Bummed that Bitcoin doubled video card prices? Manufacturers are upset too

Bitcoin on computer
Peter Verreussel / 123rf
Gamers aren’t the only ones angered at the recent graphics card pricing explosion. For some graphics processor (GPU) makers, sales are sales, regardless of the source, but many manufacturers and system builders have told Digital Trends that they don’t like the boom in prices.

Although graphics card price tags always fluctuate around – and often above – their suggested retail price (MSRP), they’ve skyrocketed in the last few months, sometimes more than doubling. No, this wasn’t because a surge of new gamers began trying to render gorgeous high-end games. The culprit was a fresh batch of cryptocurrency miners. Riding the wave of record cryptocurrency highs, they descended on hapless retailers like a Mongol horde, buying up every energy efficient graphics card they could find.

It left supplies destitute, and like every case of an imbalance in supply and demand, prices rose. From a gamer’s perspective, this is a disaster. If stock cannot be found because this trend continues, how will anyone be able to upgrade their computers in the months to come when new games come out or heaven-forbid, their current graphics card dies?

Fortunately, gamers are not the only ones concerned by this trend, and a number of interested parties are aiming to turn things around.

A threat to PC gaming?

“Personally, I see this as a bad thing for the industry,” one graphics card manufacturer insider told Digital Trends. “These products were made for gaming, but now they’ll be used for something that the product wasn’t designed for – running 24-hours non-stop.”

Increases in component cost will always have a negative effect on business.

“It’s problematic for gamers, who now face poor availability and price hikes from retailers and resellers due to supply and demand.”

Ben Miles, managing director at British system builder Chillblast, told us that his company had faced price rises at the supply end, which meant rising prices for gamers.

“As you would expect, increases in component cost will always have a negative effect on business,” he said. “The shortages start at the cards that deliver the best bang for buck, then move onto the ones that delivers second best value, and so on, up and down the ‘cost vs compute’ bell curve.”

He went on to back up research we conducted into GPU pricing that showed mid-range cards, and those with a mix of energy efficiency and power, were the hardest hit. In other words, the most popular, affordable cards are selling out first. Some of the most powerful graphics cards may still be available, but not the ones a majority of gamers buy — a real problem.

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Soon, supply woes may extend far beyond mid-range cards.

“Right now, the worst affected cards are AMD Radeon RX 580, 480, 470 and 570. NVIDIA cards are now also extremely affected with the 1060, 1070, 1080, and even 1050Ti in severe constraint,” Miles said. “As these cards dry up, pressure starts to be put upon cards above and below the ‘ideal’ GPUs in the product hierarchy.”

Miles iterated in clear terms where Chillblast’s loyalty lies, describing the cryptocurrency market as a “persistent clinical threat” to the gaming industry.

There are always two sides to the story

Not everyone is as against the new trend in cryptomining purchases, though. British component seller Overclockers UK hopes to build a middle-ground industry that caters to both gamers and miners equally. Andrew Gibson, the company’s purchasing manager, described the problem the retailer hopes to solve.

“We’re happy to support the miners, but at the same time we’ve been taking care to support our gaming community too, so it is fair for everyone. We have graphics cards for gamers making sure that they are listed at just one per customer, and offered special deals for our dedicated forum members.”

One insider predicted that we’ll soon see the crypto-miner demand for cards dwindle.

In addition to supporting gamers, OCUK has tried to divert the miners toward cards better suited for them, rather than dam them off entirely. “We are the first to list mining edition graphics cards, and high wattage power supply combos that are suitable for mining,” Gibson said.

These tactics give hope that the hardware industry is on the side of gamers, and pushing towards a world where products designed for them are reserved for them — but, that’s not the case at every company.

“We see [cryptocurrency sales] as a good thing,” one insider from a major GPU manufacturer told us. “The gaming industry has been growing every year, and now with the whole mining boom.” Although the representative did suggest that “higher management is split” on the supply issues driving up pricing, for the most part, the company appeared to be pleased with the overall uptick in sales, despite the effect it was having on gamers.

A source within Sapphire had similar feelings, though they felt confident the company can support both gamers and miners in the near future.

PC gamer wearing headset

“We have very healthy demand for all our products, and although the mining business is taking a lot of boards we have responded with the specific mining [cards] to ensure we support both our gamers and the crypto currency business.”

At worst, manufacturers see this as a temporary problem, with one anonymous insider predicting that we’ll soon see the crypto-miner demand for cards dwindle.

“As the currencies become more difficult to mine, we will see the hobbyists losing interest due to the cost and the mining ‘professionals’ becoming more prevalent. There is a delay in matching supply with demand, but we should see in the long-term miners buying the specific mining cards, and gaming products freeing up.”

Nvidia and AMD need to try and do something to protect core gaming values.

Perhaps that is the best future that gamers can hope for. If, in time, cryptocurrency mining becomes less profitable, miners may move on to fancier new hardware, or the industry will constrict until there are only a few huge farms making the bulk of the money from it.

There is some evidence suggesting this will happen sooner rather than later. Ethereum’s value has fallen steadily in recent weeks. Bitcoin, meanwhile, is dealing with the increasing difficulty of mining new Bitcoin, as well as the threat of a currency split.

The shortage (probably) won’t last forever

But what if the current supply issues aren’t dealt with in the coming months? As one source sources told us, the current mining boom has lasted much longer than the Bitcoin GPU mining bubble in 2014. It could crash at any time, but it hasn’t yet, and it’s not clear it will.

Ben Miles at Chillblast called on AMD and Nvidia to do more to combat the problems faced by cryptocurrency miners.

“Nvidia and AMD need to try and do something to protect core gaming values by making mining products available and priced less than gaming equivalents,” he said.

Additional stock and more affordable, mining-focused hardware seems like the best way to combat the problem, but it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. We may be months away from the graphics card industry returning to some semblance of normality, and that could in turn cause issues for system sellers and even game developers, as their next game may not receive the love they expected from gamers unable to affordable a new video card.

For PC gamers, this is a potential doomsday scenario, and one with no immediate solution. Still, some comfort can be taken in the very stress the surge in cryptocurrency has caused. Companies want to sell cards to as many people as will buy them, both gamers and miners. That should spur them to increase orders and build even more mining-focused cards – or so we hope.


Why Intel and Nvidia controversies prove you should always wait for benchmarks

Pre-ordering any new hardware without independent testing is dangerous because you don't really know how good it is. That goes doubly so when pre-release tests from manufacturers are skewed in their favor.

Leaked benchmarks suggest rumored AMD GPU could be king of midrange graphics

AMD's next GPU may not be Navi-based after all. Rumors continue to build about an RX 590 which has now shown up on 3DMark's benchmark database, delivering results that easily outstrip stock clocked GTX 1060s.

Nvidia is slowly rolling out its next generation of GPUs. Here's what you need to know about them

Nvidia's new RTX 2000 series graphics cards are impressive pieces of hardware, with some amazing advancements and some rather high price tags to match. Here's everything you need to know about Nvidia's new top-tier cards.

Afraid that Bitcoin could be a bubble? Here's how to sell what you've got

If you're investing in cryptocurrencies, it's important to have your exit strategy in place if prices start to crash. If you've decided it's time to get out or just want to learn how to sell Bitcoins, here's how to get started.

Apple Mac users should take a bite out of these awesome games

Contrary to popular belief, there exists a bevy of popular A-list games compatible for Mac computers. Take a look at our picks for the best Mac games available for Apple fans.
Emerging Tech

MIT is building a new $1 billion college dedicated to all things A.I.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has announced a new $1 billion college of computing designed to offer the best possible education to future machine learning A.I. experts.

Remove photo bombs, other unwanted objects with Photoshop’s new Content-Aware Fill

Photoshop's newest A.I-powered tool helps remove objects or fill in gaps for a distraction-free photo in the new Adobe Photoshop CC 2019. Here's how to remove an object in Photoshop using the new Content-Aware Fill.

Feed your fandom: These are the best YouTube channels for sports lovers

If you're a cable cutter who still wants to enjoy quality sports highlights and analysis, YouTube is the place to go. There are plenty of great sports-centric channels on YouTube, each of which provides great highlights and top-shelf…

Adobe Premiere Rush CC is the cloud-based video editing app you've been waiting for

On stage at Adobe MAX 2018, Adobe announced its cloud-centric, social video-editing application, Adobe Premiere Rush CC. We took some time to put it through its paces to see what it offers, how it works, and what's missing.
Social Media

YouTube is back after crashing for users around the world

It's rare to see YouTube suffer serious issues, but the site went down around the world for a period of time on October 16. It's back now, and we can confirm it's loading normally on desktop and mobile.

Winamp eyes big comeback in 2019 with podcast, streaming support

Classic audio player Winamp is getting a major overhaul in 2019 that's designed to bring it up-to-date and make it competitive with the likes of Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify, Audible, and more, all in one go.

Is the Pixelbook 2 still happening? Here's everything we know so far

What will the Pixelbook 2 be like? Has the Pixel Slate taken its place? Google hasn't announced it, but thanks to rumors and leaks, we think we have a pretty good idea of what the potential new flagship Chromebook will be like.

Adobe MAX 2018: What it is, why it matters, and what to expect

Each year, Adobe uses its Adobe MAX conference to show off its latest apps, technologies, and tools to help simplify and improve the workflow of creatives the world over. Here's what you should expect from this year's conference.

Problems with Microsoft’s Windows October 2018 Update aren’t over yet

Microsoft's Windows 10 October 2018 update is not having a great launch. More than two weeks after its debut and Microsoft is still putting out fires as new bugs are discovered and there's no sign of its re-release as of yet.