The latest, hottest, and greatest graphics cards are remarkable. Five years ago, did we really expect the performance that we can achieve today? PC gamers and custom builders have never had it better. Assuming you can buy one at all. But I look at the current landscape and I think maybe I’ll never buy a new graphics card for gaming and be happy again.
This isn’t a sudden realization, but a thought that first crossed my mind a few years ago. A number of different things have come together and I’m finally ready to commit. I find.
2022 could well be the time to start chasing graphics cards.
The price is daunting
Almost five years ago I spent a whopping £670 on a new Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti. I was so excited to add this thing to my Alienware Aurora gaming PC and it didn’t disappoint. Even upgrading from a GTX 1070 there was a noticeable increase in performance and the visual quality I was able to enjoy. It was expensive but worth it.
Five years later, we’re only just beginning to see stocks of graphics cards coming back. A combination of global chip shortages and crypto bros scalping every available unit has left players frustrated. The ones 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 currently looking at around £400 for an RTX 3060. It’s a fantastic graphics card, I have one in my PC parts collection. But it’s not even “mid-range” technically 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 the price on their side anymore.
I want to focus specifically on the Nvidia RTX 3080. I don’t have one, at the moment they cost at least £800 and aren’t even the best performing in Team Green’s stable. But it’s an important card for me because now, thanks to the cloud, I can play my games with one.
Is the cloud the answer?
When I first started looking into cloud gaming, I wondered if it could really replace PC gaming in the future. It is not exactly the same – I won’t pretend – but it’s close enough for now. Technology has progressed so much over the past few years that I think I’m ready.
I’ve previously written about how good Google Stadia is and more recently about playing Fortnite on a smartphone with the power of an RTX 3080. The latter made me seriously consider this a reality and not just a dream.
Nvidia GeForce Now has a tier that offers its gamers the ability to play games on an RTX 3080. It’s the most expensive tier for sure, but compared to actually buying an RTX 3080, you’d get around five years of use out of it for the same money. And Nvidia is bound to keep updating it. But the simple fact is: my cloud gaming pc is more powerful than my local gaming pc.
I’m currently using an RTX 2080 in my personal gaming PC and it’s still absolutely fine. But there will come a time when that will not be the case, although it will be a few more years. Nvidia offers RTX 2080 performance at its regular tiers, so my cloud gaming PC is even on par with my own.
For me, fiber optics is the killer feature I’ve been waiting for. I am finally able to fully jump into the cloud. But that’s also why I won’t belittle the importance of local hardware. Before that I had pretty slow broadband. Enough to enjoy a bit of cloud gaming, but only when no one else is home. So for everyone it’s definitely not the answer. Though I have to say that the baseline requirement of 40Mbps for the RTX 3080 tier is pleasantly surprising. And for that, you can 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 attractive cloud platform for PC gamers. I play games everywhere but I see the appeal. The fact that your library is from Steam, Epic or Ubisoft, all titles you 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 also support keyboard and mouse.
How I play has changed
As I’ve gotten older, I have my gambling habits too. I’ve never committed to one platform and that will never change, but I’ve fallen in love with certain types of games. I rarely engage in competitive multiplayer titles anymore, I play games that my young son can enjoy with me, and I play more casually, recording something for a short time and then doing something else.
But the other big change was getting a steam deck. I really think it’s a game changer.
It might take a generation or two of hardware, but Valve built a winner. I’m finally playing games in my catalog that I’ve been ignoring for years. Sat on the sofa, in a coffee shop and even in the car while waiting to pick up my kids. Falling in love with PC gaming because I didn’t want to sit at my desk after work was somewhat reversed with the arrival of the Steam Deck.
The Cloud is also a solid companion for the Steam Deck. Linux games are great these days, but there are still titles that just don’t work. If I want to play a little Destiny 2 on the couch, I can do it through the browser.
The performance on the Steam Deck proved that you don’t need a stupidly powerful, stupidly expensive graphics card to have a good time. The same could be said 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 huge money pit. And I’m not sure if it’s still worth it.
I’m enjoying gaming more than ever, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I bought a new insanely powerful graphics card. By embracing the cloud, I can play awesome-looking games at high framerates on a Chromebook. Or my iPad. Or there’s the Steam Deck, which I’ve only played local PC games with since it arrived in late March.
When rumors start circulating about Nvidia’s next stupidly powerful graphics card, I don’t really care anymore. At least not beyond professional ability. I admit that my situation is well suited for this and that not everyone is ready to rely on the cloud or a handheld PC just yet.
But I’m really very excited. Much like buying an electric vehicle, it feels like taking a step into the future. All the big players are getting into streaming, and Valve has made handheld exciting again. Nvidia can keep making insanely powerful graphics cards and stocking their server racks with them while they’re at it. All this great technology makes gaming accessible to a wider audience, and I’m fine with that.