It’s only natural to look back at the end of a long year. We wrote a lot of tech news this year:weird, awesome and Gabe-y (opens in new tab)-and a monstrous number of hardware reviews (opens in new tab), at. But it’s a piece that I published on the very first day of 2022 that I want to revisit, a piece that I 2021 the worst year for PC gaming (opens in new tab).
With 2022 now disappearing in the rearview mirror, was it really better? Frankly, I’m not convinced. There are events that you could point to and call them positive, but overall 2022 is still pretty bad for being a PC gamer.
My biggest issue with 2021 was that the combination of cryptocurrency mining and chip supply chain shortages made it an almost impossible economic decision for manufacturers to put attention, energy and, more importantly, money into mainstream PC gaming. It was the fact that with every single GPU being released, it made more sense to keep pumping out $1,000+ cards if you want to sell the same number, as if you’d listed a range of options under $300.
So the cheap PC market was dead, meaning if you wanted to recommend some kind of vaguely affordable entry point into gaming, it had to be one of Sony’s or Microsoft’s consoles. And it sucks to have to say that as a seasoned PC gamer.
But in 2022, both AMD and Nvidia released their low-cost graphics cards: the Radeon RX6500XT (opens in new tab) and the GeForce RTX 3050 (opens in new tab). And that really just made me feel worse about the mainstream market. The RX 6500 XT delivers all the performance of an AMD card that cost the same price when the RX 480 launched in 2016 and the RTX 3050, and in my review I said that “where I wanted at least RTX 2060 performance, I got got GTX 1660 Ti frame rates with a bit of RTX frosting on top.”
I don’t call that progress.
But then Valve dropped the Steam deck (opens in new tab). A device unique to PC in its composition, and the equivalent of our Switch. It’s a console-like device, with a price tag to match. It’s a gateway to the world of PC gaming, offering a utility that no other setup can really offer, not even a proper gaming laptop.
One of the things I notice about Valve’s handheld is that the only differentiator between the three price points is the type and amount of storage – something that can be upgraded later. But to be fair, Gabe’s gang kind of discourages that.
I have already said that I believe that in the dullest year for PC gaming hardware, it was only Valve that took any positive risks (opens in new tab). So I won’t keep hammering away at the Steam Deck, although that was certainly a bright spot of the year.
Another bright white spot, and arguably far more important to the long-term health of PC gaming as a hobby, was the death of cryptocurrency GPU mining (opens in new tab). The long-delayed switch from ethereum to a proof-of-stake consensus meant that the computing power of our graphics cards was no longer needed to secure the ethereum blockchain. That, and bitcoin’s collapse that helped prices across the board, effectively made it a worthless venture.
Cue a lot of second-hand GPUs hitting the market as a ton of miners tried to cash in their chips. At the same time, graphics card manufacturers were ramping up production, which meant that a plethora of new cards were also hitting the shelves of high-end retailers.
That, in turn, meant that prices for GPUs finally started to come down. Though not particularly fast, and we’re still not talking fire-sale prices here either, just that you might be able to find the graphics card you want for only about 25% above MSRP. If you were lucky.
That’s still pretty positive, right? And as we got into sales season in the summer with Prime Day, we actually saw deals on GPUs. Actual, real discounts. Suddenly, AMD’s lackluster mainstream RDNA 2 cards started to take on much greater significance. Suddenly they had a price that actually made them worth it, dare I say, even desirable.
And then the next generation happened. New generations of graphics cards are generally a point of great excitement in PC gaming, but Nvidia raised the barrier to entry to such a scale that only the wealthy fans were invited to the party. Then AMD hosted its own end-of-year GPU soirée and appeared to be copying the party invites directly from the green team.
After both GPU manufacturers revealed their plans, we were left with a new generation of five discrete graphics cards priced between $899 and $1,599. On Nvidia’s side, that translated to a third-tier GPU that would cost $899. And let’s be clear on that, we’re talking about a separate piece of silicon, not a scaled-down version of the expensive top GPU, but a very small chip (around RTX 3050 levels) manufactured to be used in a lower end graphics class card.
And yet it was still priced at $899. And called an RTX 4080. Just like the others RTX 4080 (opens in new tab), which used a completely different GPU and cost $1,200+. Thankfully, Nvidia, after refusing to see that this was a confusing turn of events when pointed out at several press conferences, eventually admitted it wasn’t the best plan and “unlaunched” the 12GB RTX 4080 (opens in new tab). We’ll now likely see that rebranded as an RTX 4070 Ti sometime in the new year.
Still, we were left with the $1,200 16GB RTX 4080 and the RTX 4090 (opens in new tab) for $1,600. And it was unbelievable that the RTX 4090 was the only one that represented any sense of value for money. It’s lame, of course, but that monster GPU is the only current-gen card that actually delivers anything that feels like a real step forward.
On the AMD side, it just followed Nvidia’s ultra-enthusiastic price lead and cost its RDNA 3-powered RX7900XTX (opens in new tab) and RX7900XT (opens in new tab) for $999 and $899 respectively. It’s like the red team doesn’t know how to do enthusiast GPUs, because the ‘XT’ card makes no sense. At ~$500, that price delta makes sense, but pricing $100 less than the full-fledged Navi 31 chip doesn’t work when you’re talking about spending around $1,000 on a new GPU. If you’re already ready to drop that amount, just go spend the extra on the better card.
So we’re ending 2022 in much the same way as 2021. Graphics cards are ridiculously priced and we’re hoping the new year will bring some kind of affordable GPU reprieve.
The current pricing structure is certainly unsustainable, but thankfully we’re starting to see some kind of market correction as neither the RTX 4080 nor the RX 7900 XT cards seem to be selling particularly well. Although all of that is only based on circumstantial and anecdotal evidence, if I’m being completely honest. You don’t have to go to Ebay to find cards overpriced by a scruffy reseller, no, traditional retailers still have stock and are willing to overprice those cards themselves. It’s not about a particularly large offering either, as Nvidia has admitted it’s been shipping below the RTX 40-series so far.
But let me leave this maudlin screed on a high: DLSS 3 with Frame Generation is fucking black gaming magic and will make any mainstream GPU it touches fly. It fully embeds AI-generated frames into compatible games, dramatically improving performance to quite a spectacular level. It was incredibly impressive to see on Nvidia’s high-end cards, but it could be even more of a game-changer in the lower echelons. AMD also has its own plans in that area, which will sound like music to the ears of PC gamers.
Yes, maybe 2023 will be better. Could be.