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Leaked Nvidia cryptocurrency card could be powerful enough to save gaming GPUs from the mines

Nvidia CMP cryptocurrency mining GPU
(Image credit: Nvidia)

The latest rumours point to a brand new Nvidia cryptocurrency mining processor that's capable of an Ethereum mining hash rate 164MH/s. If you're not familiar with the hash rates of cryptocurrency mining, that make it an absolute whopper of a card—the GeForce RTX 3090 is somewhere in the region of 120-130MH/s. Wild, right?

It's called the 170HX, says Twitter leaker 9550Pro, and it will feature 4,480 CUDA Cores and run at 250W. Its secret, how it manages to out mine a beefier card in the 350W RTX 3090, is the choice of memory. There's just 8GB of it on the reported card but that 8GB is made up of HBM2e, the HBM in which literally stands for High Bandwidth Memory. 

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Ethereum loves memory bandwidth by design. GPUs tend to have a lot of it, but even the latest gaming graphics cards with GDDR6X VRAM fall foul to the bandwidth on offer with professional accelerators built around HBM memory. There have been a few gaming cards with HBM2 memory, AMD's Vega and Radeon VII, but those kind of fell flat at the time. Funnily enough, they've since found a second life in mining.

HBM2e specifically is the most bandwidth savvy design yet, with each chip offering bandwidth up to 410GB/s. GDDR6X, while similarly ultra-bandwidth, manages 84GB/s.

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It's likely that this CMP chip, should it come to market, is using a GPU (GA100) once intended for such an accelerator with HBM2e memory, Nvidia's A100.

The core count is severely reduced between the A100 and the 170HX, from 6,912 to 4,480, but that card also uses HBM2e memory and fits a 250W TDP. That makes it a likely suspect, at least.

It's also possible that Nvidia will be preparing two CMP cards out of leftover GA100 chips. Previous rumours suggested a CMP HX card based on the A100, which could have well been an early sign of the 170HX, but that was later suggested to be the 220HX with an even more eye-wateringly fast 210MH/s hash rate

There's a reason why gamers may care about the possibility of such a powerful CMP GPU, and it strangely relies on this CMP GPU being really great for mining. Yes, in many ways, a more powerful GPU for mining will mean more money in the pockets of miners, but it also could make less powerful GPUs, such as GeForce and Radeon gaming cards, less desirable for the same task.

Projected Nvidia CMP graphics card line-up
30HX40HX50HX90HX170HX (rumoured)
Ethereum hash rate26MH/s 36MH/s 45MH/s 86MH/s164MH/s
TDP125W185W250W320W250W
Power connectors1 x 8-pin1 x 8-pin2 x 8-pin2 x 8-pin2 x 8-pin
Memory6GB GDDR8GB GDDR10GB GDDR10GB GDDR8GB HBM2e
AvailabilityQ1Q1Q2Q2Q2

It's actually something that happened to Bitcoin many years ago with ASICs, or Application Specific Integrated Circuits. Bitcoin, unlike Ethereum, runs very well on a specific chip that's built purely to churn through the complex computations required to mine Bitcoins. Individual ASICs could be cheaper and less power-hungry, and because of that GPU use in Bitcoin mining swiftly gave way to ASICs. These ASICs are possible of hash rates of over 100TH/s grinding away at the Bitcoin algorithm.

A single GPU simply doesn't stand a chance of competing, and as the difficulty rate goes up for Bitcoin—a gauge of how difficult it is to mine a block that is often kept to a steady rate—miners with GPUs either have to buy up to more powerful ASICs or drop out of the game.

Ethereum hasn't had that happen so much, although there are hopeful ASICs out there—GPUs are still really great for the job because of their stupendous bandwidth by modern standards. A super powerful processor out of Nvidia for that task, such as one with HBM, could change that.

But that really depends on if such a card exists, how much Nvidia charges for it if it does (the A100 is roughly $10,000), and how many GPUs it could make/already has lying around to fit into it. 

This would be one way for Nvidia to shift slightly broken A100 GPUs that aren't fit for pro data centre work, much in the same way it says the existing CMP lineup isn't fit for gaming. The existing lineup tops out at 86MH/s with the 90HX, although that's penned for release in Q2 so may not be out just yet.

One thing seems clear, though: Nvidia has a lot to gain from such a card, further to the success of the wider CMP lineup. According to the leaked table, the 170HX could be coming sometime this quarter, too—in Nvidia's business calendar, which is weird, that's anytime in June–August.

There's no 'Silicon Valley' where Jacob grew up, but part of his home country is known as 'The Valleys' and can therefore be easily confused for a happening place in the tech world. From there he graduated to professionally break things and then write about it for cash in the city of Bath, UK.