The GPU shortage may make you wonder how many PC graphics cards have been sold in recent months. According to one research firm, Nvidia and AMD collectively shipped 12 million desktop cards in this year’s first quarter.
The estimate comes from Jon Peddie Research, which has been tracking GPU shipments from factories. Its 12 million figure represents a 7% increase from Q4, when Nvidia and AMD shipped over 11 million cards. In Q1, about 80% of the cards shipped were from Nvidia’s GPU line, the remaining 20% were from AMD.
The 12 million figure aligns with an estimate from a separate research firm, Mercury Research, which also tracks the GPU market. “The total desktop supply was well in excess of 10 million units this quarter (Q1) for the combined Nvidia plus AMD shipments,” Mercury Research President Dean McCarron told PCMag last week.
Still, GPU supplies haven’t been enough to satisfy demand. Last week, hundreds of consumers lined up at Best Buy stores across the US to try and buy Nvidia’s latest GPU, the RTX 3080 Ti, but many customers were left empty-handed.
The GPUs also continue to sell out in seconds on e-commerce sites, partly due to scalper-run bots snatching up all the product. As a result, PC gamers everywhere are hoping Nvidia and AMD can boost their supplies, even as manufacturing capacity has been stretched thin.
In a bit of irony, Jon Peddie Research is actually advising GPU manufacturers to avoid overreacting to the shortage. Case in point: The 12 million figure for Q1 actually isn’t a record high for desktop graphics card shipments. In Q1 2018, GPU makers collectively shipped 16 million units to try and meet demand from cryptocurrency miners. However, the value of Bitcoin plummeted during the same period, creating a massive backlog for desktop graphics cards.
“All of a sudden the demand disappeared and Nvidia was hit the worst by this. So they ended up with a whole bunch of inventory that took almost two or three quarters to bleed off,” said Jon Peddie, president of Jon Peddie Research. “The [retail] channels were trying to sell this stuff, and they were not buying any new parts from Nvidia.”
GPU makers could face a repeat if they overestimate the demand. Once again, cryptocurrency mining is back in vogue. But the interest could fade fast. For example, the Ethereum community is already preparing to phase out GPU-intensive mining in the coming months. Meanwhile, the value of cryptocurrencies in general has been falling.
“I’ve seen this movie before and it doesn’t have a good ending,” Peddie added, alluding to past overproduction woes. On the flip side, a plummet in mining could free up GPU inventory to consumers.