The Nvidia RTX 4090 currently reigns as the king of consumer graphics cards, sitting atop our GPU benchmarks hierarchy. It’s one of the best graphics cards for gaming, AI, and other work — except RTX 4090 prices have been increasing ever since the cards were put on the U.S. export controls list a few months back. Did that suddenly increase demand for the GPU? Perhaps not among individuals in most areas, but scalpers and profiteers appear to be snapping up as many cards as possible.
X user I_Like_NV posted several pictures reportedly showing a Vietnamese “trader/scalper” with piles of RTX 4090 cards that are intended to be shifted into China. How such individuals plan to move the inventory — no doubt at a significant profit — wasn’t discussed, but it’s no secret that the PRC isn’t particularly fond of the new export restrictions. Unofficial back doors and smuggling seem likely candidates.
Exclusive: This is one of the Vietnamese traders/scaplers who are collecting too many 4090s to sell to China 😂 pic.twitter.com/TN3OuNgmhwNovember 28, 2023
Nvidia doesn’t specifically list unit sales for specific GPUs, but top-tier parts like the RTX 4090 aren’t nearly as popular among gamers as mainstream offerings. The most recent Steam Hardware Survey for example put the number of RTX 4090 users at 0.62%, compared to 1.79% for the more recent RTX 4060 — a card that has only been on the survey for three months. When demand for a high-end part like 4090 suddenly skyrockets, it can take months for supply to catch up.
This is all reminiscent of the GPU shortages we saw back in 2020–2021 with the RTX 30-series and RX 6000-series GPUs being bought up en masse for use in GPU cryptocurrency mining operations — primarily Ethereum. Demand for GPUs plummeted when Ethereum halted proof-of-work mining last year, and the RTX 40-series and RX 7000-series cards have generally been selling at or slightly below MSRPs for the past year. Now, things are starting to change.
There are numerous other reports of consumer GPUs, including the RTX 4090, RTX 3090, and RTX 3080, being dismantled and reconfigured as AI and data center solutions. That includes the use of blower-style coolers, and in the case of the RTX 3080, doubling the VRAM. The 30-series cards likely consist mostly of used mining GPUs, while the 4090 cards likely didn’t get used for mining.
It’s a strange situation, and shows once again the many unintended consequences that can result from policy changes. RTX 4090 cards from major add-in card partners can’t be assembled in China either, which is also impacting prices. There are still rumblings of an RTX 4090 Ti or Super circulating, which would join its lesser sibling on the list of banned-in-China GPUs. But being officially banned doesn’t mean there aren’t other routes into the Middle Kingdom.