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WTF?! If you've been saving up for an RTX 4090 but found that the flagship card is out of stock and priced well above MSRP right now, here's why: Chinese companies bought thousands of them ahead of the US government's export ban to the country. Rather than being a move to satisfy the demand of gamers, the 4090s are being transformed into "AI" solutions with blower-style coolers.
The Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) announced tightened restrictions on tech exports to China in October, adding the H800, A800, and RTX 4090 to the list of banned products.
Before the ban went into effect a few days ago, RTX 4090 prices started creeping upward and availability worsened as China bought thousands of the cards and Nvidia reportedly told AIB partners to prioritize sending a large number to the country.
According to reports, an insider from Baidu Forums has revealed the existence of factories within China that had been receiving the RTX 4090s ahead of the ban, dismantling the components, and reusing them in different boards with blower-style coolers so they can be sold to AI firms.
The images show pallets full of RTX 4090 cards worth tens of thousands of dollars from various manufacturers, including Palit, Asus, Gigabyte, and Gainward.
The RTX 4090 usually has a 3- or 4-slot design, which isn't ideal for an AI server rack that packs multiple cards into a tight space. Putting their core components into blower-style coolers makes them more effective in AI-farm clusters.
The newly assembled cards are tested on a suite of software programs, including AI apps, to ensure they are up to the job, before being sold to Chinese AI customers. With Nvidia bringing TensorRT and TensorRT-LLM to Windows 11 PCs, large language models perform even faster on RTX GPUs.
Even the leftover parts from the original cards, including the coolers and stripped boards, are sold.
Now that the ban is in effect, the factories will no longer be able to import the RTX 4090 cards en masse, so we'll hopefully see prices and availability return to normal levels. That's welcome news for gamers, who still have memories of card prices skyrocketing and availability disappearing the last time they were in demand for something other than playing games.