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Reports of RTX 4090s being sold in China without GPUs scares the heck out of me

 Nvidia RTX 4090 Founders Edition.
Nvidia RTX 4090 Founders Edition.

If you're in the market for a second hand RTX 4090, pay attention to who you are buying it from. And where.

According to reports popping up on Chinese-language forums including Chiphell and HKEPC (Via Guru3D) some buyers are coughing up big money for Nvidia's best gaming card, only to receive it without a GPU or memory.

Scammers are gonna scam, but there's good reason to believe this particular one is linked with the ban on the sale of the RTX 4090 in China. It's not a stretch to believe the AD102 GPUs of the cards in question have been removed and repurposed in order to meet some of the insatiable (and hence lucrative) demand for GPUs for AI and server applications.

A quick check over at Newegg shows the cheapest RTX 4090 is an MSI Gaming X Trio at $2,099. That makes the official RRP of $1,599 look like a bargain. And it's all down to demand for AI GPUs and the China ban. Simply put, Nvidia can make more money from L40 and RTX 6000-series cards than it can from RTX 4090s. With limited supply, prices go up.

But there's been a spike in demand too. The ban came about as a result of the US government not wanting China to get ahead in the AI arms race. You know, national security and all that. So, it's trying to restrict access to the tools China needs. Whether it's banning the chips and products themselves, or the semiconductor manufacturing tools China needs to make them, demand for AI hardware in China is suddenly much greater than the available supply. It's a one-two punch. A spike in demand combined with lower supply means prices go up.

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Nvidia RTX 4070 and RTX 3080 Founders Edition graphics cards
Nvidia RTX 4070 and RTX 3080 Founders Edition graphics cards

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It looks like conditions are ripe for scumbag scammers. Why not take the GPU out of what is ostensibly a $1,599 graphics card and pop it into an L40 style PCB with a blower fan and make some serious money? It's easier said than done and it wouldn't be worth it for a few cards, but for a hundred thousand…

Of course, I'm speculating heavily there, but I can't see why a small-time scammer would go through the effort of removing a dead GPU when they could just send an intact dead card. It points to something bigger.

And that's why these reports worry me. I'd expect there to be more victims of this particular scam out there. With this kind of activity happening, if you're in the market for an RTX 4090, you'd best pay extra attention to where you buy it from. If you spot a deal on a second hand market that looks too good to be true—put simply—it probably is.