Unit shipments of graphics cards plunged 31.9% year over year in the third quarter, according to data from Jon Peddie Research, the first decline since the pandemic began. There are multiple headwinds plaguing the industry:

  • Demand from cryptocurrency miners has essentially vanished as crypto prices plunge, and a recovery doesn't look likely as the industry buckles under the weight of scandals and frauds.
  • The PC market is in shambles, with unit shipments plunging nearly 20% in the third quarter. Excluding Apple products, global PC unit shipments are now below pre-pandemic levels.
  • There's way too much channel inventory. As resellers and OEMs work to knock down inventory levels, they're buying at rates lower than end-market demand.

Nvidia gains market share

Despite the environment, market leader Nvidia (NVDA -10.01%) strengthened its lead. The company saw its graphics card unit shipments fall just 25% year over year, a better performance than the overall market, while it boosted its market share by 7 percentage points to 86%.

New RTX 4000 series products may be helping the cause. Nvidia launched the high-end RTX 4090 and RTX 4080 graphics cards in October, and while these aren't high-volume parts, they stand alone at the top of the market for those looking for the absolute best performance. There may have been some benefit for Nvidia late in the quarter as graphics card companies readied for launch.

Nvidia still expects its gaming business to be weak in the fourth quarter as it finishes clearing out channel inventory. While the company sees higher sales compared to the third quarter, it also expects revenue to come in below end-market demand as inventory issues linger.

AMD falls apart

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD -5.44%) has announced new high-end graphics cards, but they don't become available until later this month. The company received no benefit from new products in the third quarter, and it appears its inventory situation was far worse than Nvidia's. AMD saw year-over-year unit shipments plunge 68.8%, far worse than the overall market.

AMD's unit market share tumbled to just 10%, down from 21% in the prior-year period. The company has made great strides in the graphics card market, and its products go toe-to-toe with Nvidia at various price points. But either AMD, its partners, or both seem to have gotten way ahead of themselves.

Jon Peddie Research had this to say about irrational behavior in the supply chain: "...disruptions in the supply chain and the time needed to make corrections in the overly enthusiastic production commitments left most suppliers with more inventory than anticipated...there was a serious loss of common sense and historical perspective exhibited by many suppliers that has come home to roost."

Intel makes gains

Intel (INTC -2.40%) reentered the discrete graphics card market in early October with the launch of its Arc A750 and Arc A770 graphics cards. These are midrange cards priced aggressively, and they received generally positive reviews.

The biggest downside is software -- Intel initially tried to leverage drivers for its integrated graphics products, but that strategy didn't work well. The company is now playing catch-up as it fixes issues with specific games and works to ensure its graphics cards support a broad set of popular titles.

Jon Peddie Research puts Intel's graphics card market share at 4% in the third quarter, up from nothing in the prior-year period. While its Arc cards didn't launch until the beginning of the fourth quarter, shipments to partners prior to that launch are likely what drove Intel's market share gains.

In the long run, Intel has an opportunity to become a major player in the graphics card industry, giving gamers a third option and breaking the Nvidia-AMD duopoly.

Recovery will take time

Some sources of demand for graphics cards, namely from cryptocurrency miners, likely aren't coming back. Demand from gamers will eventually recover, although a tough economy may slow down that process. If there is a recession next year, it's hard to imagine demand for graphics cards returning to pandemic boom levels anytime soon.

Artificial intelligence may end up being a bright spot. Graphics cards are heavily used to train and use AI models, and the technology is making waves as it becomes more sophisticated. ChatGPT from OpenAI, for example, is a recently launched AI-powered chatbot that's capable of some incredible feats.

One thing is for sure: With Nvidia and AMD in the process of launching new graphics card families, and Intel barging into the market, 2023 is shaping up to be the most competitive year for the graphics card industry in a long time. The era of sky-high prices and shortages is over, and now all three companies are going to have to battle for each and every customer.