It is getting increasingly difficult to find a mid-tier Radeon RX graphics card with a Polaris chip underneath the hood. That includes AMD's newer Radeon RX 580 or Radeon RX 570 parts. Both are in short supply with most online listings showing the product "out of stock." The blame isn't squarely on AMD, though, as AMD's latest Polaris cards are proving popular among cryptocurrency miners.
As PCWorld notes (opens in new tab), you can find some Radeon RX 580/570 cards in stock if you look hard enough, though in many cases they are selling at inflated price tags. That is even the case with first-run Polaris cards—a look at Newegg shows just a handful of Radeon RX 480 cards in stock, but they're selling for around $640. It's a sour situation for anyone who wants a mid-range card using the latest silicon and who is not willing to wait for Vega.
The folks at Computer Base (opens in new tab) did some digging at Computex to find out why the newer cards are so difficult to find. Several of AMD's hardware partners responded that after things remained relatively quiet in the cryptocurrency community of the last several months, miners came in droves and snatched all the cards up.
Cryptocurrency participants can use graphics cards to "mine" various coins, which can be traded for Bitcoin, which can then be sold for actual cash. The result is that with the right GPU, you could potentially earn enough to pay for the hardware in a matter of months. Apparently this caught AMD off guard, though it is not the first time something like this has happened. Toward the end of 2013, Bitcoin and Litecoin miners caused a similar shortage by snagging every Radeon graphics card they could collectively get their hands on.
Over the past few years, ASIC hardware built specifically for mining has become the next big thing, but newer hashing algorithms, like Ethereum's DaggerHashimoto or ZCash's Equihash, have made GPU mining profitable again. These newer hashing algorithms are somewhat resistant to ASIC hardware, plus it takes time to build an ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) that will work well. Hence why cryptocurrency miners are once again turning to graphics cards. And the recent jump in Ethereum and Bitcoin prices has only fueled the flames.
AMD's hardware partners are not thrilled with the situation. While they appreciate the initial flurry of sales, companies such as Sapphire and PowerColor that only sell GPUs from AMD fear that ongoing delays could lead customers to look for alternative cards from other manufacturers. There's also the fear that cryptocurrency miners aren't gamers, so long-term this hurts AMD's position in the gaming world.
One final note is that while in the past Nvidia hardware was generally worse for mining, to the point where it was largely ignored, that's no longer the case. In the modern cryptocurrency environment there are enough hashing algorithms that Nvidia cards can nearly equal AMD in terms of profitability. Ethereum has been the main reason for increasing AMD graphics card prices, but ZCash and LBRY could do the same to Nvidia. A 1060 can do about 21MH/s on Ethereum compared to 26MH/s on a 570, but it uses less power and currently costs less, so....
If you are interested in cryptocurrency mining, our resident GPU expert Jarred offers this piece of advice. Gaming products are inherently targeting a different workload than crypto hashing. Mining is a 24/7, 100 percent usage workload, which can push power use, temperatures, and fan speeds to levels you wouldn't normally see while gaming. There's a reason Nvidia and AMD have professional GPUs designed for machine learning that run at lower clockspeeds than gaming cards. The GPUs are clocked so they can run heavy workloads 24/7, but they cost too much to be viable for cryptocurrency mining. Long-term, then, you're safer underclocking/undervolting and losing a bit of mining performance by dropping clockspeeds and temperatures, rather than burning out fans every 6-12 months.