Graphics cards enthusiasts and AI users alike are witnessing a unique trend in China, where factories are repurposing coveted Nvidia GeForce RTX 4090 GPUs for AI workloads. This surge in demand follows the U.S. ban on Nvidia’s AI product shipments to China, turning the flagship Ada Lovelace GPU into a sought-after commodity in the country.
Graphics card recycling: From gaming to AI
In an intriguing development, users on the Tieba Baidu forums have shared insights into Chinese factories dedicated to the recycling of custom GeForce RTX 4090 graphics cards. These facilities meticulously disassemble the GPUs, extracting the AD102 silicon and GDDR6X memory modules. The salvaged components are then repurposed onto a “special reference” PCB with a more compact blower-style cooler.
The motivation behind this recycling effort is clear: to reduce the footprint of the custom GeForce RTX 4090 and transform it into an efficient “AI accelerator.” While the original graphics cards occupy up to four PCI slots due to their substantial size, the old-school blower-style cooler allows for a more space-efficient configuration, enabling users to deploy multiple GPUs in racks or clusters, particularly in large-scale AI farms.
The blower-style advantage
The blower-style coolers, taking up only two PCI slots, have become crucial in optimizing space for AI workloads. The shift towards this design is evident in the market with products from manufacturers like Manli, MSI, and AFOX offering blower-style variants of the GeForce RTX 4090. However, acquiring these in China has become increasingly challenging, given the heightened demand and the Nvidia ban.
Escalating prices and changing dynamics
The fallout from the ban is not only reshaping the availability of the GeForce RTX 4090 but also influencing its pricing dynamics. Nvidia has removed all mentions of the GPU from its Chinese website, and several partners, including Galax, have followed suit. The scarcity has driven prices to unprecedented levels, with the GeForce RTX 4090 reaching over $2,700 in the Chinese market, a surge that has also affected other Ada Lovelace graphics cards.
The impact extends beyond China, with the U.S. market experiencing an 18-month trend of increasing GeForce RTX 4090 prices. Before Black Friday, the GPU had already surpassed the $2,000 mark, representing a 25% markup from the MSRP. Even now, the cheapest option is priced at $1,669.99, a 5% increase. Europe is not immune to this trend, with a 17% pricing overhead observed.
Temporary phenomenon or long-term shift?
While the escalating prices may seem alarming, experts suggest that this surge in demand and pricing could be temporary. Reports indicate that Nvidia rushed as many GeForce RTX 4090 units as possible to its Chinese customers before the sanctions took effect, intending to meet the market demand. As such, waiting for pricing to stabilize before considering an upgrade is a prudent approach.
The interplay between geopolitical decisions, market dynamics, and technological trends has ushered in a unique chapter for the GeForce RTX 4090. From gaming enthusiasts to AI practitioners, the repercussions of the Nvidia ban in China have reshaped how this flagship GPU is repurposed and sought after. As the market adjusts to these changes, users must carefully navigate the evolving landscape to make informed decisions about upgrades and acquisitions.