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PC Hardware Supply vs. Demand in 2021 and Beyond

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Let’s be fair: it would be more than a little presumptuous if we expected or even demanded improvements to the current hardware shortages. Even after a monumental vaccine rollout procedure in many countries, the pandemic is still having a huge global effect, and we as builders need to have patience.

At this point, we are now deep into the knock-on impact of slowdowns at the lowest and earliest stages of manufacturing affecting every aspect of the assembly and distribution pipeline.

But even after all these caveats and disclaimers, people remain curious: which parts are being affected the most, what are the ongoing problems, and when might things get back to normal? Well, those are the exact topics we intend to cover in this post, part by part!


 

Don’t Feed the Scalpers

I don’t think this needs to be overemphasized, but please resist the urge to buy from scalpers! With supply not remotely keeping up with demand, these ne’er-do-wells are taking advantage of our tech needs.

If you think about it, we had two major consoles launch at the back end of 2020, right alongside launches from NVIDIA, AMD, and more recently Intel. With silicon at a premium, it might make sense to not waste sand right now. But it makes even more sense to not reward the people who are maliciously attempting to take advantage of the situation.

Yet, setting aside that concern and focusing only on the hardware itself, what does all of this mean for us builders? Well, let’s take a look at some system parts and see where things stand.


 

Power Supply (PSU) Stock

This was one of the first rumblings of bad things approaching the supply market. Late summer and early autumn 2020 saw a huge supply shortage for PSUs. This was immediately made worse with the release of the very power-hungry RTX 3000 series GPUs (more on that below). Manufacturers were quick to mention that supply would be ramped up, and at least right now we are seeing PSUs from the major manufacturers available again.

That’s not to say that there are not still issues. If you look on our main page, the thing is right now we can only really recommend the flagship models just because the cheaper (but still fine) bronze and below units for more basic builds simply do not stay in-stock long enough for them to be worth listing.

Verdict on Future Availability

Demand has been dropping, mainly because now we cannot build our shiny new PC thanks to the CPU and GPU shortages. If nothing else, this is allowing stock of other parts to be replenished.

Along those lines, I expect PSU supply at least to be closer to normal supply levels by the end of summer 2021.


 

Graphics Card (GPU) Stock

“Paper Launch”

The recent generation of GPUs from NVIDIA and AMD were a bit of a mystery.

Yes, demand was high. Yet this was clearly not the only problem, as the actual supply was awful in comparison to previous launches. To get a little context here, we have to look at a few things.

Firstly, although both NVIDIA and AMD would never say this, their directly preceding generations could be summed up as “meh”. For NVIDIA, the RTX 2000 series wasn’t a great first go on ray-tracing, and was at any rate underwhelming coming off the monster that was the GTX 1080 Ti. Meanwhile, AMD had the entry and mid-range locked down with their RX 500 series, with their higher-end offerings being greeted by “meh” right out of the gate. As a result, many people skipped the GPU generation preceding the 2020 releases, further driving up demand.

Next, it seems like those pesky crypto-miners have gotten a fresh jump in efficiency from these new GPUs too, so of course they’re hunting down multiple units. This then compounds the PSU issues detailed above, as more power-hungry and more numerous GPUs bring additional power needs (regardless of the fire risk on some of these setups). Then again, I doubt gamers are going to shed a tear when some of these miners have setups like this. Instead, it looks like we are having to wait on actual hardware and software fixes which limit the mining rate, as well as Ethereum making the move over to Proof-of-Stake (PoS) potentially soon this year.

For a much more detailed breakdown on the effects of cryptocurrency mining on the ongoing hardware shortages, check out Falcon’s article from a few weeks ago.

Verdict on Future Availability

Due to the multiple factors involved here, I honestly don’t see a way out of this in 2021. I suspect it will take up until summer 2022 before the average person can walk into a store or go online and freely get the GPU they want at the standard retail price.

That may sound brutal, but I feel right now the GPU space is not remotely able to keep up with the demand from multiple community sectors. Shortages of this scale take time to recover from, and it is not as if the manufacturers haven’t already tried ramping up production. They’re simply nowhere near keeping up with the current demand.


 

Processor (CPU) Stock

Who remembers the simpler times of the i7-7700K? 2017 was easy street for Intel. Loads of availability, full price, zero competition.

Fast-forward to now, where Intel can sell their 11th- and 10th-gen CPUs only or mainly because AMD cannot keep up with demand for their Ryzen 5000-series CPUs. And that’s with discounts on the Intel options, too. It’s a shocking downfall for the once-untouchable brand.

Which honestly is what baffles me about Intel working with TSMC on future 7nm fabrication. They may have impressive manufacturing results, but TSMC have already been struggling to keep up with the demands of Apple and AMD, so adding Intel to this seems like a bad call.

The only thing I can assume is that Intel are banking on TSMC resolving this in time for their predicted launches in late 2022 and 2023. Yet, that is also when we get AMD releasing their 5nm Ryzen CPUs in theory, so we might be back in the same boat then. This topic is covered in far greater detail in my previous article if you’re interested.

Verdict on Future Availability

At least for now, I don’t think Intel will have issues with stock. Everyone is now just waiting on AMD SKUs, which is resulting in the aggressive price-cutting from Intel to try and shift inventory. (Which makes them the good budget option now… who would have thought!)

However, I foresee AMD going through cycles of strong and weak availability as the thirst for its current-gen CPUs carries on toward next winter. As such, I’m saying it’ll be a good 6-9 months before AMD are on top of meeting demand again.


 

Where COVID-19 fits in All of This

You have probably noticed that my general comments on CPUs, GPUs and PSUs above don’t touch on how the coronavirus outbreak in particular has impacted things. That is honestly because a lot of its effect is indirect, resulting in squeezing the market in very unique ways that relate to both supply and demand.

Firstly, we had complete initial closures of most manufacturing locations. This was to make them safer for the workers. Although most of the manufacturers did transition back into productivity quickly, that momentary dead stop caused a lot of early problems which they all needed to try and catch up on, and the waves of that (combined with continuing safety restrictions and slowdowns for some locations after the stop had concluded) are still being felt now.

Next, as lockdowns in various countries continued, a lot more new builders were coming into the market, simply for wanting to try something for the first time, for having the time to do something they had already planned to do, or for transitioning to relying on home offices and home desktops. This resulted in the demand levels steadily rising, across the first few months following the initial closures.

Finally, while the things I’ve just described affected every piece of computer hardware, adding in the additional factors described in the previous sections has led to a considerable amount of extra problems for the three parts highlighted here. Moreover, everything mentioned so far is affecting each country to a variable degree, as each country is dealing with the infection at different rates. So you end up with regional hold-ups messing with entire supply chains.

Overall, COVID has pushed most things back 3-6 months by default, with more focused delays going on longer as the pandemic carries on throughout the world.


 

Yet What Do You Think?

Are the currently restocked AMD CPUs here to stay, and my prediction in that regard overly pessimistic? Do you disagree with any of my other predictions for any reason? Is there a particular item you’ve been trying to get hold of, yet can’t?

Personally, I’m trying to get my hands on either the Gigabyte RTX 3080 Vision OC or the Asus ROG STRIX WHITE OC model to finish off my white/black build with my Ryzen 7 5800X… to be honest, though, I might wait for the next generation of GPUs at this point.

Either way, I’d love to hear about your successes or failures in getting some parts this past year!

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