It’s Sunday morning, and I’ve just purchased two AMD graphics cards from Amazon—all without being anywhere near my computer.
Given the ongoing shortage for GPUs, it feels like I’ve pulled off a miracle. But I had help. For the past week, my Windows laptop has been running a bot. Or rather, a piece of automated software that scalpers have been using to nab PC graphics cards from all the major online retailers.
The bot can do what I can’t: Every three seconds, the program checks Amazon’s listings for various PC graphics cards. If they’re back in stock, the bot will automatically complete the checkout process—at a rate far faster than my mouse clicks could ever do.
The bot I had running. (Credit: Stellar)
Finally, the bot has snagged something: It’s bought not one, but two Radeon 6700XT cards while I was outside playing basketball.
Now the GPUs are mine. Or so I think. It turns out botting graphics cards is pretty hard.
Desperate Times, Desperate Measures
Graphics cards being resold on eBay for three times the normal price. (Credit: eBay)
In November, I wrote a guide on how to land an Nvidia RTX 3000 graphics card. The great GPU shortage had begun and PC builders everywhere were clamoring for the new products.
It’s six months later, and little has changed. Retailers continue to sell out of graphics cards in minutes, if not seconds, making the products incredibly hard to obtain.
But not everyone has struggled to land the cards. PC builders have been cursing scalpers, one of the culprits behind the limited supplies. Since September, they’ve been using automated bots to buy up PC graphics cards, and then resell them on eBay for a profit. The scalping has gotten so pervasive, literally tens of thousands of GPUs have been resold on eBay for twice or even triple the normal pricing.
It got me wondering: Could I fight fire with fire, and use a bot to help me land a GPU?
Last month, I noticed one such bot named Stellar. The developer behind it brazenly claimed on Twitter that the program had helped clients secure over 20,000 graphics cards from retail sites. “Members are making thousands in profit with GPU restocks, thanks to Stellar!” it added.
So I decided to rent it.
Enter the Bot
Stellar’s website. (Credit: Stellar)
Like other bots, Stellar tries to limit access. If there are too many users running bots, then the chances of scoring the desired goods can decline, bot developers have told PCMag.
Still, botting isn’t a secret. You can easily find numerous such services through a simple Google search, which will direct you to middle-men marketplaces. I ended up using EasyRentals.io, and paying $120 to get about two weeks of access to the Stellar bot. In return, the website gave me a download link to the program, along with a digital license key to activate the 500MB application, which runs on Windows.
The various websites you can target with the Stellar bot program. (Credit: Stellar)
Installing it gave me a view into how sophisticated botting can be. While the technology is often associated with “copping” limited-edition sneakers, Stellar doesn’t focus on shoe websites. Instead, the bot is designed to automatically buy products from major retailers including Best Buy, GameStop, Newegg, Target, and Walmart, along with AMD’s own website.
The program also has support to beat CAPTCHA tests, which try to verify whether you’re a human. In addition, the developers behind Stellar are updating the bot almost every day with bug fixes and improvements. One such feature even promises to bypass Best Buy’s queue system during a restock to help you purchase a graphics card without needing to wait.
You can enter CAPTCHA-solving services in the settings panel. (Credit: Stellar)
The interface is also fairly easy to use. To teach you how to set it up, Stellar created an online user manual. You can also go on YouTube to learn more from other Stellar users.
I first tested the bot on Amazon by purchasing some random products. Stellar automatically entered my provided login information, and about three seconds later, it added the product to my cart and completed the checkout process. All I had to do was press a button and watch.
Too Many Cooks
Running the bot, but receiving only Out of Stock notices, and failures to Add to Cart. (Credit: Stellar)
So did I end up becoming a greedy GPU scalper? No, it did not corrupt me.
For two weeks, I ran the Stellar bot, assuming it would be quick enough to snag a product from Amazon, Best Buy, or AMD itself. During that time, I saw dozens and dozens of GPU listings come and go. But even so, my botting attempts struggled to land a graphics card.
One reason is the competition. Sure, I have a bot, but imagine how many other bots are out there, trying to buy up the same GPUs. It explains why my Stellar setup mostly came up empty. The market simply has too many buyers—whether it be bots or human consumers—vying for the same goods. In my case, the bot still wasn’t quick enough to place orders on Amazon, despite checking the product pages for over a dozen GPUs every few seconds.
You can also see this play out in so-called “cook groups,” where resellers gather online and share info on how to nab GPUs. These groups are usually hosted on the Discord chat platform, and they can have hundreds or thousands of users, ranging from newbies to veteran scalpers. Stellar’s own Discord group has over 10,000 members.
We joined one free cook group, called Zero Risk Flips, which can let you know when retailers such as Amazon and Walmart restock GPUs. Users will also brag about their successes while newbies will complain about their failures.
“Too much competition now on GPU botting,” wrote one user last week.
“Very few cop and competition rises by the day,” wrote another.
A Cat-and-Mouse Game
The Stellar bot showing two successfully placed orders on Amazon. (Credit: Stellar)
The other challenge I faced came from the retail websites that detected my bot.
The closest I came to securing a GPU through Stellar was on that Sunday. The program had finally managed to purchase two AMD graphics cards from Amazon, one a Gigabyte model, the other from the Aorus brand.
Why the bot was able to snag the GPUs may have been due to a change I made. I decided to pay $25 more and buy proxies for the bot. These proxies can trick a website into thinking your bot is coming from multiple IP addresses instead of one, enabling you to avoid getting banned. But perhaps more importantly, the proxies can accelerate your data requests to an e-commerce site at up to 100Gbps.
The added speed may have helped my bot finally purchase the two AMD graphics cards on that Sunday during an Amazon product restock.
Success? Not at all. I later checked my email inbox and noticed Amazon had sent me an email just minutes after the purchase. To my dismay, the company had placed my account temporarily on hold and canceled the orders. The reason: The company’s anti-bot measures had kicked in and detected “unusual activity” on the account.
The whole episode underscores why the developer behind Stellar is constantly updating the program with new enhancements. Botting GPUs is a cat-and-mouse game, and both sides are constantly trying to outdo the other.
I’m not exactly sure how Amazon detected my botting attempt. But checking GPU product pages on a single Amazon account probably didn’t help. In response, I decided to start over and create a new Amazon account. But days later, the e-commerce company once again noticed the suspicious activity coming from my bot, and flagged the new account.
To Bot or Not to Bot
In the end, I did score an AMD GPU. But not thanks to my bot.
For over two weeks, I had been trying to land a graphics card with Stellar. During that same time I also tried to buy the GPUs the old-fashioned way: When a restock occurred, I would also click on the the product pages through a browser, and then try adding them to cart. But no matter what I did, no matter how fast, I failed—over and over again—to land a graphics card.
Yep, trying to buy a GPU in today’s market means enduring a psychological hellscape. Most of the time, there is no relief in sight. It was only out of sheer luck that I was finally able to buy one. Last Friday I noticed AMD’s website was restocking its GPU products. So with a browser and mouse, I tried to see if I could purchase an AMD Radeon 6800 XT graphics card like a normal consumer would.
To my surprise, I was able to add the product to my cart, and successfully complete the checkout process with few network interruptions. The GPU gods had blessed me right before AMD’s website started to buckle amid a flood of user traffic.
My Stellar bot, on the other hand, failed to purchase a Radeon graphics card that day. Instead, it encountered an error, indicating AMD’s website had detected the bot activity, resulting in a ban of the proxy IP addresses I was using. The developers of Stellar did not respond to emails asking about the bot’s backstory.
I can’t fault Stellar entirely, though. I’m a newbie, and I was botting in my spare time during and after work. I never went all out like veteran scalpers can do by using numerous proxies, multiple fake user accounts, and dozens of virtual credit card numbers to try and beat the anti-bot measures from the major retailers.
Still, I don’t condone botting. Nor do I recommend that the average consumer try it. In total, I spent $150 and too many hours trying to learn how to use the bot. In return, I received nothing but stress and disappointment. And if I want to continue using the bot, I’d have to pay more. No thanks. Really, the economics of botting make the most sense if you’re an experienced scalper, not if you’re a regular consumer trying to obtain a single GPU.
So if you’re looking to buy a PC graphics card at normal retail pricing, my advice is to try the steps below. The journey will be tough, but persistence pays off.
The Best Way to Land a GPU in Spring 2021
Follow the free YouTube channel and Discord chat server from “Fixitfixitfixit.” They’ve been tracking GPU restocks in real-time across the major retailers, and notified me about the restock on AMD’s website.
Don’t bother with restocks on Amazon. Its GPU products always sell out too quickly.
Best Buy has been restocking GPUs on Thursdays usually in the morning or mid-day.
AMD has been restocking on Thursday or Friday.
Try your luck at the Newegg Shuffle. It took me over 12 times, but eventually I won a raffle to buy an Nvidia RTX 3070 graphics card.
If you live near a Micro Center store, go out and line up in the morning. At least you won’t have to contend with online scalpers.