A boutique builder has launched a new lineup of “no GPU” enthusiast PCs, specifically intended for gamers who already have a video card but need to buy everything else. So far, only one company that we’re aware of has taken this step, but several recent stories have implied GPU availability is getting worse, not better. This may be the beginning of a trend.
I’ve been a gamer long enough to remember the introduction of 3D video cards. For the past two decades, “gaming” and “GPU” have been practically synonymous, but they weren’t always. Prior to the introduction of consumer-level 3D accelerators, performance in the 3D renderers of the day (Ultima Underworld, Doom, Quake, various flight simulators) was entirely dependent on CPU performance.
I suspect one reason AMD survived the x86 desktop CPU wars of the mid-1990s, where companies such as IDT and Cyrix did not, is the floating-point unit on chips like the K6 and K6-2 was powerful enough for modest gaming. Other manufacturers could only compete with Intel in integer workloads and their designs were limited to low-end budget rigs. So long as Intel dominated both integer and floating-point math, it could dominate gaming.
Then came the era of 3D acceleration, powered by Voodoo, TNT, and Rage. Intel MMX, introduced in January 1997, was meant to be the beginning of a new era of 3D rendering in which SIMD units inside CPUs would accelerate video games. Instead, video cards and GPUs became the predominant driver of gaming performance. Even today, when integrated graphics are better than they’ve ever been, GPUs are considered a requirement for any computer intended to game above minimum detail levels and settings. Under normal circumstances, taking the GPU out of a boutique system wrecks it for its intended purpose.
The UK boutique, FiercePC, claims that these systems “will not boot up” without an external GPU, but only two of the systems use an “F”-class Intel CPU that lacks an integrated GPU. The third is a Core i7-10700 and the motherboard for this system (Asus TUF B460-PLUS) features an HDMI port. FiercePC may have disabled the integrated GPU by default, but a UEFI reset would restore it.
The point of buying a boutique PC is that you’re paying for convenience and some degree of customization. This very much includes not having to install core components yourself. Selling a platform absent the GPU implies GPU prices are rising, even for OEMs. This would make sense, given that multiple companies like MSI and Asus are planning to increase prices as availability drops. Gamers know that integrated graphics aren’t intended for gaming, and there’s not enough variance in integrated GPU configurations to build a product stack out of in the first place. Selling the systems in a “BYOG” configuration lets FiercePC avoid throwing a card in at all, and it dodges the negative associated with selling a high-end boutique PC that depends entirely on its iGPU.
The out-of-control prices on eBay imply few gamers are buying Ampere or RDNA2 at anything approaching MSRP. If more companies copy FiercePC on this and start offering gaming systems without GPUs, it’ll be a further indication of how choked the market is. It’s not a good sign for a gaming PC builder to start shipping systems without the signature component that defines a gaming PC.
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