Back in July, I went to Micro Center to get a video card for my son. The selection wasn’t great. They had a few $50 cards. They had three $110 cards. Not three different ones. Three GT 1030s. Total. And nothing else under $2,500. And they didn’t have a ton of those either. Other parts were less scarce, but not what I’m used to. So why is it so hard to find computer parts?
The global parts shortage
There was a bit of a perfect storm for much of 2020 and 2021. The covid-19 pandemic did a number on the global supply chain. This didn’t just affect computers. Lumber prices have been weird too. Productivity in general was down because factories were, in some cases, closed. While not all computer chips are necessarily in short supply, many are. And it only takes one necessary component being unobtainable to stop production. COVID pretty much exposed every weak link in every industry, it seems.
In addition, covid-19 increased demand for computer parts. People around the world were staying home more, and needed something safe to do. An awful lot of them decided to try building a computer. Or they bought a pre-built computer. That increased scarcity and prices too.
When you can find parts, prices are up. Last year, AMD introduced a $50 CPU. It was surprisingly good for the price. Too good. They couldn’t keep up with demand. You can’t find that chip for $50 anymore. When I went looking for one, the best price I could find was $82. In some cases it was selling for $100.
It’s not just new computers either. I’ve noticed a dramatic uptake in interest in my blog posts about vintage computers and gaming. And the market for that stuff is way up. I think prices were higher last year, but they are considerably higher this year than they were 2 years ago.
There’s a third factor going on. Stores can’t keep video cards in stock because people are buying them and using them to mine cryptocurrency. They are likely to spend more in electricity than they make on the currency they mine, but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone. Some stores impose limits to try to keep things halfway fair. The limits are the only reason I was able to get a video card when I did. The card I got isn’t great for cryptocurrency, but it’s the least expensive card that’s worth using for it. Used GPU prices are up a good 30 percent from their pre-pandemic prices too.
The situation probably is temporary. Once covid-19 is under control, we can expect the supply chain to recover and demand to eventually drop. The release of Windows 11 may keep demand a typically high for a bit, but that will depend a lot on whether Microsoft loosens its requirements.
But until that happens, you can expect computer parts to be in short supply, both new and used, because people are holding on to what they have, and they’re spending more time online than out in public.