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Now is not the time to buy a new GPU

If you find yourself itching to buy a new GPU, you may want to use some hydrocortisone cream to get through the summer.

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2020 is shaping up to be a banger for high-profile game releases. In years past, the final years of a console cycle often experience a slow trickle of marquee game releases, but this time, things feel different. Ahead of the expected launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series X consoles later this year, some of the world’s best game developers are planning to launch some monster games and the overwhelming majority are headed to the PC. Cyberpunk 2077, Dying Light 2, Death Stranding, Resident Evil 3 Remake, Doom Eternal, Wasteland 3, and Marvel’s Avengers are just a selection of the heavyweights on the horizon (and if the rumors are to be believed Horizon: Zero Dawn is coming, too). Conventional wisdom says that if you want to enjoy the big games on PC, you’ll need a beefy PC and GPU to match.

Cyberpunk 2077 will rock PCs and consoles later this year.
Cyberpunk 2077 will rock PCs and consoles later this year.

You may be planning to build a new machine or upgrade your current box in anticipation of these big games. Securing a powerful new GPU is critical, but maybe right now is not the best time to invest in one of AMD or NVIDIA’s graphics cards. Is there a perfect time to buy a new graphics card? Likely not, but there can definitely be a bad time to buy one, and right now is one of those times for a big chunk of potential customers. If you have rap video money and don’t care about getting any bang for your buck, none of this advice will apply to you, but for the rest of the world, maximizing the return on your investment is always a concern.

Why not now?

Why is the end of the winter season of 2020 not a great time to buy a new GPU? The simple answer is that new models are on the way this year from both AMD and NVIDIA. While it is true that something bigger and better is always around the corner, the argument for delaying a GPU purchase today has some complexity. 

The GeForce GTX 970 sent shockwaves through the market with its price to performance ratio.
The GeForce GTX 970 sent shockwaves through the market with its price to performance ratio.

The point in time at which you purchase a GPU during its retail life cycle can have a meaningful effect on its real or perceived value. A person who bought NVIDIA’s GeForce 780 Ti in August 2014 just ahead of the launch of the similarly performing GeForce GTX 970 is likely to feel a bit of buyer’s remorse knowing that they paid double the price to get a three-week period of use before their card reached its end of life at the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP). Had the same GTX 780 Ti been purchased in November 2013 at launch, the extra cost could be justified by the additional year of unrivaled performance.

The folks who purchased NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 1080 Ti at launch have been enjoying a premium level of performance for their $700 since March of 2017, while another person who bought the GeForce RTX 2080 in June of 2019 paid the exact same price for arguably the same performance. They are both excellent enthusiast performance cards, but those who bought in on the technology leap early in the product life cycle got much more playtime at the elite level of performance. This particular comparison does not represent the norm at all price or performance points and is certainly not representative of how the market functions every year, but it is something to keep in mind when shopping for a new card.

The current landscape

The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti still commands $1200 street price nearly two years after it launched.
The GeForce RTX 2080 Ti still commands a $1200 street price nearly two years after it launched.

Making buying decisions based solely on release dates is not the only answer, but rather one of the considerations to weigh when looking to buy a GPU. Sometimes your current card dies out of warranty and you simply want a replacement fast. Some graphics cards see their value rise or fall across the course of their shelf life for a variety of reasons, most commonly due to new releases from competitors or from other cards in a vendor’s lineup. Back when AMD and NVIDIA traded the enthusiast performance crown on a regular basis, it was not uncommon to see relative performance per dollar make major gains in the mid-range market thanks to new halo products pushing the old kings down into lower price points. 

On the high end of the market, NVIDIA owns the performance crown with the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti. It has been ridiculously expensive since it launched in the second half of 2018 but has faced no direct competition from AMD. It continues to carry its insane premium price and is expected to do so through the first half of this year. Things could change as both major vendors are expected to release new cards targeting enthusiast users. 

AMD CEO Lisa Su went on record last month during CES declaring that her company would be releasing at least one GPU based on the large chip variant of its current Navi architecture. Codenamed “Big Navi'', this product has AMD fans expecting performance that meets or exceeds that of NVIDIA’s RTX 2080 Ti for a much more affordable price. This would likely force NVIDIA to drop the price of its halo consumer graphics product or prompt the release of its own successor. Big Navi may not have to beat the 2080 Ti or its successor outright if it gets within striking distance and hits shelves with an attractive sticker price.

Last year, AMD showed up at E3 2019 with the first cards based on the Navi architecture, the Radeon RX 5700 and RX 5700 XT. These cards offered better performance for a lower price than NVIDIA’s Turing-based products in the high-end GPU market. NVIDIA responded by introducing SUPER variants of its existing cards and slashed prices of old stock. The Navi-based cards are still offering a strong value nearly a year later as their street prices have slowly dropped since launch. In most cases, they are as fast as their direct NVIDIA counterparts for less money. If you had a $300 budget and had to buy today, it would be hard to argue against the Radeon RX 5700. For an additional $50, the RX 5700 XT puts you in spitting distance of the performance level NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 2080 provided for $700 not long ago. Even the GeForce RTX 2070 SUPER, the direct competitor to the RX 5700 XT, carries a $500 street price.

Looking ahead

NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang is probably hiding the GeForce RTX 3080 under that leather jacket.
NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang is probably hiding a wad of GeForce RTX 3080 cards in that leather jacket.

While the rumor mill is churning slowly as of today, each week heading into Computex 2020 or SIGGRAPH 2020 is likely to offer new leaks or information on AMD and NVIDIA’s graphics card release plans. The GPU making use of Big Navi will most likely be on store shelves by summer’s end, as will the next generation of NVIDIA cards. The release date delays for Cyberpunk 2077 and Dying Light 2 might be a blessing in disguise for PC players who want the most out of their gaming experience. Brand new, ultra-fast GPUs are sure to make those games more enjoyable and offer a better value proposition moving forward into the next generation of console ports.

Buying the GPUs near launch their launch window ensures that you will have a longer period of time to enjoy the performance premium they offer. Purchasing a Turing-based RTX 2000-series GPU today at a cost near their launch price could leave you with a case of buyer’s remorse right around the time you see the Cyberpunk 2077 logo on your monitor. 

Cyberpunk 2077, along with all the other game’s that already use or will make use of ray-tracing effects, are likely to pick up a big boost from NVIDIA’s second try at the technology. The first generation of GPUs that offered acceleration for programmable shaders was NVIDIA’s GeForce 3 that launched way back in 2001. Owners of The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind had the option to enable pixel-shaded water effects with a rather large hit to performance. It did not drastically change the way the game looked but was a glimpse into the future of real-time graphics rendering. Just a few years later, BioShock became the first game to require ShaderModel 3.0 support from GPUs and programmable shader acceleration was much faster.

Ray tracing is not a fad and its integration into future software is an inevitability as GPU power advances. Both Sony and Microsoft have mentioned the existence of ray tracing-capable hardware in their new consoles (that are rumored to be powered by AMD’s Navi architecture). It is an incredibly safe bet that this year’s new enthusiast GPU from AMD will offer ray tracing support. Waiting a few extra months to get such a feature will be worth it.

Just a bit longer

Resident Evil 3 Remake is due out soon, but will likely be well-optimized like its predecessor.
Resident Evil 3 Remake is due out soon, but will likely be well-optimized like its predecessor.

Not every game will arrive after the new GPUs will be hitting shelves this year. Doom Eternal and Resident Evil 3 Remake will be terrorizing PCs as soon as next month. The temptation to buy now will be immense, but you must be strong. Doom 2016 was renowned for its optimization and performance on low-end hardware and Resident Evil 2 Remake managed to turn heads last year without melting GPUs. It is likely that the newer incarnations of these games will be very enjoyable on your current rig. As an added bonus, you’ll get to crank up the settings and framerate later this year and enjoy them all over again after you buy a new GPU! 

Keeping track of all the upcoming release in 2020 will be tough. To make things easier, refer to our Release Date Calendar guide. You'll be ready for all the biggest games.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 21, 2020 9:00 AM

    Chris Jarrard posted a new article, Now is not the time to buy a new GPU

    • reply
      February 21, 2020 9:57 AM

      Don’t forget that 1% chance Intel’s Xe discrete GPUs are competitive and they try to buy market share. Those are expected this summer.

      • reply
        February 21, 2020 10:49 AM

        I thought I read they are pulling an AMD and going after the midrange market first though?

      • reply
        February 21, 2020 10:50 AM

        I thought it was only data-center type stuff this year? And the consumer cards are still a few years out?

      • reply
        February 21, 2020 10:53 AM

        Not the first revision. They may eventually do gaming cards, but it's not an immediate product.

    • reply
      February 21, 2020 12:11 PM

      well too bad I just bought one! and I'm loving it!!

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      February 23, 2020 7:25 PM

      Yeah, like I know! But HL:A will be here soon and I'll need better hardware by then!

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        February 24, 2020 10:16 AM

        I bought my 2080ti when the Index came out. I have no intention of upgrading that any time soon, but i recently learned that my CPU was bottlenecking it, so I just bought a 9900k to replace it. (the CPU should be here today actually).

        • reply
          February 24, 2020 10:17 AM

          I’m sitting on a 6700k and a 980ti. Pretty sure upgrading will be a requirement as it barely ran Boneworks and HL:A will be much more detailed.

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