The GPU market is a disaster in 2021. A global semiconductor shortage coupled with massive demand from gamers and cryptocurrency miners has pushed graphics cards off the digital shelves. And with tariffs on goods imported from the east, cards sell well above the RRP. Scalpers only exacerbated the problem, selling cards on the second-hand market for twice the price (and sometimes even more).
The GPU market isn't going to rebound anytime soon, but the news isn't all bad. You can play the latest pc games with the very latest components if you know where to look. Here are four alternatives to buying an expensive GPU.
1. Obtain a pre-built PC
The only consistent way to get a GPU in 2021 is with a pre-built computer. There are many machines that pack RTX 30 series and RX 6000 graphics cards, including the Dell XPS 8940 SE and HP Omen 30L. You can find these machines online and at major retailers, but HP and Dell are big names so you may have trouble finding a configuration with the graphics card you want. That makes fully custom machines like the Falcon Northwest Talon a little more compelling as it allows you to choose exactly the specs you want (assuming you have the money).
Falcon is a great option, but you can find similar pre-built machines at Maingear, Origin PC, and CyberPower PC. Newegg and Micro Center also have their own PCs, and NZXT offers its BLD program.
If you already have a gaming PC, the good news is that GPUs aren't the only components that are in short supply. You can take the graphics card out of a pre-built one and bring the other components to the second-hand market.
2. Get a gaming laptop
Gaming laptops have come a long way. Thanks to machines like the Razer Blade 15 and Alienware m15, which offer desktop-like performance in a thin and light body, you don't have to drag a cinder block around to play on the go. Gaming laptops have not only become lighter, but also cheaper. You can find a high-end configuration for less than $ 2,000, and there are plenty of excellent mid-range machines available for less than $ 1,000.
Our collection of the best gaming laptops has options for every size and budget. You can still get decent gaming performance with computers like the Dell XPS 15 or the HP Specter x360. AMD doesn't show up often in mobile gaming rigs. Therefore, you will generally find devices with mobile graphics cards from the RTX 30 series from Nvidia or a slightly older card from the GTX 16 series.
If you're starting from scratch, a gaming laptop might be your best bet. You can easily turn it into a desktop replacement with a Thunderbolt 3 dock, and external GPU enclosures make it easy to add a little extra power later.
3. Try cloud games
Cloud gaming is not a substitute for a dedicated gaming PC, but it can help you until the GPU market recovers. If you're looking to jump into PC gaming or are waiting for an upgrade, GeForce Now is your best option. It uses the library of games you already have on Steam, the Epic Games Stores, and other platforms so you can keep building your library before upgrading. Shadow is also a great option as it gives you a dedicated gaming PC in the cloud. However, the waiting list is long.
If you already have a gaming PC, you can take a hybrid approach. For demanding games like Cyberpunk 2077, you can use the cloud, and for less demanding games, you can use whatever hardware you have. This is the best setup if you want to upgrade later.
There are other cloud gaming services including PlayStation Now, Amazon Luna, Xbox Game Pass, and Google Stadia. All of these platforms are closed, so you cannot push your progress over to a gaming PC later. PS Now, Game Pass, and Luna require a subscription that unlocks a library of games. Stadia has a similar program, but you have to purchase games separately.
4. Buy an older GPU
This is the least effective option. However, if you are diligent, you will find an older GPU faster than a new one. If you want a brand new card, we keep a list of the best GPU deals that is updated regularly. Almost all cards are overpriced right now, from flagship models to the cheapest GPUs, but every now and then cards pop up at reasonable prices. Check our list often and check out local retail stores like Best Buy and Micro Center in case you have one near you.
You can save money when shopping in the second-hand market. You can find an RTX 2080 Super for around $ 1,000 and a GTX 1070 for around $ 400 on eBay. You can find cards that are even cheaper on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. These cards are overpriced too, but given the state of the GPU market, they don't look bad.
Whether you're buying a new or used one, we don't recommend buying anything older than a GTX 10 series graphics card. AMD has RX 5000 cards and RX 500 cards, but they're popular with miners so they're hard to find. We would not recommend older cards from AMD.
Even with the pressure in the GPU market, there are many ways to play PC games in 2021. If you're looking to upgrade and have a little extra cash, go for a pre-built one. If you are just starting out, we recommend using a gaming laptop. If you want to upgrade but don't have the money yet, you can use cloud gaming to fill that void. Neither of them are ideal, but there are still ways to play.