06 Aug 2018

Cheaper graphics cards? There’s a reason for that

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Becoming affordable once more? The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Becoming affordable once more? The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 Nvidia

Earlier this year you could not buy some high-end graphics cards for love nor money as inventory was funnelled towards the voracious cryptocurrency market. Happily, however, things are changing.

We first wrote about the disastrous effect that crypto-currency mining was having on the graphics card market back in February, when miners were using as many GPUs as possible to crack the equations necessary to create new crypto. Back then, a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070, suggested retail price $380, was selling for up to $1000 in some markets and availability was almost non-existent.

Thankfully, that’s not the case anymore. While the average price being asked did indeed peak in February at around the $700 mark, since then it has declined to around $500 and is still trending down. It’s not just the GTX 1070 either, but a steady weakening in prices across the board. And while they are still not down to 2017 levels, if this trend continues they could be by the end of the year.

That, of course is dependent on a few things, but mainly the price of bitcoin. The link though is not direct. Increasingly Bitcoin is being mined by specialist ASICs, which are far more energy efficient than GPUs and thus return a greater profit. The GPUs themselves are more liable to be used to mine Ethereum, which is less valuable than bitcoin, but all cryptos currently tend to move in a loosely-coupled block. Bitcoin goes up, Ether goes up: Bitcoin goes down, Ether goes down.

And currently of course, Bitcoin is under half its December 2018 peak [somewhat obviously I meant 2017 here - AS]. Ether, meanwhile, is currently $450, down from a $1300 peak mid-January.

So while price fluctuations are weakening the GPU market for crypto, even better news comes in the form of the Antminer E3. This is the first commercially available ASIC Ethereum mining tech and was announced by dominant Bitcoin mining hardware firm Bitmain back in April. These have shipped over the past few weeks at a $2150 pricepoint and have been sold out for months even at a maximum five per user, mainly because they are around 80% more efficient — and thus more profitable — than using GPUs.

They should see crypto demand for GPUs to mine Ethereum drop off a cliff and see graphics cards become subsequently affordable once more for the rest of us. And, indeed, even if demand doesn’t drop, the Ethereum network is planning on implementing a new protocol at some point later this year to make it more sustainable in the long run and ensure that mining is dramatically less profitable. Whether there will be a new crypto-currency gold rush toward something else that sets GPU prices peaking once more though is, however, as unguessable as the dramatic day to day fluctuations in the current markets themselves.


Andy Stout

Andy has spent over two decades writing about all aspects of the broadcast and film industries for a variety of high-profile industry publications on both sides of the Atlantic. During that time the industry has moved from 4:3 SD to 16:9 SD to HD and now on to 4K HDR. He's getting kind of curious to see where it goes next.

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