The rise of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin has led to an upswing in higher-end graphics card sales. For manufacturers of the cards, this is a mixed blessing. While the increased sales look good on paper, they can leave dedicated gamers frustrated with a lack of stock and thus an inflated price on the primary and secondary markets.
The rise of mining-specific machines allows users to not only avoid overly taxing their existing computer, but also ensure that the device is made to withstand heavy workloads. For the end user, if the currency price remains high and stable, they can recover that cost over time. For the creators of mining machines, they can use the cost of the machines to offset the currently volatile cryptocurrency market.
Mining machines require not only high-workload graphics cards, but several of them to work properly. A bitcoin machine will use anywhere from four to six graphics cards in order to get the work done reliably. This need for literally several times the supply of a particular part than what an everyday user would use is what has led to so many shortages. It would be one thing if the graphics cards were flying off shelves for entirely good reasons, but with cryptocurrencies also being used for shady online dealings, sellers of computer parts are naturally going to grow a bit leery of repeat sellers who just order graphics cards.
Presently, middle of the road GPUs have been flying off shelves, with the GTX 1070 jumping from around $300 in April to around $500 presently. Now for gaming purposes, this is a solid option for those looking to get into VR. For mining, they’re meant to endure a lot of stress and are known for being reliable. The inclusion of an HDMI port doesn’t do much for a miner, but because they’re gaming-centric cards, buyers feeling the heat from one retailer can easily just order a slew of them from someone else and claim that they are buying them to create gaming rigs for friends or clients. Having a good cover gives them the benefit of the doubt for a little while, until they burn that bridge and move onto someone else. One downside to this increase in pricing for the general users is that it is also leading to prices going up for miners as well. They can attempt to recoup costs by building systems, or simply go for lower-end GPUs that still offer enough performance to get the job done – even if they have to sacrifice efficiency.
If the time of their workload increases by 3%, but they saved 30% on the cost of the card, then that time lost could be negated by the money saved over the long haul. With this trend growing so rapidly, rumors have swirled about NVIDIA working on headless graphics card made with mining as the core focus. However, Sapphire has turned rumor into reality first by crafting a series of AMD 470 and 560 cards made for mining. These will lack any gaming-centric features, so users won’t have any reason to act like they’re buying something for another purpose, but it also means that they get a better overall tool for the job. Going with a graphics card that has a series of ports you don’t need is a bit like using a Swiss army knife when you just need a butter knife – it will get the same job done, but it won’t do it as well as a tool crafted specifically for that task.
All of the cards are headless and lack display ports with the exception of the Radeon RX 560, which features a single DVI port. Sapphire is offering up two models with Samsung-brand chips on them, which have been known to clock higher than usual. A speed of 25-28MHz instead of 24-27MHz for the RX 470 isn’t huge, but it does allow the users to wring everything out of the hardware. The lowest-end card available here costs around $220 when converted from the pound, while the most expensive is about $458. They all use GDDR5 RAM, but the low-end 560 also only has 4096MB of RAM to work with, while the higher-end cards are giving you up to 8192MB. Mid-range cards are featuring around the same RAM as low-end cards — 4096MB, which offers up a smoother experience. The Samsung chipsets are about $20 more expensive, but if that minor cost increase truly does increase the efficiency of the device, then it is easily offset over the long haul.
One benefit to miners also turning into hoarders is that if a cryptocurrency like Ethereum loses its value, the miners will unload their GPUs. For gaming-centric ones, this means that gamers can get some fantastic deals on eBay and potentially Craigslist. The GPUs will of course be used, and with the high workload placed on them from mining, their lifespan may be reduced a bit, but if you can save 50% or more on the GPU, then you could easily come out ahead just by using it wisely and always keeping an eye on it to make sure it’s in good working order. Basic maintenance always goes a long way for computers, but that is especially true when you’re buying used components.
For those looking to get into mining, this is both a good and bad time to do it. With Ethereum losing a lot of value and Bitcoin’s value changing constantly, you need to be in it for the long haul. It isn’t going to be a get rich quick scheme for anyone, and buying components for the express purpose of mining could backfire. That’s one advantage of going with parts that can be used for other things – like gaming. If you need to, you can unload those parts as needed and make some of your money back. However, they won’t work as well as parts made just for mining – so there’s a tradeoff.
With mining becoming a popular way to make money, Sapphire is ahead of the curve when it comes to creating parts just for it and being able to corner an entire market. Hopefully, it’s a market that can sustain itself for a while or else they will be putting a lot of time and resources to ultimately achieve a very short-term success.