GPU deployments according to the Steam Hardware Survey constitutes evidence that these cards are making their way to gamers and that miners aren’t soaking up all the demand. This is factually true, inasmuch as cryptocurrency mining isn’t literally consuming every single GPU. When evaluated in a historical context, however, the current SHS doesn’t support an optimistic narrative about Ampere availability.

The RTX 3070 gained 0.17 percent market share from February 2021 to March 2021. That’s the most market share any GPU gained last month. But according to past Steam data, a single GPU topping out at 0.17 percent adoption isn’t very good at all.

I’ve surveyed several multiple data points in the SHS over the past two years. In November 2019, no fewer than nine GPUs gained more than 0.17 percent market share. The RTX 2060 picked up 0.42 percent that month, for example. In February 2020, before the pandemic hit, the GTX 1660 Ti and GTX 1650 gained 0.34 percent and 0.51 percent share, respectively, with other cards above 0.17 percent. Even in March 2020, with the pandemic gearing up, cards like the RTX 2060 (0.51 percent), RTX 2070 (0.31 percent), and RTX 2070 Super (0.28 percent) saw stronger growth than what’s being reported for Ampere today.

Steam has only included data on the RTX 3070 for two months, but the RTX 3080 has been included for longer. The trend is not encouraging:

Market share data above is for the period November 2020 – March 2021. Look at what happened to the RTX 3080’s adoption rate after December. We see gaming market share more than double in a single month. Thereafter, the growth rate falls off a cliff. It took the RTX 3080 a single month to grow by 2.08x, then a further three months to grow by 1.77x. In an ordinary year, this might reflect nothing more than seasonality, but this isn’t an ordinary year. There are still a lot of would-be Ampere gamers waiting for prices to fall.

This is reflected in how the numbers for all the other cards stop moving. Anyone with a GTX 1070 Ti, RTX 2080 Super, or RTX 2080 is a potential RTX 3070 customer (the 2080 Ti is a bit too high to really see the RTX 3070 as a replacement card). In November and December, the percent of users with each of these cards bounces around. From January forward, the percentages have been nearly static. RTX 2080 Ti customers aren’t upgrading to RTX 3090’s. RTX 2080 and 2080 Super owners clearly aren’t upgrading to Ampere. The Pascal gamers that Nvidia said it was explicitly targeting with this launch remain largely wedded to their hardware. The GTX 1060 has dropped 1.14 percent since November and the 1050 Ti has dropped about 0.5 percent. The RTX 1070 is 0.36 percent less common now than in November 2020. The GTX 1080 has dropped even less.

One reason why the RTX 3070 looks good is Steam didn’t add the GPU to its tracking until it had hit 1.12 percent. If we actually had the month-by-month report, however, I’m betting we’d see exactly the same thing as with the RTX 3080 — an initial jolt, followed by slow growth for such an attractively positioned high-end part. The RTX 3060 Ti entered the SHS at 0.27 percent in January and has risen to just 0.38 percent three months later.

In aggregate, the RTX 3080 and RTX 3070’s market share is growing on par with how the RTX 2080 and 2070 performed back in 2019. At MSRP, Ampere is everything Turing wasn’t. It offers ray tracing performance we feel more comfortable recommending and much stronger AI and gaming performance. It’s also much less expensive (theoretically) than the RTX 2070 and RTX 2080 were at launch back in 2018. In this context, a 0.17 percent rise in the number of RTX 3070 GPUs in-market isn’t a ray of hope. It’s a demonstration of how bad the market continues to be.

As of this writing, anyone who needs a replacement GPU should consider AMD’s R9 290 and R9 290X the best options for a reasonably priced card. We continue to keep an eye on this situation and it continues to offer the best price/performance ratio outside of getting lucky. RDNA2 GPUs are not contemplated in the story above because Steam has not yet added these cards to its database. It can take Valve months to update the database with new cards, however, and it does not add them at a consistent market share level. By all accounts, however, AMD availability is poor.

It is not clear if these shortages are being driven mostly by cryptocurrency-related demand, by low yields, or by a mixture of both. We may get some better data on that point when Nvidia eventually gives Q1 results, but that won’t happen for another couple of months. Several GPU manufacturers have implied they can’t get sufficient GPU inventory, but cryptocurrency demand is also a known impact right now.

We don’t typically refer to the SHS for hardware information because of doubts about its accuracy. But to the extent we can rely on this data to show us anything, what it shows is not positive. Four to five cards with a 0.17 percent rise might constitute some positive sign that we’re headed back towards normal. A single GPU just illustrates how far we’ve got to go.

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