Belly-flopping Nvidia's RTX 3090 release

How I miserably failed to buy 5 GPUs after weeks of preparation

I’ve never been so ready to buy something. Ever.

I had a cold case of IPAs. The Pringles can was ready. The green tube was so eager to pop that the aluminum top was inflating.

I was prepared. A few weeks before the release I read up on the previous launches.

That’s when I realized:

THIS IS WAR.

All the Reddit threads and blog posts had one theme in common, GPUs sell out fast during releases. It takes a few minutes to less than an hour.

But this year was unique. Not only did COVID-19 create manufacturing problems, the crypto surge significantly increased the demand. To make things worse, scalpers saw an opportunity to profit from the shortage.

I wanted the RTX 3090. After watching the brutal faith of the RTX 3080 release a few weeks earlier. I knew.

This was not a war for mortals, but bots. I had to get on top of it.

A quick search on GitHub confirmed my doubt, there were pages of GPU and online purchase bots being developed and the commits were hitting the log every hour. Most of them had Discord, Gitter, Telegram, or Slack channels.

A quick peek at any of the forums and you’d feel the nerd rage.

It was the gamers against the scalpers. This was not just about 8K HDR or FPS: it was pride. Tech-savvy geeks with a nack for metrics against sleazy salesmen with no appreciation for neither games nor technology.

It was Mr. Robot against E Corp.

I started benchmarking different GPU scripts. I set up virtual credit cards and bought Nvidia t-shirts to confirm all the steps in the checkouts.

It worked like a charm.

But Nvidia was not sleeping behind the wheel. They knew the war was coming and 24 hours before the RTX 3090 launch, they changed their web store.

The forums soon turned into light waterfalls mixing bursts of code snippets and splashes of scalper memes. Commits fell from one an hour to once every 5-10 minutes. There were still loopholes.

Two hours before the launch, at 4AM PST, Nvidia was still patching the store which was countered with new commits.

All the Nvidia t-shirts were now sold out.

T-30, thirty minutes before the launch hit like a sledgehammer. Nvidia made the last update which killed all the bot attempts. It was both a victory against scalpers, but now we all had the same faith — uncertainty.

I had two problems. I needed five GPUs for my machine learning rig. Five might seem like a lot, but if you’ve tried to make GPT-2 go brrrr or even attempt to tickle GPT-3 — you know what I mean. Machine learning is all about computing power.

A back on the envelope calculation made it unlikely that I’d buy five GPUs before they sold out. Also, Nvidia had a clear recommendation: only one GPU per customer.

T-15 minutes. I start spamming people on messager and I found 4 loyal soldiers minutes before the launch. I set them up with accounts and credit cards. Now I’m literally shaking and rehearing buying patterns in my head.

T-0: Launch.

T+1 minute: Sold out.

The buy button never even showed for all of us.

But the fresh scent of Mediterranean sardines hit my nose. Something was fishy. The site barely loaded. It made sense. They made a last-minute web store and it was not remotely made for the amount of traffic.

I kept refreshing for 15 minutes.

ADD TO CART

👀

‘Breath’, I told myself. And before I could comprehend it, my trained e-shopping finger had struck the button.

But the checkout button didn’t work. I clicked. Nothing. A hint of despair soon led to hope. That Mediterranean smell was back. The behavior of the button didn’t have the characteristics of a load problem, but something else. A bug.

A quick lick on the console and the case was clear: a CORS error. That devious error that anyone who’s launched an API will know of.

That’s when my e-shopping practice turned out useful. I had all the checkout URL patterns from my previous attempts, so I could manually change the URL.

AND IT WORKED.

I could hear a choir of angels. I shared the technique with my friends and this landed on my bank account. Five confirmed purchases between T+28 and T+47.

TAKE MY MONEY!

While still staring at the screen I starting swinging for the refrigerator. My sweaty fingers were greeted by an ice-cold IPA.

WIN!

The Pringles tube was in quantum entanglement, as the beer cap flew open, the green tube burst open. The fresh smell of onion filled the room.

I could not help it. If you are Swedish, feel nostalgic, and have a win - there is only one thing that comes to mind: ABBA. Yes, that cheesy ‘winner takes it all’ song you play when you beat your siblings in a 3-hour long boardgame.

As the cap of my second beer flew up and during the sweet vocals from Agnetha Faltskog ‘THE WINNER TA’, my pocket buzzed:

Something in my order information must have matched and due to the one GPU per customer policy, they canceled all orders.

GAME OVER.