Why I might never buy a graphics card for gaming ever again
The newest, hottest, best graphics cards are remarkable. Even five years ago, were we really expecting the sort of performance we can get right now? PC gamers and custom builders have never had it better. Well, assuming you can even buy one. But I’m looking at the current landscape and thinking I might never buy a new graphics card for gaming ever again and be happy.
This isn’t a sudden realization, it’s actually a thought that first entered my mind a few years ago. A number of different things have all come together and I’m finally ready to commit. I think.
2022 might well be the time to call it a day chasing graphics cards.
The price is offputting
Almost five years ago I spent a not insignificant £670 on a new Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti. I was so excited to get that thing hooked up inside my Alienware Aurora gaming PC and it didn’t disappoint. Even upgrading from a GTX 1070 there was a tangible increase in performance and the visual quality I could enjoy. It was expensive, but it was worth it.
Fast forward five years and we’re only just starting to see stocks of graphics cards come back. A combination of global chip shortages and crypto bros scalping every available unit left gamers frustrated. Those you could buy were sold at a premium. But even those that aren’t are still expensive.
In the UK where I live you’re looking at about £400 for an RTX 3060 right now. It’s a fantastic graphics card, I have one in my collection of PC parts. But it’s not even technically the “mid-range” anymore and it’s that price. The last graphics card I bought at launch was an AMD RX 5700 and that was £370 at the time. But even AMD cards don’t really have price on their side anymore.
I want to focus on the Nvidia RTX 3080, specifically. I don’t have one, right now they’re at least £800, and not even the highest performer in the Team Green stable. But it’s an important card to me, because thanks to the cloud, I can now play my games with one.
The cloud is the answer?
When I first started dabbling in cloud gaming I wondered if it really could replace PC gaming in the future. It’s not exactly the same – I’m not going to pretend it is – but right now, it’s close enough. The technology has come on so far in the last few years that I think I’m about ready.
I’ve written previously about how good Google Stadia is, and more recently about playing Fortnite on a smartphone with the power of an RTX 3080. The latter is what has started to make me seriously consider this as a reality, not just a dream.
Nvidia GeForce Now has a tier that offers its players the chance to play games on an RTX 3080. It’s the most expensive tier, sure, but compared to actually buying an RTX 3080 you would get about five years’ use from it for the same money. And Nvidia is bound to keep upgrading it. But the simple fact is this: My cloud gaming PC is more powerful than my local gaming PC.
I’m currently using an RTX 2080 inside my personal gaming PC and it’s still absolutely fine. But there will come a time it won’t be, even if it’s a number of years away. Nvidia provides RTX 2080 power on its regular tiers, so even on that, my cloud gaming PC is on par with my own.
For me, the killer feature I was waiting on is fiber. Finally, I’m in a position to jump fully into the cloud. But it’s also why I’m won’t diminish the importance of local hardware. Previously I had fairly slow broadband. Enough to enjoy a spot of cloud gaming, but only if nobody else was home. So for everyone, it’s definitely not the answer. Though I have to say, the 40mbps base requirement for the RTX 3080 tier is pleasantly surprising. And for that, you get to play at up to 120 FPS. In most cases, higher than I can play locally. And every month more and more of my PC library finds its way into GeForce Now.
GeForce Now is certainly the most alluring cloud platform for PC gamers. I play games everywhere, but I see the appeal. The fact your library comes from Steam, Epic, or Ubisoft, all titles you’ve bought but use someone else’s PC to play. Or your phone. TV, iPad, Chromebook, web browser, there have never been more ways to play PC games. Stadia and GeForce Now both support keyboard and mouse, too.
How I game has changed
As I’ve grown older so to have my gaming habits. I’ve never locked myself into one platform, and that’ll never change, but I have fallen out of love with certain types of games. I rarely bother with competitive multiplayer titles anymore, I’m playing games that my young son can enjoy with me and I’m playing more casually, picking up for a short period and then going to do something else.
But the other big change has been getting a Steam Deck. I really do think it’s a game-changer.
It might take a generation or two of hardware, but Valve has built a winner. I’m playing games in my catalog finally that I’d ignored for years. Sat on the sofa, in a coffee shop, and even in the car while I wait to pick up my kids. That falling out of love with PC gaming because I didn’t want to sit at my desk after work, reversed somewhat with the arrival of the Steam Deck.
The cloud is also a solid companion to the Steam Deck, too. Linux gaming is superb these days, but there are still those titles that just don’t work. If I want to play a little Destiny 2 on the couch, I can do so through the browser.
Performance on the Steam Deck has proved that you don’t need a stupidly powerful, stupidly expensive graphics card to have a good time. You could say the same about the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. PC gaming used to feel like the absolute best way to play, now, it just feels like a massive money pit. And I’m not sure it’s worth it anymore.
I’m enjoying gaming again, more than ever before, and it has nothing to do with having splurged on a new, insanely powerful graphics card. By embracing the cloud I can play amazing-looking, high-frame-rate games on a Chromebook. Or my iPad. Or there’s the Steam Deck, which is the only way I’ve played local PC games since it arrived at the end of March.
As rumors begin to swirl about Nvidia’s next stupidly powerful graphics cards, I’m not really interested anymore. At least not beyond a professional capacity. I admit that my situation lends well to this and that not everyone is in a position to rely on the cloud or a handheld PC yet.
But I’m actually really excited. Much like buying an EV, it feels like I’m taking a step into the future. All the big players are getting into streaming and Valve has made handhelds exciting again. Nvidia can keep making crazy powerful graphics cards and filling their server cabinets with them while they’re at it. All this awesome technology is making gaming accessible to wider audiences, and that’s alright by me.