Graphics cards in 2020: It was the best of years, it was the worst of years

It used to be the most productive of graphics tech, it used to be the worst of graphics tech, it used to be the age of extraordinary gen-on-gen efficiency bumps, it used to be the age of selling foolishness, it used to be the epoch of inexpensive 4K gaming, it used to be the epoch of $1,500 GPUs, it used to be the season of ray tracing, it used to be the season of arbitrarily now not enabling ray tracing, it used to be the summer time of serious new graphics card hope, it used to be the wintry weather of empty shelf depression.

Mainly, when it comes to new graphics playing cards, this yr has been nice… after which became absolute canine eggs.

This ill-fated yr of 2020 had a GPU-shaped vibrant spot shining like a beacon out of the ever encroaching darkness of Autumn. It used to be the technological pinnacle we had all been having a look ahead to. Neatly, some people had been getting all enthusiastic about some new pseudo-PC sport bins—glance guys, we’ve got were given SSDs now—however the remainder of us had been keeping out for the massive AMD and Nvidia head-to-head.

We knew Nvidia used to be going to be launching the successor to its robust Turing structure, with the standard anticipated generational velocity hikes, however there used to be the reality AMD used to be promising now not simplest to ship some authentic high-end pageant to the fairway staff, but additionally destroy the most productive of Nvidia’s last-gen playing cards through some margin.

The hype used to be actual, because it ever is for unreleased Radeon GPUs, and whilst we are slightly inured to the steadily wild rumoured claims of world-beating efficiency, this time round it felt like they’d some credence. Like AMD used to be in truth going to drag it off this time, and Nvidia in truth began to sound just a little apprehensive.

AMD hadn’t been on the races in the previous few years, GPU-wise, who prefer as an alternative to make volumes paintings for it within the mainstream marketplace, through competing within the $300-and-below value issues. However we had been to get critical high-end Radeon graphics playing cards for the primary time in an aeon, or even Intel used to be going to show up on the children’ desk with its personal discrete graphics card too. A 3-way GPU marketplace, what a time to be alive…

As a slight apart, I am scripting this in past due December and although I have were given a beautiful new Razer Blade Stealth 13 sat subsequent to me, with the Intel Xe GPU structure in it, I will be able to’t depend built-in CPU graphics as a win on that entrance. Sorry Intel.

AMD RX 6000-series GPU

(Symbol credit score: AMD)

However the AMD/Nvidia fight did occur, and it used to be wonderful. 

Jen-Hsun’s gang introduced an almighty graphics card within the Nvidia RTX 3080, one that I called “****ing great,” once more channeling the living spirit of Dickens through my prose. It crushed the previous incumbent of the fastest graphics card podium spot, and did so while costing almost half the price. The generational performance uplift is practically unprecedented, though it does like to chow down on a heap of power to deliver that. The RTX 3080 is capable of offering 4K gaming with ray tracing enabled that can match what the previous generation could manage just by pure rasterization. Which is a good thing, btw.

The Radeon response wasn’t exactly swift, with the AMD RX 6800 XT launching almost two months to the day later than Nvidia’s flagship Ampere GPU, but the reaction was in no way diminished. Jacob was a lot more refined in his assessment of the red team’s new GPU, calling it “truly an enthusiast card worth consideration for any PC gamer with 4K in their sights.” 

AMD had done it, it had delivered a high-end graphics card that could ostensibly match the RTX 3080’s general gaming performance and for a chunk of change less.

There are still caveats to that, however. The new AMD RDNA 2 architecture still has trouble with ray tracing, exemplified by the recent release of Vulkan Ray Tracing, a GPU-agnostic extension built for the open source API AMD itself birthed with Mantle. The RX 6800 XT is also tangibly slower at 4K gaming than the RTX 3080, despite having greater potential memory bandwidth and a larger pool of GDDR6 memory.

Nvidia RTX 3080 and RTX 3090

(Image credit: Future)

But there we were with two fantastic graphics cards, and they kept coming. Both sides released ultra-enthusiast versions—which no sane PC gamer should go anywhere near—and more affordable options which scaled the performance down, but still destroyed the previous generations’ cards.

The green team launched three new RTX 30-series cards, but all three vanished from retail stock in what felt like a pico-second

Nvidia and AMD had delivered on their promises of spectacular graphics cards for us PC people, how could it be better? Anyone not actually reviewing the GPUs actually getting hold of one would have been a start.

The green team launched three new RTX 30-series cards before AMD had fired a shot, but all three vanished from retail stock in what felt like a pico-second. A working from home ecology, where people no longer had to spend on commuting, were tied to their PCs almost 24/7, and just desperately needed some good ol’ fashioned retail therapy to feel even the most fleeting spark of joy, all combined to create unprecedented demand for a set of GPUs that made it worth a damn to upgrade pretty much any graphics card you might own.

That and the fact a million-bot army was unleashed by wouldbe resellers upon the world which sunk most retailers the instant cards went on sale, and effectively ended Nvidia selling cards through its own shop. The green team spoke publicly about the difficulties it had in a blog post about the situation where it admitted it was “overrun with malicious bots and resellers.”

The GeForce launches did get better as things moved on, but stock still only lasted minutes longer even after all the bot protection initiatives were enabled. For the Nvidia RTX 3070 launch company reps told me that while they had more stock than for any other launch (thanks to a two week delay to up the available numbers) it could have still sold five times as many on day one.

Nvidia’s struggle to satisfy demand, and the subsequent consumer rage at not being able to throw money at them, seemed to please some of the marketing bods at AMD. Frank Azor, Alienware co-founder and now AMD marketing chief architect (?), leaned into the green team’s struggle to assure folks his company’s new CPU and GPU launches wouldn’t have the same problems.

Virtually inevitably the AMD RX 6800-series launches had been worse. Merchandise did not even seem on sale prior to abruptly being indexed as out of inventory, Microcenter refused to permit on-line gross sales, which result in folks tenting out of doors quite a lot of shops within the depths of a deadly disease, and B&H Photograph in truth refused to take any pre-orders because it could not ensure any inventory in any respect in 2020. 

After posting a much-maligned tweet the place he used to be ready to shop for himself a brand new card, Azor mysteriously went quiet.

Then, a few month later, got here the third-party RX 6800-series release. The place producers may blow their own horns their very own designs and extra AMD playing cards would in truth seem. And but there were not even sufficient playing cards for release day evaluations to also be written, let by myself sufficient playing cards to supply even a semblance of unencumber inventory.

Because the quite a lot of launches Nvidia playing cards are a minimum of infrequently popping again into shops right here and there, however are usually picked off right away through enterprising people avidly following stock-checkers. That is not to mention the location is in anyway having a look just right for folks chasing each side’s GPUs, however some individuals are in truth ready to get themselves new playing cards with a little of diligence and a large number of effort. Our Wes has picked up an RTX 3070, one in all Jacob’s friends has bagged an RTX 3060 Ti, although Tim is  desperately looking to pay money for an RTX 3080.

At the AMD aspect there is not any visibility of any next shipments of Radeon GPUs filtering into shops, and so any person who failed to pick out up an RX 6800 XT, RX 6800, or RX 6900 XT at release appear to be out of good fortune.

AMD RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 graphics card on table

(Symbol credit score: Long run)

Probably the most relentless tech topics of this yr has been the combat between provide and insist, and it is under no circumstances restricted to graphics playing cards. The entirety from PSUs to PS5s had been all however inconceivable to buy. However the place it stings essentially the most is with this new era of GPUs. They are the most productive graphics playing cards we’ve got ever observed from both AMD or Nvidia, and that makes all of the hoops we need to soar via to even get a possibility to peer some random third-party card pop up in inventory much more exhausting to swallow.

There are a bunch of various variations of each GPU, which ought to offer us an enormous quantity of selection. As a substitute we need to make do with whichever possibility is to be had at any given second. And that sucks, particularly given the Founders Version of Nvidia’s playing cards are simply without equal expression of Ampere, and AMD has in truth made a beautiful surprising reference card itself.

However the horrendous scenario would possibly not final, extra inventory will fill the cabinets after the brand new yr… and there will be extra new GPUs coming quickly to get all gooey over too. However it is all simply another reason to wish to see the again of 2020 as briefly as imaginable.

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