It’s Hard to Be Excited About New Laptops and GPUs When Supply is Scarce
If you believed the rumors, AMD and Nvidia were supposed to deliver a bunch of show-stopping CES announcements. Rumors that Nvidia was going to announce a RTX 3080 Ti or a RTX 3070 Super. Rumors that AMD was going to launch its RX 6700 by the end of this month. Even Intel was quiet about the status of its discrete Xe GPUs, although it still had a bevy of announcements regarding new CPUs for desktops and laptops. Laptop makers seemed more confident about their ability to meet demand, at least in the next few months. availability. After that it’s up to how well each company planned its production schedule to keep stock on the shelves—and, well, I’m not feeling totally confident about that with an impending chip shortage and all.
During a normal CES year, we might have heard more about these MIA graphics cards, but teasing potential buyers if there’s a good chance they’ll be waiting long past the launch date to get one? Not a great idea. Both AMD and Nvidia also announced all the biggest and best stuff before the new year, so there really wasn’t much left to announce that would drum up excitement.
Most of AMD’s 50-minute keynote was taken up with testimonials from the CEOs of other companies praising Ryzen CPUs and how they have benefited their businesses. It’s no mystery that AMD has some damn good processors, graphics cards too. But it seemed like AMD’s Ryzen 4000 series processors received more fanfare last year. Maybe it was because some unique laptops, like the Asus ROG Zephyrus G14, would be the first to have them. Or it was the first time AMD had a strong, viable alternative to Intel’s mobile processors, even though the company made mobile processors for years before that.
This time around, it felt like AMD glazed over the specs of its new mobile processors, and even its performance compared to the previous generation and Intel equivalents. The only announcement AMD made regarding graphics cards was the mobile versions of its new RDNA 2 cards, which will release sometime in the first half of 2021.
Nvidia’s formal CES announcement was shorter and more underwhelming than AMD’s. The only desktop GPU it announced was the RTX 3060, which prompted many people watching the stream on YouTube to type OUT OF STOCK into the chat. It was also largely assumed the RTX 3080, 3070, and 3060 were coming to laptops, so that announcement wasn’t that big of a surprise when it hit. It was more or less expected.
Nvidia announced a few games were getting DLSS and ray tracing, and it talked about Resizable bar on its 30-series cards—Nvidia and Intel’s answer to AMD’s Smart Access Memory to boost frame rate in some games—but nothing else popped. (Sure would be nice to have the option enabled on 20-series cards since 30-series are so hard to find from anyone besides scalpers.)
The more interesting tidbits came in the form of a Q&A roundtable with AMD CEO Lisa Su, which only a select number of press were invited to. But a lot of the questions revolved around supply and demand, according to Dr. Ian Cutress. Su told those present that the chip shortage is “the result of a demand focused environment, rather than manufacturing issues.”
Su continued on, saying that she didn’t believe the shortage would cap AMD’s market share, but the increased demand has not only put pressure on foundries to make more chips but created an issue of sourcing the raw materials —one that Su said could continue through 2021. There’s a lot of prioritization logistics between how many chips these companies for end-users and OEM, but Su assured that it’s a top priority of AMD to get more chips in the hands of consumers.
Speaking at the 19th Annual J.P. Morgan Tech Auto Forum Conference on January 12, 2021, Nvidia also addressed the chip shortage, saying it expects inventory to “remain lean” until the end of March 2021 in both online and physical retail marketplaces. “Our overall capacity has not been able to keep up with that overall strong demand that we have seen,” said Nvidia CFO Colette Kress. Interestingly, Kress said crypto miners haven’t played a large part in the GPU demand that’s going on right now.
In some of our own discussions with laptop vendors over the last week, most said there would be enough new product to supply demand during the first purchasing wave. Yet speaking with Acer, a spokesperson told us that supply could be tight after that initial wave. So again, there’s a similar issue going on with laptop vendors as there is with chip makers. (Laptop vendors do need the chipmakers’ parts.) In contrast, an MSI spokesperson told us that supply should not be an issue for its new laptops because it has scheduled shipments coming in on a weekly basis. How many weeks out those shipments have been scheduled, MSI did not say.
Logistically, once supply and demand start to even out, it could be a while before consumers see the products they want to buy start to fill shelves. A lot of companies prefer to ship their products via ocean freight because it’s cheaper, but it usually takes a month or a little longer before everything arrives at U.S. ports. Shipping via air is of course faster, but a lot more expensive, and depending on weather conditions around the country as we get further into the winter, some areas could experience longer delays than others. (Didn’t take long into my stint working in the semiconductor industry to figure out that part of the shipping part is perhaps the most crucial.)
But while a lot of us hardware enthusiasts are likely feeling somewhat deflated after this week’s CES announcements, it’s probably for the best that AMD and Nvidia didn’t get our hopes up too much—save the big GPU and whatever else announcements for when they’ll land harder. I’m expecting supply of the RTX 3060 GPUs to go just as fast as all the other ones before it. Scalpers will likely continue to make the supply/demand situation worse and piss off legit PC builders and parents still trying to get a new laptop for their kid’s virtual school. Crypto miners will likely fight hard, too, to get any and all cards they can. It’s the circle of silicon life at the moment. Only thing we can do, if we don’t need a new GPU, CPU, laptop, or whatever right now, is be patient.