High Demand May Not Be Entirely Responsible for the Lack of RTX 3080 GPUs

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Ever since the RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 launched, they’ve been nearly impossible to find. Sometimes, an OEM builder will have stock if you’re buying a new system, even if cards aren’t available in-channel, but that doesn’t seem to be the case right now.

Origin PC’s shipping time increases from 14-16 days to 29-31 days if you want an RTX 3080. Maingear doesn’t give a specific date, but says “Lead times are currently extended for systems with RTX-3000-series cards.” Maingear already has a separate “Shipping times may be delayed from the following stated lead time due to COVID-19” and an estimated 3-4 week shipping window, but evidently the company felt the need for a second disclaimer.

A different way to get a handle on the situation is to check ProShop.de. The German company has been publishing periodic updates on everything related to Ampere GPU sales, including how many cards its customers have ordered, how many GPUs it has ordered from manufacturers, when those cards are expected to arrive, and how many GPUs have already shipped.

According to ProShop, it breaks its categories down as follows:

Customer orders: Number of current customer orders, which have yet to be delivered. Orders that have been canceled at this point are not included.
Ordered from mfr: Number of graphic cards Proshop has ordered from the manufacturer.
Incoming cards: Confirmed number of graphic cards to be delivered by the manufacturer to Proshop asap.
Received: Total number of graphic cards received from manufacturers and shipped to customers by Proshop since launch. This doesn’t include the 3070-series, which launch on October 29.

I screenshotted ProShop’s figures on October 12, and again on October 21, added up the differences in the figures, and built a chart to show them. I should note that there are places in the original data where, instead of a number, ProShop lists “15th” or “7th.” These dates appear to correspond to when a GPU will be available for customer order, when ProShop can order it from the manufacturer, when the cards will ship to ProShop, or when ProShop will ship them itself.

Data by ProShot, 10-21-2020

The chart below contains raw figures for each category based on ProShop’s published data for 10-12 and 10-21, along with two categories I added. Fulfillable Orders is the percent of total orders that ProShop could fill on each date if it had every GPU listed as “Incoming” along with every GPU listed as “Received.” “% Mfr Supply” examines the same question, but uses the total number of cards ProShop ordered as opposed to the total number it received.

We see a few interesting things here. First, overall availability as a percentage of total customer orders is higher. This is only true because of a large number of RTX 3080s in the “Incoming” column — if we confine ourselves solely to the “Received” column, availability has only increased from 9 percent to 11 percent. If we remove the “Incoming” column from manufacturing data, GPU availability has gotten worse.

The reason I’m presenting the data this way is that GPUs on their way to the store are functional cards effectively “on the market.” The growth in “Incoming” shipments could mean that AIBs are finally able to ship some hardware.

The fact that ProShop has been unable to get allocation for weeks suggests that Samsung’s 8nm yields might be part of the problem. There were rumors months ago that Nvidia had limited its orders to Samsung out of concern that the company wouldn’t be able to manufacture enough good die. This squares with other rumors we’ve heard expressing doubts regarding Samsung’s 8nm process. It could also explain why Nvidia is rumored to be moving some production back to TSMC. DigiTimes wrote last week that Nvidia was getting a substantial discount on Samsung’s 8nm process, but that the GPU designer still wants to diversify its offerings to get around Samsung’s yield problem.

So, is Nvidia lying when it says that demand is the reason there are no RTX 3000 GPUs to be found, and that this situation will persist through the end of 2020 and possibly into 2021? It certainly looks as though there are supply problems in the mix, too, but the number of GPUs ProShop has ordered suggests that demand is genuinely sky-high. Nobody wants to sit on several thousand GPUs they can’t sell. Even Nvidia admitted during the Ampere unveil that Turing had not been the hit it was hoping for, in terms of uptake, which means there’s a lot of pent-up demand in the market.

ProShop has data on the RTX 3070 as well, but I deliberately didn’t discuss it. That GPU hasn’t launched yet, and it’s possible that there will be a wave of late shipments out to stores to boost inventory. As always, keep in mind that data like this, however thorough, is a snapshot of a single store. We do not know what these figures look like for Amazon or Newegg, where the ratios could be entirely different. Nvidia has admitted that these GPUs will be in short supply through the end of the year. There might appear to be a supply problem because Nvidia is prioritizing the largest channel distributors, but the fact that boutique builders can’t get cards all that easily, either, suggests more to the story. The rumors of low yields on Samsung 8nm and the rumors that Nvidia will return to TSMC all point in the same direction.

This is not the first time we’ve seen foundries struggle to get yield on a part (assuming that’s what’s happening), and both AMD and Nvidia had a terrible time shipping cards in 2016. It’s not unusual to see these kinds of problems at the beginning of a launch. Hopefully, they’ll resolve more quickly than anticipated.

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