System news: What's causing the great video card shortage?

System news: What's causing the great video card shortage?

Have you noticed a lack of graphics card availability recently? You’re not alone. Mark Williams looks at why the resurgence of GPU mining has caused the second crypto crisis.

Bitcoin - the currency that is as confusing as it is astounding. So confusing in fact that the respected financial journalist Alan Kohler reported on the ABC nightly news as Bitcoin being a commodity (because work goes into producing it), then the following night completely switched tack and reported on it as a currency.

Bitcoin has gone from strength to strength and at the time of writing one Bitcoin is now worth around $5,600. For something you can effectively generate out of thin air you can see why people are interested in mining (ie: generating) it.

However, these days mining Bitcoin is basically out of the question. You see as more Bitcoins (or any crypto currency) are made they progressively get harder and harder to generate, with the amount of computation required increasing with each consecutive “coin” made. In the first crypto crisis that occurred a year or two ago now, when Bitcoin was really the only currency around, GPU mining of Bitcoins was so profitable that graphics cards, particularly AMD ones, were snapped up by miners, leaving gamers and system builders without stock. But once Bitcoin got so hard to mine by GPU, specially designed ASIC miners from the likes of Bitmain - with its Antminer line of products - were soon exceeding GPU production rates and the graphics card market returned to normal as the crypto demand vanished.

Since then Bitcoin has been mined so much that it’s very hard to produce any more of it easily. With the explosion in other digital currencies however, cryptocurrency miners are once again having a field day.

Ethereum is now probably the second biggest digital currency and just so happens to be very easily mineable currently on GPUs, again on AMD cards in particular. With one Ethereum hovering around the $290-mark (up from $10 at the start of the year) miners are once again snapping up graphics cards like they’re potato chips and have effectively caused the second crypto crisis in the GPU market, with most AMD and some Nvidia cards now out of stock or in very limited quantities.

James from Umart estimates that it has caused a roughly 20% uptick in card sale values.
It’s so popular in fact that it has been estimated that all the miners currently generating Ethereum are consuming about 4.2TW of power, more than the consumption of country of Cyprus!

While the demand for graphics cards for this task is expected to last several more months, with some expected changes coming to Ethereum itself, and with the rising complexity of generating it, the current feeling is that by year's end GPUs won’t be so good at mining it anymore and could see the market cool once again.

With so many other digital currencies now, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if this all happens again Groundhog Day-style but with some other up-and-coming currency. Time will tell.


Have you seen a drain on GPU supplies lately due to Bitcoin mining? If so has it affecting both GPU brands, and has it affected the PC build specs you offer and/or pricing?

Peter, Impact Systems:
“Yes – drastically. The demand for GPU based cards are so high in demand that we are getting requests not only locally but even overseas. The demand is outstripping supply by far, as such our local market is certainly being deprived of supply and yes, it’s affecting PC builds.” 

Jaimie, Leader Computers:
“We have seen a huge spike in demand and price for AMD RX560, RX570 and to a lesser extent Nvidia GTX 1060 cards. The major vendors chose to limit supply as they are concerned with higher warranty returns due to the 24/7 always-on nature of Crypto mining.
Massive shortages have also hit the market on certain motherboards with 6 PCI-E slots, and high end 1000W and larger power supplies as well, as each mining machine will generally be running six cards at close to full power 24/7.

The mining boom is already on the decline due to a couple of recent changes which make the process longer to complete a decryption chain, and the five main currencies all dropping in value to varying degrees. Ethereum which is the up and coming contender to Bitcoin is still a strong market even after some recent drops, but it will be interesting to see what their changes in early August mean for the investors sinking a heap of real coin into crypto-coin hardware.” 

James, Umart:
“Mid July saw the height of the graphics card shortage, this was particularly stressful as it was also the end of the financial year. The shortage was definitely seen in both AMD and Nvidia and the progression of the shortage went as follows: 470, 480, 570, 580, 1060, 1070, and 1080. This shortage unfortunately is being reflected in our pre-built PCs with us having to raise the price numerous times to accommodate the changes in GPU availability. The effects from the crypto currency mining phenomenon should normalise out in the following months.”

John, TI Computers:
“Yes, there was a very bad shortage of performance GPUs to fulfil market needs since late May, after mining digital currency caught the media’s attention. We were short on supply of pretty much all types of graphics cards ranging from RX560 and above for AMD, and GTX1050 and above for Nvidia, which also leads to a noticeable increase in graphics card price. We had to stop selling graphics cards individually to reserve sufficient stock to put into our own system builds. Fortunately, the supply will slowly ease up after the recent crash of digital currency such as Ethereum, we will expect this shortage to ease down soon.”

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