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Tired of me lisping about computer chips and their importance? Too bad.
For many reasons, a shortage of chips is limiting the production of everything from cars to video game consoles and possibly airplanes (?!). Some major automakers, including Ford and Volkswagen, have either slowed down or temporarily stopped production because they couldn’t get the necessary computer chips.
Let me guide us on what’s going on, how this chip error can affect what we buy and some advice on what people can do.
As I wrote on Friday, computer chips are the essential electronic brains or digital memory in jet fighters, satellites, smartphones, refrigerators, and more. Because the manufacturing of computer chips is so complex, it is difficult for factories to respond quickly when demand suddenly rises or falls.
That became a problem during the pandemic. Purchases surged for several types of electronic devices, including laptops, printers and video game consoles, making it difficult for companies to have enough materials and production capacity to keep up. That’s why you may find it harder or more expensive than expected buying a computer for your child’s school or a webcam to work from from home.
But the shortage that occurred first in the consumer electronics sector has spread to other commodities.
New York Times reporters have written about the difficulty automakers face getting all the computer chips they need. As car sales slowed as the pandemic began to shift to increased sales, carmakers and their chip suppliers were caught off guard. Some chipmakers have shifted their focus to the electronics industry.
The shortage of automatic chips has now attracted the attention of government officials and chipmakers racing to respond. But it can take months for a chip to go from the raw material to the final product.
The carmakers’ pain is also transmitted to us. It can become more difficult to find the model you want or buy it at a price you can accept.
And now, perhaps, the chip shortage happens first for electronic devices, then the switch to cars will turn to electronics. Stephen Baker, who follows the consumer hardware industry at market research firm NPD Group, told me that the chip shortage was “a big problem.” It probably won’t be easier to find electronics that are already in high demand, he said.
As for shoppers, I will energize my colleagues: Be patient. You may have to shop around. And can try not to spoil anything important as it may be harder than you expect to find a replacement. (I joked to a colleague about wrapping my smartphone in Bubble Wrap. Maybe I’m not kidding?)
Let me answer you with a broad question: Are our supply chains too fragile?
Over the past year, we’ve seen bottlenecks for premium medical masks, computer chips, toilet paper and more. Maybe this crisis is an opportunity to reexamine the wisdom of having an extensive global component network and thin product count – both leaving little room for unpredictability.
We’ve seen the risks of this before, but there are simply too many cost advantages to eliminate our “just in time” retail and manufacturing economies. Maybe that calculation will change. As we have seen this year, when there is an unavoidable major disruption, it means we are suffering from the effects of supply hiccups.
Tips for damn video games
I ask Andrew Cunningham from Wirecutter, the New York Times product recommendation website, to make recommendations for video game fans looking for Game consoles are hard to find and personal computer enhancement tailored for gamers. His advice has the same euphoric energy as advice for people trying to find the coronavirus vaccine:
Anything related to a video game, whether on a PC or a new console like PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, is hard to keep track of. Games became more popular during the pandemic, and video game-oriented computers and consoles also relied on more advanced chips that fewer vendors offered.
If you’re buying a new PlayStation or Xbox model and don’t want to resort to paying an extender, patience is a virtue. Call local retailers in your area to see if they will tell you the dates they receive a new shipment.
The nowinstock.net store tracking website is quite complicated, but it can alert you when online stores have a dashboard available. The Wario64 Twitter account Keep track of those too – as well as sales for all sorts of games and accessories. It’s still difficult to find the console this way, but it’s your best bet.
As for gaming PCs, the usual wisdom is that they’re cheaper for you to mix from the processor and graphics card than buying pre-made gaming setups from companies like Dell. That advice doesn’t apply right now because the best processors and graphics cards are hard to find – or expensive if you can afford it.
If you can delay buying video game gear right now, do it! AMD and Nvidia, which make most of the graphics cards and chips used for PlayStation and Xbox consoles, say they expect supply issues to last at least until this summer. It might be a little easier – and cheaper – to buy later.
Before we go …
Paul, a retired greyhound, is still getting used to the winter. He might look a little odd in his warm hat and clothes, but at least he’s not cold.
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