Have you ever had a moment where you didn't know whether to laugh or cry? That's the situation playing out in the graphics card market because of the cryptocurrency mining boom, a topic we've covered extensively in recent months. But just when we thought there was nothing left to report on the matter, it's come out that some of the most active Ethereum miners are renting Boeing 747 airplanes to ship orders of graphics cards. Yes, seriously.
That is the sort of money that is at stake here. Cryptocurrency is highly volatile, Ethereum included. For miners with massive setups, shipping by sea is just too slow.
"Time is critical, very critical," Marco Streng, chief executive of Genesis Mining, told Quartz (opens in new tab). "For example, we are renting entire airplanes, Boeing 747s, to ship on time. Anything else, like shipping by sea, loses so much opportunity."
Some 36,000 units of Ethereum is collectively mined each day. At around $200 per unit, miners are competing for $7.2 million worth of Ethereum per day. At one point just a few weeks ago, those figures were doubled with Ethereum spiking to $400.
"Time counts so much. We are using the fastest delivery possible," Streng added. "You risk the opportunity to mine for the days you are delayed. If you are deploying 10 days later, you are losing 10 days of mining—that is the cost."
Streng notes that Ethereum was trading for around $10 per unit at the beginning of the year, before ballooning to $400 in June, thus creating an "incredible economic incentive for people to start mining." And also a shortage of graphics cards, as Streng is aware.
It's tough to get a read on the market and where things will go from here. If we're being optimistic, we can look at the recent drop in value and rise in difficulty to mine Ethereum. This has caused some casual miners to dump their used hardware on Ebay, albeit at inflated price tags. We can take that as a sign that the market is starting to creep back towards normalcy.
On the flip side, miners who have more invested are willing to ride the ups and downs. And apparently business is still good enough that not only can they afford to rent Boeing 747s to ship graphics cards, but they can't afford not to.
Even AMD has acknowledged the impact of mining on graphics cards shipments. This is something AMD CEO Dr. Lisa Su touched on during a recent earnings call.
"Relative to cryptocurrency, we have seen some elevated demand," Dr. Su said (opens in new tab). "But it's important to say we didn't have cryptocurrency in our forecast, and we're not looking at it as a long-term growth driver. But we'll certainly continue to watch the developments around the blockchain technologies as they go forwards."
Dr. Su also acknowledged that inventories of GPUs is "quite lean" at the moment. The good news? AMD is "working on replenishing" stock, adding that the company's priority is on the gaming market. Let's hope it plays out that way in the coming months, especially with Vega right around the corner.