I Camped Out at Best Buy to Get an RTX 3000 Graphics Card: Feel My Pain
A sunburn, sleep deprivation, and bone-chilling temperatures: Was waiting all night outside a San Francisco Best Buy for an Nvidia RTX 3080 graphics card worth the trouble?
By Michael Kan
It’s 1 a.m., and I’ve been waiting outside a Best Buy in San Francisco for over 15 hours.
It’s a cold, 56-degree night, I’m exhausted, and I need to pee. But still, I wait, in my foldable chair right next to the store’s entrance. That’s because it’s 2021, and this is what I must do to buy a PC graphics card during the great chip shortage.
In about six hours, the Best Buy in San Francisco will start selling Nvidia’s RTX 3000 GPUs, but only while supplies last. So here I am, alongside more than 80 other people who’ve all decided to camp out. The line of customers wraps around two corners of the building, and prospective buyers shelter themselves with blankets, sleeping bags, and even a tent.
“Bro, we look fucking insane out here,” a college student named Christian Singh says.
‘One Night of Suffering to End It All’
Indeed, it’s a bit crazy. But that’s what the GPU shortage can do to a consumer.
The day before, Best Buy made the rare decision to sell Nvidia’s RTX 3000 graphics cards on Tuesday inside select stores across the country. No bots. No online scalpers. All you had to do was wait in line and hope there’d be enough stock for you.
Suspecting the demand might be huge, I arrived at the Best Buy in San Francisco nearly 24 hours before the sales event began at 9:45 a.m. That’s when I met James Hurst, a research scientist, who was first in line. He came early in the hopes of securing an Nvidia RTX 3080 Founders Edition graphics card (which starts at $700) for a friend who was in desperate need of the GPU.
“It’s causing him a lot of grief and stress because he doesn’t want to pay the scalper prices,” Hurst said of his friend, who’s trying to build his dream PC. “I think it just snowballed to the point we’re so desperate we are willing to go camp out.”
Hurst’s friend, Alec Taggart, would eventually wait alongside him outside the store. “I’ve been collecting PC parts in my closet for almost a year,” Taggart said. “I just want to stop wasting my time looking.”
Both came prepared with a foldable chair, an inflatable couch, an Oculus Quest VR headset, and plenty of blankets and snacks. “One night of suffering to end it all,” Taggart joked.
The second person in line was a college student, Christian Singh, who loves to game. He too came to the store to buy an RTX 3080 Founders Edition card for a friend who lives in the “middle of nowhere” in Oklahoma and is stuck with an old graphics card. Singh plans on shipping the card to his friend so they can play PC games together.
“It’s frustrating for consumers,” he said. “We’re fighting with bots and scalpers for these cards, and they’re selling them at inflated prices when there’s no reason for a middle man…This is one of the only chances for people to get a card in person.”
By 2:15 p.m. on Monday, 15 people had gathered at the store. Some were high schoolers and college students on summer break. Others took a day off or worked remotely, giving them the flexibility to take extreme measures and camp out early.
“Honestly, it kind of sucks. It shouldn’t be like this,” said a college student named Tom Hsieh, who waited at the store with his girlfriend and their dog. Their attempts to buy graphics cards had so far been stymied by the chip shortage and scalpers. “We have no choice but to wait like this. It’s the only option,” he added.
But not everyone understood the urgency around Tuesday’s upcoming sale. The growing line naturally caused regular Best Buy customers to look on in bewilderment.
“Hey what are you guys waiting for?” one customer asked that day.
“Graphics cards,” we reply.
“You mean like baseball?” the customer replied.
“No, for your computer.”
Wait, Am I Going to Die Out Here Tonight?
Obviously, waiting all night to buy a PC graphics card is both ridiculous and taxing. For example, sitting outside so long caused me to get a sunburn.
But you know what’s more insane? Freezing to death to buy a GPU.
Initially, the day passed along pleasantly. People chatted, cracked jokes, and gamed on their smartphones and Nintendo Switches. But when night came, I endured the most physical pain I’ve felt in years. It was cold outside that Best Buy store—almost unbearably so. My smartphone registered the temperatures at 55 degrees, but the San Francisco Bay Area wind made it feel closer to 40, even though summer is in full swing.
Unfortunately, none of us could leave the line for too long. Earlier in the day, a Best Buy employee told us doing so would disqualify us from buying a graphics card. “Tomorrow, when I come to the store, I’ll review (the security) tape,” she said.
So as night arrived, I realized I’d come to this event ill-prepared. Although I brought a foldable chair, I arrived with no blankets. It briefly made me wonder if I was going to die trying to obtain a graphics card that night.
Thankfully, James Hurst gave me several spare blankets. But even so, from midnight to 6 a.m., I shivered under them, mostly awake. The cold wind and the loud noise from cars and street cleaners made it almost impossible to sleep. So instead, I stared out at Best Buy’s parking lot in total misery.
“Oh my God. I just want my card,” Singh said after only catching two hours of sleep on the pavement.
Others, like Long Ngyuen, a high school graduate who was trying to buy a GPU for his desktop, couldn’t sleep at all. “My eyes are so tired,” he said. “I just can’t wait until this day is over.”
Meanwhile, the line continued to grow throughout the night. By 4:40 a.m., about 140 people were outside waiting at the store. By 6 a.m., the crowd had expanded to 185. The line became so long it eventually wrapped all around the store, attracting well over 200 people.
To help keep things civil, Matt DeCambra, a Best Buy customer waiting in line, did the thankless job of maintaining a list of every consumer in line and in what order. To do so, he stayed up through the night adding newcomers to a Google document on his phone. Aside from a spat with a few consumers who had left the line for several hours, “everyone was cool,” he said.
“I kind of enjoyed it,” DeCambra said, though the bags under his eyes told a different story. “Everyone here had similar interest in games or were enthusiasts. It was really cool to take care of people, make sure they had blanket, had water and were fed.”
The only issue left was would everyone in line get a graphics card?
No Pain, No Gain (Unless You’re Lucky)
Best Buy refused to say how much inventory it had in stock at the San Francisco store. But on Tuesday morning, it appeared the retailer had enough GPUs on hand to serve around 200 customers. That’s far more than the 64 cards Best Buy had available at select stores for the RTX 3080 Ti Founders Edition launch last month.
Despite the sizable inventory, not everyone came away with a graphics card on Tuesday morning. One customer who just missed the cutoff point said he arrived at 6:45 a.m., only to be told there would be no more stock left.
I, on the other hand, got early dibs. On Tuesday, the Best Buy store had 29 units of Nvidia’s RTX 3080 Founders Edition card—and I was able to snatch one.
But was it all worth it?
“It was worth it. But it should have never come to this,” said Singh, who swore off camping out for graphics card ever again.
“I just feel like I was on an international flight to London,” said Hurst, who was draped in a large blanket. “Still, I’m excited to get this card. It will all pay off shortly.”
Indeed, today we’ve beaten the bots and now we own perhaps the most coveted graphics card on the market. Nevertheless, I can’t help but feel foolish (or perhaps jealous) after I meeting a high schooler named Amead Eshpari, who secured one of the last guaranteed spots in line to buy an RTX 3000 graphics card.
Unlike me, he didn’t really wait at all at the store. Instead, he arrived at Best Buy on Tuesday morning at 8:15 a.m. He came at the perfect time. By then, the back of the line had scattered, and more customers were jumping ship after learning the remaining GPU stock was made up of only RTX 3090 cards—coincidentally the same graphics card he was hoping to buy.
“I lucked out big time,” said Eshpari, who rode his bike to the store. “It’s crazy lucky I got here.”
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com.