I love gaming on my PC. There are games there that you just can’t play anywhere else, and they’re some of the best ones out there. There are countless strategy, roleplaying, and indie games worth your attention that you can’t find on game consoles right now, while just about every game you could want from the console world is also available on the PC. If you can afford a gaming rig, it’s the best of both worlds.
With that said: don’t build a gaming PC right now.
There’s one very good reason for this, and if you pat your pockets long enough, you’ll probably find it. The prices of PC components are ridiculous right now, and your wallet can’t take it.
It really boils down to two core components: the graphics card and RAM. The whole supply-and-demand concept is working as described, and these items are at premium prices right now.
Overdrawn at the Memory Bank
RAM is not just in everything, it’s in everything in greater volumes than ever before. Android phones have in many cases doubled the amount of built-in memory in the last year from 3 or 4 to 6 or even 8GB. The OnePlus 5T and Razer Phone are both great phones, and are both packing the most memory we’ve seen in a handset. Further, SSDs of both the traditional 2.5-inch and ultra-slim M.2 varieties are exploding in popularity both as ways to improve performance of aging systems and to slim down new ones.
That’s caused RAM prices to leap upward. Take a look at these history graphs from Amazon price tracker Camelcamelcamel:
While the current prices vary, the same thing has happened across the board – prices are way up. In the case for that Corsair RAM, prices have literally tripled, and other RAM has generally doubled from where it was a couple years ago.
A lot of these companies are Chinese and Taiwanese, and the Chinese government is indeed looking into potential price fixing on some of these chips, but there’s no doubt that demand is very high and, for now, that’s affecting those prices and likely will for a while to come.
On the graphics card side, the supply problem can be tracked back to exactly cause: cryptocurrency.
While graphics cards are really good at pushing pixels to our screens and making our favorite games look as gorgeous as they can, it seems that same power lends itself to other math-intensive activities like password cracking and mining for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and others. The CPUs that run our operating systems are good at making the kinds of decisions necessary to make an OS work fluidly, but GPUs like the Radeon RX480 and Nvidia GTX1070 are great at the kind of brute-force computation needed for cryptocurrency mining.
As a result, these graphics cards are almost impossible to find right now, and are unreasonably expensive when you do find them. Even cards that were previously considered non-optimal for mining are now scarce as aspiring miners try to squeeze every last coin out of various currencies.
Popular cards like the NVIDIA GTX 1070 and AMD Radeon RX 580 have gone for as low as $360 and $240 respectively, but have climbed up over $800 and $600.
If you’re looking to level up your gaming rig right now – right now – don’t build a system piecemeal. At the very least, just wait. NVIDIA has spoken out in favor of gamers as the intended audience for its cards. Maybe the company can work with retailers to find a way to keep these cards flowing to gamers and selling for reasonable prices.
If you’re looking to game right now, though, look seriously at a gaming console. If you consider yourself part of a particular PC enthusiast group, that’s going to sound like heresy, but it’s really the cheapest way to get high-end gaming started right now. The PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X are both massively powerful consoles, with the latter especially so. A huge portion of the games available on PC are also available on these systems, and they provide benefits for owners of 1080p and 4K screens alike. And they go for $400 and $500 a piece. That’s a whole, 4K capable system for less than the price of a medium-range graphics card on its own, without the other parts necessary to build a computer.
If you simply must have a PC, a pre-built system is worth considering, too. Companies like Asus and MSI are building gamer-oriented PCs that are affordable in comparison to these cards. A GTX 1070 is $800 right now, but it was $1400 just a few weeks ago, so prices are still in heavy flux, and one of these systems may be cheaper bought whole than the graphics cards on their own, depending on the day you buy the system.
Check those prices before you dive into a build, and keep your eyes on the other options out there.