Computer chips are in short supply

There is a shortage of computer chips and it could last for two years

Computer chipsComputer chips are the small wafers of electronic circuitry that provide computers with their processing ability and the memory to hold the data that they need while doing that processing.

It’s not just “pure” computers that use chips. More and more of our everyday devices employ computer chips (or “integrated circuits”). This ranges from vehicles (that can employ dozens of chips) right down to the humble toaster.

There are several reasons why the pandemic has caused shortages of chips:

  • Supply chains have been interrupted
  • The pandemic has made the actual manufacturing more difficult
  • The move to working from home has led to an increased demand for more new computers. Prior to the pandemic, global sales of laptop and desktop computers had steadily fallen from about 300 million per year to 250 million. With the pandemic, that figure unexpectedly rose to 300 million again (source)

There may also be geo-political factors – Huawei may have been buying up stocks of components before US sanctions could take effect.

What are the effects of the shortage?

  • Availability of new computers is being affected. Some models may not be available at the drop of a hat (as we’ve been accustomed to expect)
  • Prices may rise (or, at least, not continue to fall as we’ve also come to expect)

Price of memory
This memory has gone up 40% in price on Amazon since last summer
As an example, for ages I have been half promising myself to double the memory in my Dell XPS from 16gb to 32gb. So, I put the item in my Amazon “wish list” last summer. At that time, the price was just over £100. Today (06/05/21), Amazon is quoting £140.88.

Have you noticed, by the way, that Amazon are keen to tell you how much the price has dropped since you put an item in your wish list, but they don’t do the converse when the price goes up? Wonder why.

When will the shortage end?

Pat Gelsinger - Intel - CEO
Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger expects the chip shortage to last “a couple of years”
The Chief Executive of Cisco recently predicted that the shortage would last between six and eighteen months and other recent estimates have been as high as two years (Independent, 26/04/21)

So, what should you do?

If your current hardware just gives up the ghost, then you probably have no option but to buy what’s available. If you have to do this, I would strongly recommend buying something more expensive than you anticipated rather than less, if at all possible. There are few things worse than being disappointed with a computer from day one. That feeling doesn’t improve with time (actually there are many things that are much worse, but this is a blog about computers).

If you buy a higher specification machine than you had planned, then it might last longer as it will continue to cope well with the increased demand that is put upon it as time goes by. As computers get older, they tend to get slower. This is not so much because they are getting old and rickety (unlike me), but because the demands put upon them increase over time. This is very insidious, because we don’t notice the small increases in the size, quantity, and complexity of programs as they happen. If you buy a computer that already seems sluggish, that’s not going to get any better.

If you think that you’ll probably get another year or two out of your current computer, but it feels well below par, then it’s certainly worth investigating whether it is possible and worthwhile to increase the memory (despite the current increased cost of memory) and/or replace an internal hard disc with a solid state drive. I don’t understand why, but a 1tb solid state drive that is also in my Amazon wish list is actually cheaper now than when I put it there 18 months ago.

If you are not desperate to replace or upgrade your computer at this minute, then just keep
an eye on availability over the coming months and pounce on something if it happens to catch your eye.

(Last updated 16/07/2021)