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A graphics processing unit (GPU) offers increased graphical horsepower over integrated graphics. While most people use GPUs for gaming they remain useful for data processing as well as tasks such as video editing. Unfortunately, graphics cards now cost more than MSRP.
So why do they cost a fortune? Because of cryptocurrency mining’s popularity, the demand for graphics cards skyrocketed. Find out if you should buy a graphics card or not, and what the best alternatives are!
GPU Price Surge
Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum are mined using either ASIC devices (cryptocurrency lingo explained) or GPUs. While ASICs specialize in mining a particular kind of cryptocurrency, a GPU can do pretty much everything. When Ethereum began its ascent to popularity, GPUs witnessed an associated rise in demand.
Unfortunately, this translated into massive price swings. Before cryptocurrency mining caught on fire, AMD catered to low budgets. Now, you can find AMD discrete graphics cards selling for hundreds above retail. Even older cards went out of stock and remain sought after. Now many Nvidia cards seem better priced. Still, Nvidia GPUs aren’t at a low enough price point to make them worth the investment.
Thus, until Ethereum becomes more difficult to mine, it’s best to forgo buying a GPU.
Don’t Buy a GPU: What to Do Instead
Although the ease of Ethereum mining makes a GPU a poor investment, you’ve got several options. Whether it’s finding a substitute or holding off on a GPU purchase, here’s what you should do instead of buying a GPU.
Buy a Pre-Built PC
While a do-it-yourself (DIY) PC build gives you better value over a pre-built PC, in light of high GPU prices, it’s more economical to purchase a pre-built system.
When selecting a pre-built system, you’ve got to choose between AMD and Nvidia. AMD-powered pre-built PCs are still cheaper than competing Nvidia models. For instance, the CyberPowerPC Gamer Xtreme VR-Capable GXiVR8020A2 sports an i5 processor and AMD RX 480 GPU. At $720, it’s an absolute steal. Sure, there’s no SSD, but you’re better off adding an SSD yourself rather than buying an SSD at the point of sale.
Purchase a Gaming Notebook or Laptop
If you need a GPU for gaming, a gaming notebook or laptop is a great option. These awesome devices cram powerful GPUs into portable form factors and lower weight. With the Nvidia 10 series of GPUs, the mobile versions carry roughly equal performance to their desktop counterparts. As such, Nvidia dropped the “m” which previously came after a mobile GPU.
However, there’s a double-edged sword: gaming notebooks pack a ton of horsepower into tiny form factors. While the portability of a high-performance machine that can handle VR is fantastic, heat management can become an issue. Thus, a cooling pad is almost always a necessity.
Additionally, gaming laptops and notebooks come at higher prices than comparable desktops. Furthermore, unlike a desktop, the GPU typically isn’t upgradable, and a lack of upgradeability decreases longevity. If your GPU becomes a bottleneck, you’ll need an entirely new machine. Nevertheless, especially if you can score a deal, a gaming notebook is an excellent investment. I use an HP Omen for work and play, and my i7-6700HQ equipped laptop, with a GTX 965m, is a more than capable device. It’s surprisingly lightweight considering the 17.3-inch screen.
Opt for an APU
APU stands for Accelerated Processing Unit. Essentially, an APU combines a CPU and a GPU into a single chip. The benefits of an APU include reduced size, performance on par with low-end discrete graphics cards, and better power efficiency.
Yet AMD CPUs and APUs tend to run hot. Before upgrading to an i7-equipped HP Omen, I used an AMD A10 APU-powered laptop. While generally high functioning, it occasionally suffered thermal throttling.
Grab a Gaming Console
PC gamers may scoff and bellow something about “PC Master Race.” Nevertheless, game consoles have progressed substantially. Since both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One use PC architecture, cross-platform games are basically standard. The cost of a console is less than the price of a GPU — for an entire gaming machine.
Still, a game console has its disadvantages. It’s not as utilitarian as a desktop gaming notebook. Consoles lose the ability to mod games as well as flexibility like customizing settings. Of course, a huge pro is that unlike on a PC, console gaming simply works. Because hardware and software are standardized, you don’t need to tweak drivers and fiddle with settings for smooth gameplay. A game console is a fantastic choice instead of a GPU for those seeking the ability to game on a budget.
This might not sound like the most glamorous option. But waiting affords the opportunity to snag a GPU at a reasonable price. The difficulty of mining Ethereum will eventually go up, making the demand for GPUs drop. This way you can buy exactly the GPU you want and either build or upgrade your rig. There’s always a chance you can find a cheap used GPU. Granted, buying used components is always rather risky. While I will buy refurbished products, I rarely purchase used computer components — unless it’s for a project PC like a test machine for various Linux operating systems or a cheap file server.
Don’t Buy a GPU (Yet): Final Thoughts
Think hard about whether you need a GPU. If you need an immediate solution, try a pre-built system, gaming notebook, or APU instead of a discrete graphics card. Alternatively, if you purely need to game and feel like making the switch, consider a gaming console instead of PC gaming. You may be able to pick up a cheap used GPU. This option might require quite a bit of searching though.
However, for those with patience, try waiting until the cryptocurrency buzz diminishes. At that point, GPU demand and accordingly prices will lower. If you’re interested in mining Ethereum or any other cryptocurrency, check out the best DIY and pre-built options for an Ethereum mining rig.
Do you recommend buying a GPU now or later?
Image Credit: Pavel K via Shutterstock