Mining cryptocurrency with GPUs

Prioritise gamers over cryptocurrency miners, says graphics card giant

Image credit: Dreamstime

As demand for graphics cards grows due to a surge of interest in cryptocurrency mining, Nvidia has suggested that retailers of its components limit customers to two graphics cards each.

Gamers use dedicated gaming PCs to support computationally expensive games with increasingly sophisticated graphics and virtual reality games. A graphics processing unit (GPU) or ‘graphics card’ is an essential part of a gaming PC.

They may choose to either buy a gaming PC ready built, or assemble it themselves with their choice of components. While the latter can, in theory, allow for a high-performance computer to be acquired on a lower budget, gamers are facing the problem of soaring prices for graphics cards and other components.

Due to their ability to handle computational-intensive processes, gaming PC components are widely used by software engineers – particularly those working in machine learning – and by cryptocurrency miners who aim to crack complex mathematical problems in order to verify cryptocurrency transactions for financial rewards. The massive demand for GPUs for cryptocurrency mining rigs is a major factor in driving up their retail value.

While most hobbyists mining cryptocurrency on their laptops in their spare time are unlikely to make back the high cost of electricity required, dedicated miners who build large-scale rigs using high performance components could turn a significant profit.

Bitcoin – the first decentralised virtual currency – reached dizzying heights of nearly $20,000 in late 2017, while other cryptocurrencies such as Ether rapidly grew in value. The surge in cryptocurrencies’ value and public profile over the past year has resulted in a rapid growth in interest in cryptocurrency mining.

In June 2017, Russia suffered a national shortage of graphics cards, reportedly thanks to Sberbank – a state-owned bank – buying graphics cards in bulk in order to research cryptocurrencies.

The price of GPUs has been growing steadily over the past year. Many high performance GPUs are now on sale for double the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, and can now cost well over a thousand dollars. It could be argued that this punishes the very people – gamers – that GPUs were developed to serve.

According to ComputerBase, Nvidia – a California-based company best known for its high performance GeForce-branded GPUs – is reaching out to retailers of its components, suggesting that customers are limited to buying two graphics cards at once.

“For Nvidia, gamers come first,” the company said in a statement to ComputerBase. “All activities relate to our GeForce product line are targeted at our main audience. To ensure that GeForce gamers continue to have good GeForce graphics card availability in the current situation, we recommend that our trading partners make the appropriate arrangements to meet gamers’ needs as usual.”

This is only a suggestion from the company, and it is likely that Nvidia has no real means of enforcing it. The company has been allowing gamers to bypass other retailers by selling its GPUs directly from its website.

In June 2017, it was reported that Nvidia had plans to develop a GPU specifically tailored for cryptocurrency mining, which could lower demand of other graphics cards. However, further news of a mining rig GPU has not emerged.

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