How cryptocurrency markets are affecting the GPU industry
As you may know, buying a GPU these days is nearly impossible. That’s because prices have skyrocketed, in some cases, even doubled, and stocks running out the second they are shelved. It can even be considered ill advised and a big hassle to be in the market for a graphics card. Moreover, the cryptocurrency mining frenzy seems to be the main culprit. Due to the establishment of mining mega-farms for “crypto-coins” in countries like Russia, China, Iceland, and so on, the local and international markets have been shook.
Take for example, NVidia’s flagship graphics card; the GTX 1080ti. This is the most powerful graphics card available on the market today (save for the Titan V, which is on a whole other level). It is revered by both PC gaming enthusiasts and miners alike, due to its 11GB of VRAM and overclockable chip. As this card has a good price to performance ratio and the highest hash rate, meaning it’s powerful enough to mine on and earn a buck, it is sought after the most. The original price for this GPU was $700-$800, not counting the special editions. This price made the card feasible to purchase, as flagship GPUs usually last 3-4 years, without breaking a sweat.
After the mining craze shot up, this very card is being sold for nearly $1500. That’s twice the amount it originally cost and as if the cost wasn’t enough, nearly every major PC parts store runs out the second they restock. Some retailers have even taken measures to curb this by limiting the amount of graphics cards sold to one person, and by monitoring transactions that appear suspicious. It seems as if retailers are starting to understand the plight of gamers.
Another field that has been impacted by the GPU shortage is space exploration. Yes, space exploration. Aaron Parsons, an astronomer at UC Berkeley who mainly works with radio telescopes, is hoping to upgrade his gear. Radio telescopes work by combining hundreds of radio antennas that are designed to pick up even the smallest signals coming from outer space. The data received by these antennas needs to be processed by supercomputers in order to create a virtual map of the sky that helps locate stars and other celestial bodies. This data has to be processed in real time, so the computer needs to be packing some serious heat. The supercomputer takes the assistance of GPUs to perform its calculations.
Since GPUs have the raw processing power needed, they are often used for high intensity applications like these. Aaron says the GPUs he requires have doubled up in price, from $500 to $1000 each. The overall cost for the upgrades will be $32,000, money that could be used to paying new student researchers. The price hike could spell trouble, as it may force Aaron to “downscale” and build a smaller telescope. This would not have the clarity or the resolution of a large telescope and may even result in fundamental questions about the universe to be left unanswered.
The GPU market does appear to be stabilizing by the day. It seems as if the “GPU hungry” beast has now moved on to using ASICS. An ASIC is an “application-specific integrated circuit”. It is far more profitable and reasonable to be mining using ASICs as these devices have far more power than conventional GPUs. ASICs are made up of an array of plates, each holding a single chip that is designed to do one thing only, mine. Not only are they easier to set up, but they also have a smaller footprint, making clever use of space with their cuboidal design.
As of now, the largest company that makes ASICs is Bitmain. Bitmain specializes in manufacturing Bitcoin mining gear and ASIC chips. Their miners are known for their high efficiency and ROI. Bitmain is also home to Antpool, which is one of the largest Bitcoin mining pools in the world. Other companies have also taken ventures and are now making ASICs, with their numbers increasing rapidly.
Sure enough, this shift may mark the end of the GPU shortage. It is only a matter of time before the next generation of GPUs comes rolling out and hopefully, the “freshmen” would be spared.