“Don’t Build a High-End Gaming PC Right Now,” Tom’s Hardware declared in November. “This Is a Bad Time to Build a High-End Gaming PC,” ExtremeTech echoed last month. But it’s looking like the worst time to build a new gaming rig is still to come. That’s because a perfect storm is pushing the price of components like must-have Nvidia or AMD graphics cards even further skyward — and because Donald Trump is now part of that storm.
The Trump administration is now imposing a 25 percent tax on graphics cards imported from China, and at least one PC component manufacturer has announced it’ll pass along part of that cost to consumers.
We’ve known for two years that PC components were being swept up in Trump’s trade war on China. In 2018, GamersNexus, in particular, explained in depth how PC parts might see a price increase between 10 and 25 percent due to the categories the Trump administration tried to tax. Apple famously cozied up to Trump to avoid some (but not all) of the import taxes on PC parts, allowing it to build its Mac Pro in the United States using parts imported from China. (Apple didn’t reply to a request for comment on the tariffs.)
But PC gamers and other graphics card buyers also managed to dodge the bullet of higher prices back in September 2019, when the Trump administration granted specific exemptions for “graphics processing modules” and “accelerator modules.” And as The New York Times reported last week, the government extended many of its tariff exemptions until the end of the year.
But December 31st, 2020, came and went with any additional extensions — and The Verge can confirm the exemptions for graphics cards and motherboards (classified under reporting number 8473.30.1180) were among those that expired at the end of the year.
According to the US government’s Harmonized Tariff Schedule, those PC components would normally be free of import taxes. Now, under the “list 3” tariffs that were designed to tax $200 billion worth of Chinese products, graphics card and motherboard vendors have to figure out where to find the additional 25 percent to pay for tariffs.
I’ve reached out to the major GPU and motherboard manufacturers, and they’ve all either declined to comment (Nvidia, Asus, MSI) or failed to respond to my emails (Gigabyte, EVGA, Zotac, XFX, PNY). It’s a little weird.
“MSI cannot respond to your questions at this time. Thank you for your interest and understanding,” an MSI rep told me.
I’m still waiting for an answer from AMD.
Intel says the tariffs haven’t had an impact — yet. “With regard to the tariffs, so far, it is not significant and hasn’t impacted our prices,” a spokesperson tells me. But Intel doesn’t make a lot of motherboards or GPUs yet, and it’s not speaking for partners there.
But we don’t really need to speculate whether this might affect the price you pay because Asus, the largest motherboard manufacturer and a noted GPU supplier, has said it will and has already increased some of its prices, as reported by Videocardz. Here’s the statement the publication received:
Update regarding MSRP pricing for ASUS components in 2021.
This update applies to graphics cards and motherboards*
We have an announcement in regards to MSRP price changes that are effective in early 2021 for our award-winning series of graphic cards and motherboards. Our new MSRP reflects increases in cost for components. operating costs, and logistical activities plus a continuation of import tariffs. We worked closely with our supply and logistic partners to minimize price increases. ASUS greatly appreciates your continued business and support as we navigate through this time of unprecedented market change.
*additional models may see an increase as we moved further into Q1.
— Juan Jose Guerrero III, ASUS’s Technical Product Marketing Manager
Now, the bigger question is whether price hikes might become permanent.
When we reviewed this year’s batch of next-gen PC graphics cards, we needed to give Nvidia and AMD the benefit of the doubt that you’d actually be able to buy them at their sticker price.
That turned out to be an unsafe bet. While it’s clear from social media that some people have managed to buy them at retail, it’s also clear from eBay that the true price of an RTX 3090, 3080, 3070, 3060 Ti, RX 6800 XT, or RX 6800 is far over MSRP.
AMD’s RX 6800 series cards, in particular, have never reappeared at retail for long enough to even make an impact. I’ve personally been waiting and watching to pounce on one ever since my review, and I’ve never even seen an opportunity — unlike Nvidia’s cards where I’ve simply failed to beat the swarm of buyers to the digital checkout counter nearly every time I’ve tried.
Trump’s tariffs aren’t the only thing that might make buying a GPU worse. Bitcoin prices are now at an all-time high, briefly crossing $40,000 for the first time ever earlier today. The price of Ethereum has doubled over the past month and is approaching its previous record, too.
Tom’s Hardware is pointing out that at any given graphic card’s MSRP, it could take significantly less than a year to make your GPU money back by mining. The last time bitcoin prices skyrocketed, it caused a huge GPU shortage that lasted for many months. It was news in May 2018 when Nvidia tweeted that you could finally find a graphics card again at MSRP.
But this time, we’re already in a GPU shortage due to pandemic manufacturing shortages and pent-up demand for the performance that the new wave of graphics cards and next-gen consoles offer. More than half of Americans have turned to video games during the pandemic, and graphically intensive games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Flight Simulator inspired people to build new PCs that only the newest GPUs could run well.
Even if GPU manufacturers didn’t have a 25 percent tariff to deal with, the eBay prices make it clear they were already leaving money on the table. One way manufacturers can take advantage is to create pricier versions of the same exact graphics cards with fancier cooling systems and higher clocks, and many of the cards that gamers have actually been able to buy are that way. You can certainly pay $600 for a souped-up $400 RTX 3060 Ti if you can find that model at retail or $780 for a $500 RTX 3070.
Now, though, I wonder if the base price of these cards is in jeopardy, too. In late November, AMD told Hardware Unboxed that the AMD RX 6800 XT should be available from its partners at the original $649 MSRP within eight weeks. Nearly six weeks later, it doesn’t seem that likely.