Why now is a bad time to buy a high-end graphics card

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Why now is a bad time to buy a high-end graphics card

If you follow PCWorld’s The Full Nerd podcast, you might know that my general rule of thumb is that you should upgrade your PC’s components when they’re no longer performing as well as you need. Waiting for new hardware tends to be a fool’s game because in the technology world, faster and better things come out at relatively breakneck speed.


If you’re sniffing around for a new high-end graphics card, however, consider holding off on the purchase for a few months. It’s an awful time to buy one right now.

Don’t get me wrong: Current enthusiast-class GPUs like the GeForce RTX 2080 Super and 2080 Ti kick all kinds of ass. But while AMD and Nvidia haven’t announced any new consumer graphics cards just yet, there’s every reason to believe we’ll see new high-end hardware from each over the next few months. Splurging on a $500 graphics card now runs a high risk of leaving you with a severe case of buyer’s remorse in mere weeks.

AMD’s RDNA 2 and “Big Navi”

Radeon graphics cards based on AMD’s upgraded RDNA 2 architecture will be out sometime before the end of the year. “The discrete graphics market, especially at the high end, is very important to us,” CEO Lisa Su stated at a CES roundtable with select journalists, including PCWorld. “So you should expect that we will have a high-end Navi, although I don’t usually comment on unannounced products.”

The RDNA 2 architecture brings real-time ray tracing into the AMD fold for the first time. It also delivers a massive 50-percent improvement in performance per watt over first-gen “Navi” RDNA GPUs found inside the Radeon RX 5700 series and RX 5500 XT. AMD doesn’t currently field any competition to Nvidia’s 4K-capable GPUs, topping out with the $400 Radeon RX 5700 XT. It’s great for 1440p gaming, but it requires visual compromises if you want to step up to higher resolutions.

AMD CFO Devinder Kumar hyped up Big Navi’s potential at the Bank of America Securities Global Technology Conference in early June, saying, “big Navi is a halo product,” and “enthusiasts love to buy the best, and we are certainly working on giving them the best.” Kumar also confirmed that Big Navi will be the first RDNA 2-based product for AMD. Because those next-gen consoles with AMD inside are coming this year, with the Xbox Series X slated for a November launch, this mysterious high-end Radeon graphics card will need to launch before then.

Nvidia’s next-gen Ampere GPUs

Nvidia, meanwhile, just revealed its next-gen “Ampere” graphics architecture in data center form. While some details remain murky, it looks like a doozy of an upgrade.

nvidia a100 gpu Nvidia

The Ampere GPU at the heart of the A100 graphics cards for data centers is called GA100, a teaser video released by Nvidia shows.

AMD’s current Navi GPUs are much more powerful and efficient than their predecessors, and part of the reason was moving to the smaller 7nm transistor process. Nvidia’s Ampere does the same. Current-gen Nvidia graphics cards with the “Turing” architecture were built on a 12nm process, so expect a generational leap forward in performance. Nvidia’s transition from the GeForce GTX 900-series’ 28nm process to the GTX 10-series’ 16nm process resulted in huge performance gains.

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