Sunday, March 21, 2021

I get boxes

Delivery people have been giving me boxes lately. Small boxes and big boxes; cheap boxes and expensive boxes. I now have all the boxes.

Five years ago I built my current desktop PC. It's working (mostly) fine, but it's getting a little long in the tooth and it's time to build a new one. My plan is to build a new, shiny computer here on Okinawa; then bring my current desktop back to Osaka. With a second computer there I won't need to bring a laptop along every time I go back.

What I imagine my new computer will be like.

This cunning plan has only one slight flaw: this is the worst time in a decade or more to get a new computer. Because of COVID, supply chains and industrial production has been disrupted the world over, and it's particularly bad for complex electronic components such as CPUs, sensors and RF components (Wifi, bluetooth and so on). Products from smartphones to cameras have been delayed or cancelled, car plants sit idle, and computers are of course especially affected.

At the same time, the pandemic has increased the demand for laptops and desktops. Lots of people now work and study from home and they all need computers to do that. And when you're stuck at home with little to do, a gaming PC or game console seems like just the thing to relieve the boredom. PC sales are increasing for the first time in ten years.

How bad is it? I've tried to get a new laptop at work since late November. The order has been cancelled twice due to a lack of parts, and five months on I still don't know when I will finally get a replacement.

Concerned cat does not approve of the current component shortage.

Still, if you persevere you can get lucky. I've been looking for the AMD 5950X CPU, but it's been constantly sold out online (you can get it at 25%-50% markup from a scalper, but I don't want to give them my money). However, I also kept an eye on the stock at our local store (called "GoodWill"), part of the PC Koubo chain. The physical stores have a separate supply channel, and visitors can't snap up stock instantly. And they get regular supply drops of this CPU.

About three weeks ago the shop in Chatan got a shipment of the 5950X. We drove over, waited with ~6-7 other people until they opened (I'm not the only one monitoring the store page), and walked out with a 5950X, at MSRP - no scalpers or shady resellers and no inflated price.

I've since ordered the other parts I'll need for a working computer: a motherboard, memory, an SSD, a CPU cooler, a PSU and a case to put everything in. It all finally arrived this week, neatly packed in boxes on my workroom floor.


A pile of boxes. Put them together and you have a computer. Put them together wrong and you have some expensive junk. Don't put them together wrong. With that said, it's actually pretty easy.

One item is conspicuously absent: I didn't get a GPU. If other parts are hard to get right now, GPUs are effectively impossible. Cryptocurrencies are booming, and some them can be profitably mined with consumer GPUs. The major PC builders - the likes of Dell and Lenovo - get a lot of them to fulfil the demand for PCs. Then currency miners and scalpers hoover up everything they can get their hands on, through bulk buying and by using bots to grab anything that shows up online.

It's not just the newest graphics cards either. You can't get anything. I bought an RX570 8GB on sale about two years ago, for about $180. Today Amazon sells used cards for $380, and new cards go for $700 and up.

I gave up. I'm not going to spend weeks trying to find a current-generation GPU, then pay several times what it's normally worth. I'll use the RX570 for now, then buy a new card in a year or two, once the COVID-related shortages fade and cryptocurrencies crash again.

Meanwhile I will put together my new computer this week, and once it (hopefully) works I'll move over my stuff from the old one, and prepare that one for shipment back to Osaka. 


  1. Hah, congrats for finish the build, even modulo GPU! I've been keeping an eye on the 5900 series, but nothing available. But I was fortunate to finish upgrading my home computers a few months before Covid, so all good for now.

    Now, I'd like a newer GPU, but as you say, these things seem more rare than unicorns right now. On the other hand, I'm priviledged if my Covid complains are about GPUs, so not really complaining :)

    Take care!

  2. Yep, I'm happy I managed a working build at all. Just as I took delivery of the motherboard and case I heard that supplies of the chipsets used in the X570 and other motherboards is getting short as well, so we can expect shortages of motherboards towards summer.

    I kept my really old 750ti GPU around, and I just put it into my older desktop yesterday so I could move the rx570 to the new one. I spent a couple of confused minutes trying to plug in the power to it before I remembered that it's so old (and slow) it gets all the power it needs from the PCI bus itself. No external power needed. Still, Valheim is (just barely) playable at lowest settings so I won't complain :)

    And yes, not having a new GPU is truly a first-world problem. We're all alive and healthy, and none of us have lost our jobs or ruined ourselves due to COVID, and that's what matters.


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