Will Nvidia have to protect the RTX 40-series GPUs from the cryptomining craze?

The past few weeks have provided a well-deserved respite for PC gamers and computer builders after two pretty horrific years since the launch of the Nvidia Ampere and AMD RDNA2 graphics architecture.

Where we once faced global shortages and skyrocketing prices thanks to a dastardly mix of different issues, it’s now quite easy to walk into a physical store to buy a reasonably priced graphics card, or to add one to your online shopping cart without having to worry about it. it will be exhausted by the time you complete the transaction process.

It’s a relief for many, and yet I still feel nervous. The myriad of issues that caused the original situation have not been fully resolved, which means we could fall back into depressing familiarity when Nvidia and AMD launch their next generation of desktop graphics cards towards the end of This year.

One of the most recognizable plagues was that of cryptomining and the surge in demand for GPUs to be used in mining rigs, both in small-scale operations, to warehouses housing industrial mining farms. . Bots have been used by miners to purchase available stock of desirable GPUs such as the GeForce RTX 3060 and Radeon RX 6700 XT before mainstream consumers can complete their purchases.

Opportunists saw this sudden increase in demand and also got involved, which only made things worse. By also buying stock, they could then re-list the cards on sites such as eBay or Facebook Marketplace for a profit, inflating the original retail price by a staggering amount. At their peak, RTX 3080s were often listed at more than three times their real price.

How has the crypto craze hurt gamers?

Rare Gundam-themed RTX 3080 GPUs are built into a mining rig

Rare Gundam-themed RTX 3080 GPUs are built into a mining rig (Image credit: I_Leak_VN)

Interestingly, cryptomining itself probably played a smaller role in the overall GPU shortage than you might think, given that the global chip shortage was also causing manufacturing delays. However, that hasn’t stopped miners from being seen as public enemy number one by desperate consumers looking to buy a card at a reasonable price.

Nvidia eventually tried to recoup some of its lost public appeal by re-releasing almost the entire RTX 30 series as LHR or “low hash” versions of the originals, which limited their ability to mine cryptocurrency without affecting the game performance. Since then, almost the entire RTX 3000 series of cards contain hashrate limiters (not including the GeForce RTX 3090 as it was deemed too expensive to attract the mining market) which limited their ability to mine currencies like ETH , but several of them were quickly defeated. . Some software has been able to unlock cards with 70-80% efficiency in just a few weeks.

It’s really hard to say if it had any real impact, although some credibility was lost on its safety when Nvidia accidentally broke its own LHR software with a botched driver update.

In the end, it took almost a full year for the LHR software to be fully unlocked thanks to a company called NiceHash, but even that only works on older versions of the LHR algorithm and does not include systems running under Linux. Nvidia has been diligent in continuing to update its LHR software, but we don’t know if this will carry over to its next generation of GPUs. We emailed Nvidia for clarification, but it’s worth remembering that we could see a very similar situation unfold later this year, even as cryptomining continues to decline in popularity.

You might think of Bitcoin at the mention of cryptomining, but it was actually Ethereum, the world’s second most popular currency, that was giving players trouble in 2020. Luckily, Ethereum started moving to proof-of-stake in the end of 2021, using validators to find a block based on the number of tokens they hold. The current proof-of-work system has computers competing against each other to be the first to solve complex puzzles, allowing miners to use warehouses full of consumer graphics cards to solve these puzzles, exploiting more intensely ETH in the process.

As ETH transitions to proof-of-stake, the need to solve these “puzzles” disappears, and the viability of mining using traditional methods disappears with it. That said, nothing prevents the success of Ethereum from being replicated by another currency that still uses the proof-of-work validation method, especially with the lingering threat of a financial crisis looming in the world. western.

It is natural for desperate people to try to make money from a decentralized market, especially after seeing the success of people who invested in Bitcoin in 2009.

This is especially prevalent with Elon Musk buying Twitter, a man known to have massive influence in the wider crypto market and who may soon be able to turn Twitter into a better-optimized platform to face the world. evolving digital investment portfolios. All it takes is a low-value coin that’s viable for mining with mainstream GPUs and it could quickly feel like we’re back into the same inevitable hardware shortage.

Stay alert and learn from recent history

A man looking tired and bored in front of his gaming computer

If you’re waiting for the RTX 40 series upgrade, do so with caution (Image credit: Shutterstock / Ponomarenko Anastasia)

I don’t want any of this to come across as fear. I was actually relieved to be able to report on lower GPU prices and improved availability after spending the better part of the last two years writing about the market depression for new and established PC gamers at back then who just wanted to buy a new graphics card, but I don’t want to fall into a false sense of security because of this current respite.

To escape from the same unfolding situation, we need a perfect storm working in our favor. We need supplies of the next generation of GPUs to be plentiful (which could be affected by the recent Covid-19 lockdowns across East Asia where most hardware is made), we need the crypto market remains stable or spirals downwards towards deterring potential investors, and we need these new graphics cards to be reasonably priced at launch and then – somehow – remain so despite the strong demand.

AMD has made it clear that consumers can use its cards for anything they want because they bought them outright, so Team Red is unlikely to implement a deterrent similar to the Nvidia LHR algorithm, and Intel seems to share this sentiment after announcing that ARC Alchemist desktop graphics cards will be released without any cryptocurrency mining disabilities.

If Nvidia decides to transfer LHR technology to the Lovelace card generation, it will be on its own, but that’s not necessarily bad news. If the preventative measures work, no one loses as miners will be pushed into bids from Intel and AMD to supply their farming rigs, while gamers, developers and desktop builders can stock up. in material from Team Green, which could put him in a better public position than his rivals.

While this is all speculative, it’s important to stay alert in the coming months as interest in the next generation of graphics cards grows, so that you’re in the best possible condition to buy one at launch.

If we can take away anything useful from the past two years, it’s that getting a Founders Edition GPU directly from the manufacturer was one of the only ways to get a card at MSRP, which could be your best bet to avoid months of misery trying to upgrade your current system. Start warming up your fingers now for quick basket additions…just in case.

About Rodney Fletcher

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