If You’re Going To Buy A PC, Do It Now

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If You’re Going To Buy A PC, Do It Now
Image: Kotaku

Along with the massive implications for health and safety, the COVID-19 novel coronavirus has come down on the global manufacturing and supply chain like a comet. We’ve already seen some of the implications with hardware and even physical releases, with resellers swooping up copies of Ring Fit Adventure, delays to Switch deliveries and supply shocks to DRAM and NAND memory, making consoles like the PS5 more expensive to produce.

For you, the consumer, the message is pretty straightforward. Unless you were absolutely waiting on a next-generation part, like the next series of AMD or Nvidia GPUs, anyone considering buying a PC should seriously think about doing so sooner, rather than later.

The reasoning is pretty straightforward. Apart from the obvious risk to health, the biggest impacts of the coronavirus has been the effect on global consumer electronics. The nature of globalisation and free trade means that countries, Australia included, have been more than happy to see manufacturing move offshore. Countries that had a competitive advantage in things like wages and overall capacity (India and China having a greater population density than, say, New Zealand) were better placed to manufacture the shoes, silicon and other bits and pieces that are a part of daily life, and global trade has functioned with that as the norm for the last few decades.

Until the coronavirus, that was all well and good. But the natural effect of that transition has meant that supply chains are unreasonably exposed to natural disasters or any significant shock affecting those countries that are now the main source of production for global goods. That’s especially true for PC parts. AMD, for example, might be designing the CPU out of America, but their silicon wafers are increasingly coming from TSMC in Taiwan. You might think you’re buying a motherboard from one of the big Taiwanese brands (ASUS, GIGABYTE etc.), but their motherboards don’t get off the ground without PCBs manufactured from specialist factories in China.

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It’s a problem that will run on for months simply because of how basic manufacturing works. Any issues that hit the supply of a particular part – let’s say SSDs – won’t affect prices and consumer availability right that second. Why? It’s because the parts have already been manufactured, QA tested, shipped to another factory for final assembly or pre-assembly, QA tested again, and when all is in the clear, shipped again worldwide to sit on warehouse or retail shelves.

And the retailers themselves factor in a buffer too. That’s the basic principle of inventory. You want customers to be able to buy something as soon as they want it. You don’t want too much inventory, because that’s money spent that is sitting there idle on a shelf until a customer makes a purchase. But every company has a small buffer built into their business. That applies to factories as well, although the components industry has tried to minimise that as much as possible with just-in-time manufacturing and pull-to-order production models.

How that pans out for the consumer depends on the individual company and where they collect their parts from. Some manufacturers in Taiwan, as reported by Gamers Nexus from a factory tour of the country, are doing OK. EVGA, makers of overclocked graphics cards and other enthusiast PC parts, have banned all visitors including delivery drivers. But companies that are able to source their parts entirely outside of China are having a much better time, owing to Taiwan’s better handling of the coronavirus.

For those relying on parts or some parts that come out of China or South Korea, it’s a totally different story. Some products that were due to launch in Australia have been postponed indefinitely or had their launch dates pushed back. I’m currently reviewing a curved MSI 27-inch gaming monitor, and you’ll read more about that later this week hopefully. The monitor was supposed to have launched in Australia a full month ago, but supply hasn’t reached Australia because the simple act of getting stuff manufactured and shipped is so problematic right now. Another gaming monitor I reviewed recently, LG’s 27-inch gaming monitor, had its arrival date pushed back by a couple of months. It was supposed to be available in Australia already, but some places are now reporting that stock won’t arrive until mid-May. (Update 25/03: LG has advised that local stock of their monitor has arrived in four local retailers by the end of the week.)

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It’s the warehouses and couriers that have the biggest moral dilemma. Even though most of the larger factories are starting up again, capacity isn’t anywhere near back to full speed. On top of that, even if factories can get stock out of the door, they can’t necessarily get it to customers because of self-isolation, quarantine and blockades in the shipping process.

Put another way: A company like Apple might be able to use their weight with Foxconn to get more dockhands and drivers to ensure their parts can start moving again, but those proprietary NVMe SSDs that Microsoft (and probably Sony) need?

Well, they might take a little while longer to arrive.

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Samsung has started shifting more of their production out of South Korea and into Vietnam to make sure their flagship phones can continue assembly, but they’re likely to face the same problem Nintendo had. The assembly might be happening in Vietnam, but the actual assembly is still reliant on parts coming from China, slowing down overall production. Nintendo already had to apologise for a delay in hardware and accessory shipments worldwide because of the effect of the coronavirus, and the natural impact of that throughout the course of the year will be felt on available supply – and cost – as manufacturing slowly trickles back up to full speed.

But even once that happens, consumers are going to eat a higher cost at the end. The first reason is simple: companies won’t want to be as exposed to global shocks like this ever again. It’s not just the effect of the global pandemic, but the impact of the trade wars between the United States and China, which put a massive dent into Apple and Samsung’s revenue projections last year.

“The pandemic results in higher logistics and human resource costs within the consumer electronics supply chain while lowering revenues, potentially triggering an industry-wide reorganisation and reshuffle,” industry analysts TrendForce said in a report into the memory industry.

On top of that, you’ve got a massive spike in demand. Two major Australian PC retailers told me over the last few days how sales and marketing activity is at a high right now, with companies looking to take advantage in the rise of workers needing more tech equipment as they find themselves in various states of quarantine. Retailers are able to service orders now, thanks to that inventory reserve. But once that stock is sold, prices are likely to rise if the manufacturing delays continue.

“We are expecting to potentially see some price increases if supply is effected by manufacturing delays, over the past couple of months,” one retailer told Kotaku Australia. It’s also highly possible that prices will soar anyway, as companies absorb the cost of guaranteeing casual, warehouse and part-time staff wages when they’re unable to work, not to mention the downturn in expected revenue and profits over the last two quarters. Some companies have worked out solutions, like staggering the rostering of staff, but not all firms involved in the shipping and warehouse management have worked out the best solution yet. And once we get through the other side of the coronavirus and companies diversify their supply chain to manage risk, that will add cost to the bottom line – all of which, eventually, will be passed onto the consumer.

As one local manager explained, parts simply aren’t going to be cheap as they are today. The cost for storage – that’s your SSDs and NVMe drives, in practical terms – have already been hit. TrendForce are projecting prices for DRAM and 3D NAND memory – which is what goes into every laptop, PC and gaming console – to rise by anywhere from 15 percent to 30 percent. Shipments of laptops and production of smartphones is likely to take a hit, and that’s after supply DRAM and NAND storage was hit by a dispute between Japan and South Korea. The fact that more sectors are moving away from older storage tech – old platter drives are basically dead as far as modern consumer tech is confirmed.

“Regarding market demand, the pandemic’s rapid proliferation will severely impede economic and social activities and subsequently hinder consumer purchasing power,” TrendForce argued.

We’ve seen this before. Floods in Thailand back in 2011 resulted in worldwide shortages of hard drives, with around 14,000 factories being shut down and over 600,000 workers out of employment. Western Digital copped a 60 percent hit to their quarterly revenue. Firms started moving their production out of Thailand to other countries to minimise their exposure – China being one of them.

Now, all of this comes with a caveat. If countries double down and limit the spread of the virus faster than anticipated – although that’s reliant on leadership being ahead of the curve and not behind – then production could restart just fine in three months, shipping will resume as per normal, and everyone’s games, tech and components will all be fine.

But that’s the best possible case scenario, and we’re a long way away from that. The mortality rate might not be as high as some feared, but most countries are still struggling to test and identify how many people are infected, Australia included. The longer that carries on, the more disruption there will be to global business. And that’s not even factoring the impact of countries shutting down their borders or completely isolating.

It also helps that, honestly, PCs are in a pretty good place. SSDs have been at a decent price for a long time. The competition between Intel and AMD has left CPU prices in a great spot – especially gamers looking at hexa or octa-core rigs – and the cost of DDR4-3200 and DDR4-3600 RAM has halved over the last two years. That said, I don’t have great news if you were hoping for an RTX 2080 Ti to be affordable any time soon.

Image: PC Part Picker

I don’t mention all of this to cause panic or concern. It’s just an acknowledgement of a simple reality. The supply of components on store shelves is going to run out shortly, and it’s not going to be refilled to the same volume any time soon – and when it comes back, it’s likely to be more expensive. And the longer the coronavirus pandemic continues, the more that situation will evolve from a temporary shock into a permanent impact on consumer electronics.

Retailers themselves are already bracing for the impact. Most of the interest, fortunately, hasn’t been around the kind of gear that most gamers want to buy. But if you were looking at building a rig, and you were thinking of holding off until a big release came around – like, say, Cyberpunk 2077 – then you might want to seriously reconsider.

Comments

  • Alternate suggestion: Don’t buy shit you don’t have to, because we’re on the verge of an unprecedented economic meltdown, after the school-spread virus rips into the ‘essential’ personnel we were trying to keep working by leaving the schools open instead of closing them and offering focused daycare options.

    • I just saw something about Foo Fighters putting a tour on hold before reading your comment… The relevance here is simply that it made me think about how backwards this shit truly really is.

      We’ve got all these random people putting everyone’s health first… While our politicians (who are meant to be the ones looking out for the health and well being of the people) are apparently all good with children spreading the virus to their families, etc.

      At least the UK was honest about their original, if not potentially crazy, plan to basically not do anything and let herd immunity deal with it…

        • Oh my, you’re right… A plan that could infect that 30% of medical staff PLUS anyone else who has children going to school thus creating even more patients is so much better.

          • There’s arguments on both sides of the equation.

            On one hand you have kids being in schools (which are actually being heavily regulated by the way with no large gatherings) which has a risk of spreading infection. But on the other hand, if those kids weren’t in schools they would be hanging out at other venues like shopping centres which has a risk of spreading infection. Parents would need to stay home to be with younger children when we need all the health workers on board that we can get right now, plus all the staff keeping the supermarkets running and all the drivers delivering much needed goods.

            As much as it might sound counter-intuitive, keeping kids in school right now is the best option. But if you personally have an issue with your kids going to school right now, you have the option to keep them home.

          • Someone saying “No large gatherings you!” as they point a finger does not qualify as heavy regulation… Especially when its followed up with “Oh but hundreds of students and staff crammed into the confines of a school is fine.”

            Or is it that you actually think the 1.5 metre social distancing rule is coming into play here?

            It’s actually quite doable to pull that off even in a busy supermarket. But you’re delusional if you think that’s what is playing out in schools right now… Most schools simply do not have the space to adhere to that with the number of students compared to sizes of the classrooms they are in.

          • Hey guys, some randoms on the internet said the plans designed on advice of medical and economic experts are bad! Geez our politicians are such retards for following that advice!

            While we’re at it, we should also stop taking vaccines, should ignore legal advice from lawyers and throw architectural plans in the bin and just eyeball it. Go with your guts people! Keep emptying those stores!

          • Based on the last couple months, it turns out that internet randoms quoting medical experts who care about health more than economics have been DEAD FUCKING RIGHT more than the ‘business as usual’ internet randoms who want to bury their hands in the sand/up their asses.

            But go on, double or nothing, right? What is there to lose?

          • So you even have kids in school? Do you have any idea what measures they are taking?

            No assemblies, no sport, classes are being kept separated, even having separated lunch and recess breaks and more. It’s not like school is carrying on as normal. There are a lot of changes being made to account for the situation.

            And if you honestly don’t think losing up to 30% of our health care workers is a big deal, do let us know if you still believe that if you are unfortunate enough to require medical assistance (for any reason) and there isn’t anyone available to treat you.

          • Unfortunately I’m fairly confident if I’m on my death bed at some point in the near future my last words will be, “We tried to tell you, fuckers.”

        • It might surprise you to learn that there is an alternative that allows schools to shut down AND for essential staff to have their children taken care of! AMAZING!

          Don’t buy in to the bullshit lies of the government pretending that this is an either/or scenario, with only two extremes as solutions. It’s not. There are paths to mitigate all of the weak, shitty excuses they have for not opening the public purse and actually doing their fucking job in supporting the people of the nation.

          • I can’t reply to you other comment so I’ll just do it here:

            If you are aware of the weight of expert medical opinion on the issue being -for- the closure of schools, then please feel free to link me and others to it. If you have seen expert opinion that it is feasible, in a very short period of time, to create appropriate childcare options for health workers’ children, then again please link me and others to it. Because that is the only thing which might sway public opinion and thus gov’t decision making.

            All the internet posts full of armchair criticism resulting from only a few minutes of critical thinking are, frankly, unhelpful… at best. This issue affects literally everyone on the planet. I don’t know if this is the case or not, but if you seriously think politicians are sitting around spitballing their policies (which is how your posts come across to me – maybe I’m wrong) then I honestly don’t think I can have a reasonable discussion with you about this issue.

          • Not my job, but sure: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2958033/ – compare/contrast with countries who have not followed similar measures. Etc, etc. Google is fun. In the instance of Japan, the closures actually did allow children who could not be cared for to go to school anyway, where they receive supervision and meals. The above link relates to their effectiveness with the flu, and specifically its role in reducing community spread. There is plenty more, but it’s your fucking job to go look if you’re not satisfied with a claim that it exists.

            Regarding your latter point… You have to understand something very, very important. Ours is a cruel and inhumane government which values the centralization of wealth over the safety of its citizens. Its compassion is incredibly limited to that which benefits itself only.

            Everything they do that seems like it might be otherwise is done to ensure that they retain enough votes to continue centralizing wealth, and to keep a workforce that is JUST functional enough to continue productivity. This is self-evident in every policy. Their entire track record is of privatizing public services to siphon public money into private hands (overwhelmingly to the detriment of the public). It is evident in the actual claims made by ministers that public funds spend on LNP funding is not at all corruption because it’s being spent in the ‘best interests of the country’ which they extend from the idea that their party being in power is what’s best for the country.

            So yes, they are absolutely taking in expert advice… from competing and conflicting sources. And they are weighing the balance of that advice against their ideological priorities: of keeping the wealthy as wealthy as possible. This is clear from every time they have ignored expert advice that they themselves have commissioned, and the findings of coronal reports, productivity commission, and even royal commissions. They do this as a matter of routine.

            So no, they are not exactly ‘spitballing their policies’, but they are balancing the advice they receive against their true priorities, which includes irrational public sentiment and their perception of how they are best off getting elected.

            If YOU seriously think these factors are not contradicting and overriding the opinions of health experts, that they are using economic ‘experts’ (a much softer science) to justify making compromises on health, then no… you are not ready for a reasonable discussion at all.

          • @transientmind – On the norm I agree with most things you have to say – but in this There is plenty more, but it’s your fucking job to go look if you’re not satisfied with a claim that it exists. I’d have to say that is a pretty ignorant statement. If you claim something to be true then supply your proof. I would love to see how that worked in a court. “Sorry judge but I said he did cause I saw somewhere that he did so if you don’t believe me then YOU go find it.”

            Saying good things is all well and good but backing them up with facts shows argumentative A-hole the door.

          • That’s why I started it off. He’s welcome to go look for more if he’s not satisfied with it.

            The problem with arguing with these assholes who want to see society crumble all because they’ve got their heads deep, deep in denial/their asses is that if you do the work (that you really fucking shouldn’t have to), provide a source, they then start arguing with that one source. So now you need to go find more. And now you’re wasting your precious life finding the one thing in a larger body of work that will meet this sudden expert’s criteria.

            Nah. I threw a bone and if he had a problem with it, he can go find the rest. Life’s too fucking short.

          • Let’s not forget that this is the government that claimed that shutdowns were unncessary, the closing borders were unnecessary… THEN HAD TO DO IT ANYWAY, PAST THE POINT IT WOULD HAVE BEEN MOST EFFECTIVE.

            If that doesn’t SCREAM that they are either not listening to good advice or are receiving bad advice, I don’t know what to tell you except keep an eye on your notifications in a month when I’m saying “I fucking told you so,” to yet another internet random.
            Again.

          • Even if you are indeed right (i suspect that’d actually be hard to prove either way in any event btw; future school closures aren’t ruled out and you wouldn’t be vindicated by their doing so) you’ve pretty much just shown me enough reason why I shouldnt care to discuss this with you any further. By all means keep raving though, you might convince someone by acting like a prat.

          • People like you pretending to be ‘moderate’ are the reason this will get worse than it has to.

            When you are complaining about the impact on your life, when you are comforting the bereaved, or mourning yourself, you should remember this.

          • “Pretending to be moderate” ? “People like (me)” ?

            LMAO everything is black and white to you is it? Everything must fit into a little box so you can process it and readily discard that which doesn’t match your exact world view?

            Take some time away from the computer.

          • Oh, I get it now… You’re the guy that if we closed schools and nothing gets worse you’ll come back, “See? Nothing happened! You overreacted! Idiots!”

            Despite nothing happening and looking like we overreacted being the entire point.

            The whole bit about 30% of medical staff having kids in school being a bad reason to close them is actually all the proof you need of the reach this thing is being actively given by them being open… Add in all the non-medical staff who have kids in school, and the range this allows for spread and exposure simply becomes second to none.

            And I advise you to ask any teacher that saw The Project’s recent interview with Minister of Education Dan Tehan what they thought of his absolutely pathetic rhetoric, and his very apparent willingness to use teachers as babysitters potentially at the cost of their fucking lives.

            People like you being wrong here ratchets up the death toll. While people like me or @transientmind being wrong only results in a prat like yourself accusing us of overreacting.

          • No, I might be questioning the non-covid-19 impact of the closures however. Things like economics and their significant flow on effects do matter in my opinion; just not to the degree that lives do. That’s besides the point, though. Originally, I never said ‘we shouldn’t close schools’, I was making the point that people should perhaps give more attention to what experts are saying. If experts, in majority, are indeed saying “close the schools, it will definitely save lives and flatten the curve” or words to that effect, then I support their closure. Of course I want lives saved. Of course I want less cases of this virus; my wife is 34 weeks pregnant and I have a three year old at home. My parents are elderly. Do you really think I want this shit going around?

            My point is, I’m not an expert in this field by any means, and I wager 99% of people with strong opinions on the subject aren’t experts either. I’m a criminal defence lawyer, I have expertise in things like law, trial strategy, dealing with people (often the most down-trodden in society), but NOT epidemiology. I know how much clients ignore expert legal advice to their detriment. I know how much people armchair their views on the law without expertise and its fucking hilarious.

            So despite transient’s raving, I’m yet to see strong evidence linking the closure of schools to better outcomes. I acknowledge there is a call for it and that many countries have employed it with success (albeit there is a broad approach being taken and the specific efficacy of school closures is uncertain) and have read about strategies such as “The Hammer and the Dance” which do involve school closure. Having said that, the govt’s advice has remained the same and I’m not hearing the loud clear voice of a large number of experts sounding off to criticise them. Thus far, I’m seeing more support for the govt’s stance than the reverse. See:

            https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-03-25/coronavirus-covid-19-modelling-stay-home-chart/12084144

            https://www.theage.com.au/national/nobel-prize-winner-says-virus-curve-will-flatten-in-couple-of-weeks-20200324-p54dib.html

            Admittedly I have access to and knowledge of legal journals, not medical, so my sources are limited. I also didn’t vote for Scott Morrison, the libs or any of their traditional political allies btw, so dont make this political like some other dolts. You won’t succeed in putting me in a box.

            Bottom line, if there is good, informed, expert opinion that the closure of schools works, then by all means do it. But if you want any support for it, you might want to try giving people that information instead of calling people fucking idiots and suggesting they want people to die.

  • the biggest impacts of the coronavirus has been the effect on global consumer electronics.

    I’m not sure this is true. While it is an impact, it is far from the biggest or most important.

    Example: Australia has run out of glyphosate. This, and most of the other chemicals and inputs our farmers use to grow our food, are largely imported from China. Only at the moment, they are not. This will impact their ability to provide grain and other primary produce to downstream processors and retailers.

    Compare not being able to buy the latest iPhone or GPU (*gasp*) with not being able to buy bread, potatoes, apples or rice (or beer). Or with 3% of the population dying. We’re not there yet (and hopefully will never be), but perspective please.

      • It’s the industry I work in.

        It isn’t for panicking. Glyphosate and chemical inputs aren’t essential for crop production, but without them yields will be less than they should be, which will have an impact, in supply, quality and price. As the ABC article suggest we have decent carry over in many areas, but we’re also coming off the back of poor seasons and drought in a lot of key production areas. the article is also correct in that we produce the majority of our own food. What it doesn’t say is that we’re reliant on imports for the chemicals, fuel and machinery that we use to grow that food. A lot of the herbicides and fertilisers used in Australian agriculture are imported. As is the majority of the labour, though that is covered in the ABC article.

        In retrospect my language in my original post is a little alarmist. I apologise for that. But of all the things impacted by COVID 19 and the measures that governments are putting in place to flatten the curve, consumer electronics is pretty minor, and that’s the point I was trying to convey.

        • Sure, there is always something more critical than buying consumer tech, especially if you’re comparing it to loss of life and so forth.

          But I don’t think the ramifications are as simple as “we can’t buy stuff now, it’ll calm down in a few months” and then life returns to normal. A lot of critical parts and basic supplies – stuff like ibuprofen, for example – are going to get reassessed in a different light depending on how this pans out. Are people and nation states particularly as OK with a minor cost saving over the ability to diversify their supply chain, or would they even bear a more moderate impost to have greater control?

          Consumer tech has an impact because while obviously it’s in the context of this article in terms of gaming and gaming hardware, we’re also talking new iPhones. We’re talking the basic tech that people buy and use every day. When you take that stuff away, or it suddenly becomes expensive in a way you thought it wouldn’t be either because it’s not available or because companies are no longer comfortable with the status quo of globalisation and the associated risk, that changes consumption.

          So yeah, in isolation consumer electronics means sweet fuck all next to the greater health implications of trying to flatten the COVID-19 curve. But there is a broader tale about manufacturing and how countries respond after this is all over that is all tied into this story, and that’s pretty important too.

          • Aren’t you lot supposed to disclose advertisements?

            I ask because trudging through luxury goods territory and talking about running out of new iPhones specifically like it is some sort of doomsday scenario is, well… It’s just exceedingly fucking bizarre to put it very bluntly. Especially when there are quite literally millions of other devices lying about and/or also actually ‘basic tech’ methods capable of filling the very same functions an iPhone can.

            Though I suppose people still being able to still buy a Ferrari in this trying time is a necessity for them getting to work and back too.

          • It’s just a simple example to represent something everyone understands quickly; I’m obviously not talking about running out of iPhones specifically.

  • Considering the drastic plummet of the Australian dollar to 17 year lows? Worst time to buy computer parts. Wait until the rebound has happened.

    • How is $1600 for a 2080Ti a good deal? thats still a ~$500 increase over the RRP of a 1080Ti, and the product is ~2 years old now with a 3080Ti (lets just call it that without official word) a matter of months away.

      • I’m not really knowledgeable on graphics cards. Was the cheapest one I could find online. So you’re saying wait for next tech?

        • Theres a few variables at play. I couldn’t tell you if the virus will impact the release date of the new cards, and no one knows whether nvidia will return to more reasonable pricing or whether they will jack prices up even more obscenely since amd is still providing no competition.

          But these things aside, now is a bad time to buy a new graphics card – either wait for new ones to get a new one, or to get a current gen cheaper.

          • Agreed. It was a bad time even before the pandemic just because of the downward pressure new GPUs have, particularly since any pressure on the top end of the stack often affects the pricing of all the products underneath too.

            If you can reuse your existing GPU and push through for 6-9 months, you should. We really don’t know how tight manufacturing might be – if, say, the next-gen consoles get prioritised by TSMC in the 7nm fabs, production of consumer GPUs might be limited. It depends on how the contracts are setup and how severe the impact is. (And the silicon fabs might be fine – Taiwan is doing really well – but assembly and sub-assembly plants could be totally fucked for months, since they’re not able to self-isolate all their staff and continue operating like some other companies.)

            It’s going to get messy, basically.

  • Apart from the obvious risk to health, the biggest impacts of the coronavirus has been the effect on global consumer electronics.

    What a load of codswallop. It’s had a bigger effect on many other more important things.

    Normally like your articles Alex, but this one has me shaking my head.

    • Yeah, like I mentioned above – there’s obvious health implications that are more paramount right now. But the long-term effect this might have on the global supply chain is not to be underestimated. It’s easy to look at the numbers of the here and now, though.

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