If you’ve tried to get the latest Nvidia RTX 3080 or AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT graphics cards, you’ve probably discovered that they’re unavailable. Retailer after retailer, like Nvidia and AMD, bring the fresh produce on the market, and it sells out just as soon as the news gets out about the restock. While there are plenty of bots out there that can snap up all of the available units before you even add an aftermarket card to your list, there is an increasing group of customers who are willing to pay exorbitant markups and buy cards in bulk: crypto miners.
According to a recent survey, as many as 50,000 RTX 3000-series graphics cards have been offered on eBay and StockX, with an estimated selling price of about $1,250 (roughly £910 / AU$1,620), a good percentage of those cards are obviously going to people who are mining cryptocurrencies for benefit. Due to the lack of these graphics cards, some crypto miners have purchased new RTX 3000-series laptops and put them to work in the digital mines, mathematically digging up Ethereum and Bitcoin in a closet somewhere as gamers get increasingly irritated.
How did these GPUs, created by a small army of gamers and hardware enthusiasts, become the key workhorses for cryptocurrency traders? Although there is a lot of complicated computer math involved, such as terminology like ‘nondeterministic polynomial time complexity and ideas like ‘blockchain’ and ‘hashing,’ the main components are more straightforward: greed, economies, and computing capacity. It is because of them that the transactions are easier and quicker to make and has changed a lot of industries, starting with the casinos accepting bitcoin payments ended up with their implementation in the entertainment industry or even in the elections. This is justified due to its efficiency or convenience in the process.
Without going through a lecture on blockchain and data systems, it’s crucial to consider what crypto mining is and what it entails in order to comprehend how it’s a large part of the explanation why an RTX 3080 is currently unavailable. As a result, this will be a very fast and sloppy summary of how crypto mining operates. Cryptomining is a computing method in which a unit of digital currency is generated by solving a complex math puzzle. In essence, you start with a “block” of digital data that includes items like a timestamp, transaction counts, and other data, and you run it through a mathematical operation known as a hash function.
Based on the information entered and the order in which it was entered, this feature generates a virtually unique string of 64 hexadecimal values. In order to be approved, this output value must pass a certain target value, in the case of Bitcoin, it must contain a certain number of leading zeroes. If your hash value is acknowledged, you are given the opportunity to “mine” the block and obtain a unit of cryptocurrency.
The problem is that you can’t reverse engineer an output from an input. The only way to check whether you have the correct sequence of data is to run it through the hash function. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to make that guess. A single person might create a car on their own, but two people will do it quicker. Meanwhile, a factory full of workers can set up an automotive assembly line and manufacture hundreds of vehicles faster than a single person might. You can simulate a crypto mining procedure by replacing cars with guesses and people with computer processors.
Graphic Cards in crypto-mining
The trouble with our little factory is that CPUs aren’t supposed to be factory workers; they’re trained to be factory managers. Setting up a multiprocessor machine with AMD Ryzen 7 5800X CPUs to build a digital assembly line is extremely expensive. A GPU, on the other hand, is designed specifically to serve as this kind of worker. The GPU is an Nvidia RTX 3090 that does the same kind of function as a computer’s CPU in terms of design and operation. Furthermore, several GPUs can be used on a single computer to increase processing efficiency, reducing the time it takes to find the correct “guess” by a duovigintillion (nice) or so seconds.
This is how you end up with the sort of mining rigs you see online, where someone has a single tower case, normally open-sided, in the backroom of some office somewhere with connector cables stringing together hundreds or even thousands of graphics cards. To run everything, you don’t even need a desktop PC anymore. Also, notebook computers are being used in crypto mining operations in China, thanks to the latest arrival of handheld RTX 3000-series laptops.
Graphic cards are short in supply due to several reasons. The fact that crypto-mining is done on laptops tells us a lot. First and foremost, it demonstrates how powerful mobile GPUs have become, with the RTX 3080 mobile GPU producing about the same amount of processing power as a desktop RTX 2080. Second, it demonstrates how unpredictable cryptocurrencies have been in recent years. Ethereum’s price has soared since November, and Bitcoin recently reached an all-time high of just over $48,000.