I know, I know. The temptation is great, if you’re a DIY PC-building enthusiast who is tired of watching your games stutter when you crank them to “Ultra” quality settings. Nvidia’s new RTX 30-series graphics cards are beasts. But should you pre-order one? I wouldn’t.
I get the temptation, though: Even if Nvidia’s marketing is overselling their capabilities a bit, you’re going to get solid performance for a reasonable price even if you go for the bottom-rung, $499 Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070. This card is allegedly faster than Nvidia’s previous flagship, the GeForce RTX 2080 Ti—a card that cost $1,000, at minimum, at its launch.
This all but seals the deal if you’re upgrading from anything older than that, especially if your graphics card starts with the number “10″ or lower. But I’m still going to put on my skeptic’s hat and be that annoying voice of reason: Don’t pre-order a new graphics card.
I get it. There’s an absolute thirst out there for new graphics cards, because Nvidia hasn’t offered up a new line (microarchitecture, really) since the September 2018 launch of its GeForce RTX 2080. I bet you’re going to see some sellouts come launch day (September 17), which means you might have to wait some time to get your hands on a new 30-series card. That’s OK.
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First, we still don’t have hands-on, confirmed benchmarks of what these 30-series cards can do. Good on Nvidia for doing a lot of the initial work and throwing out some pretty charts to show how these new graphics cards stomp previous models. (They’re going to make a lot of recent upgraders upset, especially those who recently overpaid for top-of-the-line 20-series cards.) But Nvidia’s figures are PR, not real-world performance-testing.
You owe it to yourself to wait for everyone else—journalists and YouTubers alike—to put these graphics cards through their paces. Not only will this give you the best possible indication of how these cards perform in regular conditions, but you’ll learn a lot about the nuances that those simpler “200% faster!” charts don’t get into.
For example, will CPU bottlenecking impact your ability to hit high frame rates no matter how good your graphics card is? How much extra power will these cards draw when you’re playing your favorite games maxed-out? Will these graphics cards will turn into miniature space heaters or jet engines when you’re gaming? Will these cards boost your frame rates to a noticeable degree in the games you love most, at the resolution and quality settings you typically play? (Hint: You probably don’t need a $1,500 graphics card to play Fortnite).
The launch of the GeForce 30-series cards comes at a delightful time. It’s September; pandemic-September, sure, but still September. That means that those big ol’ shopping days toward the end of November are oh-so-near. While you probably won’t see amazing cash deals for, say, Nvidia’s $1,500 GeForce 3090, you might at least be able to buy the graphics card and get some freebies—games, extra months to try a subscription service, a discount on other gear you might need (such as a new power supply), and so on.
I’m not one to say “wait for two months to save $50,” because that seems a bit silly, but given just how close we are to some major geeky sales events, it’s worth holding out for a little time if you haven’t fully convinced yourself to buy a new 30-series graphics card on launch day. And you might also see some more-aggressive-than-usual pricing because of…
Big Navi. We won’t see AMD announce its counteroffer to Nvidia’s 30-series graphics cards until October 28, which means we have no idea what kind of performance to expect, nor how AMD is planning to counter Nvidia’s already-aggressive pricing for its 30-series graphics cards. But with these being AMD’s first major graphics cards to (finally) support ray tracing, you can expect some healthier-than-normal competition.
What does that mean? Even if you’re an Nvidia loyalist, I wouldn’t buy a 30-series graphics card until I’ve at least seen what AMD is prepping. If AMD’s offers are compelling enough, maybe Nvidia will have to do a little scrambling (or price-dropping) to stay enticing. Who knows, perhaps AMD’s Radeon RX 6000-series GPUs might actually come out on top—possibly for performance and price. If so, you’d be a sucker to blow $1,500 on Nvidia’s top-shelf card right now if something better can be had after a mere month’s wait.
Simply put, the latest graphics card generational battle hasn’t even kicked off yet. There’s no reason to upgrade immediately; if you’ve held out this long to upgrade, you can handle a few extra weeks. It’s the smarter move.
I wrote this article, and even I’m still contemplating a pre-order for a 30-series graphics card because I don’t want to be stuck waiting for months if there are inventory issues. If I haven’t been able to convince you to not pre-order a new card, I take no offense; however, I do suggest that you place your pre-order at a retailer that has a great return policy (and no restocking fee).
Buy your new Nvidia graphics card if you must, but sit on it for as long as you possibly can without using it. You still might not know about AMD’s announcements unless we see some leaks prior to October 28, so I’d try to place your 30-series order as close to the end of September as possible.
Of course, now you’re playing everyone’s favorite graphics card guessing game: How long can you hold out before the cards go out of stock at wherever you’re trying to purchase them? I’m sure you’ll get a sense of the demand once Nvidia’s new cards launch, which should hopefully help you figure out whether it’s worth waiting or pulling the trigger sooner than later. No matter what, consider the power of a good return policy, and you might be able to get a better deal later—or a better graphics card entirely.