Graphics card prices may shoot up again due to Bitcoin's spike

The past 6-8 months have been rough in the world of computer graphics cards, with GPU prices elevated well above the original MSRPs. The cause wasn't an increase in demand from gamers, but instead came from the world of cryptocurrency miners. There was a spike in valuation for many cryptocurrencies, in particular Ethereum went from less than $10 at the start of the year to over $300 in June, and Bitcoin went from around $1,000 to over $2,500. That precipitated a rush on GPUs by miners looking to strike it rich, and prices on popular cards like AMD's RX 570/580 more than doubled, while Nvidia cards like the GTX 1070 went from a low of $350 to $500 for a bit.

Things started to quiet down as the difficulty of mining adjusted to the increased number of miners—cryptocurrencies have mechanisms to control the rate of coin generation, and the potential profits started to diminish. The RX 570 peaked at potential rewards of over $5 per day, per GPU, but then fell back to a more moderate rate of around $1.25-$1.50 per day.

However, Bitcoin prices have continued to rise, breaking $11,000 for the first time last week. The profitability of mining is going back up, and graphics card prices may follow suit. That's because even though mining Bitcoin directly via GPUs isn't effective at all (custom ASICs are what you need for Bitcoin), there are hundreds of alternative cryptocurrencies, many of which can only be mined effectively with GPUs.

If that's the case, we could be in for another rough couple of months on graphics card prices. Most GPUs remain in stock for the present, though prices seem to be creeping up slightly since the week of Black Friday / Cyber Monday. If Bitcoin and other cryptocurrency prices continue the current upward trend, however, that could change quickly. AMD's Vega remains priced out of reach for gamers as an example—the Vega 64 can be found at a few places starting at $680, and the Vega 56 currently starts at $630.

Bitcoin's bubble might pop, but it could go the other way as well. If you're thinking about buying a graphics card for yourself or someone else, or if you're hoping to find one in under the Christmas tree, you should probably pull the trigger sooner than later. Graphics card prices aren't likely to drop much until after the New Year, but there's potential for things to quickly go the other way and for inventories to get depleted again.