Hope for an end to the GPU shortage comes from an unexpected source

The Chinese mining firm, Bitmain, has released a teaser for its upcoming ASIC Antminer E9 Etherum mining box. This is potentially good news for PC gamers because the Antminer E9 is much better at mining Ethereum than even the best graphics cards out there, with a hash rate of 3 GH/s—that's equivalent to 32 GeForce RTX 3080s

If true, that hash rate would make the Antminer E9 the fastest Ethereum ASIC available (via Tom's Hardware), faster than the Linzhi Phoenix Ethash ASIC miner, which supposedly manages 2,600 MH/s (although good luck actually buying one). Power usage is also a major factor with such solutions, and at 2,556W the Antminer uses less power than the Linzhi offering, which is a 3,000W ASIC.

If serious miners were to jump over to using the likes of the Antminer E9, that would free up graphics cards for gamers, although given it's likely to cost around something around $20,000-40,000, this is for the big Ethereum mining operations only. Back to the original comparison though, if a serious operation wanted to buy 32 GeForce RTX 3080s, you're currently looking at around $2,000 per card on the likes of eBay, so $64,000 for the lot

Despite the price, the Antminer E9 will undoubtedly be in high demand. Given supply problems affecting the whole industry though, Bitmain probably can't produce enough of these boxes. Even if it can, will it have a meaningful impact on the graphics card market, especially given cryptocurrency mining is only part of the reason you can't buy a new graphics card right now? Only time will tell.

One takeaway from this is that ASICs help accelerate the difficulty away from what is possible using general-purpose hardware like graphics cards. So mining Ethereum on graphics cards could soon come to an end anyway, as more ASICs appear. 

Also relevant to all of this is the fact that the Ethereum network announced a move from proof-of-work (PoW) over to proof-of-stake (PoS) from December 1, 2020. This means that mining Ethereum is only relevant for a couple of years at most anyway. 

Your next upgrade

(Image credit: Future)

Best CPU for gaming: the top chips from Intel and AMD
Best graphics card: your perfect pixel-pusher awaits
Best SSD for gaming: get into the game ahead of the rest

Of course, graphics card miners will probably move onto another cryptocurrency anyway, as there's always another coin waiting in the wings for its moment to shine. It's a risk though, and the point about Ethereum is that the returns are pretty much guaranteed right now. 

It's worth noting that ASIC miners are almost impossible to buy in the wild as well, with units selling out faster than the next-gen consoles or the best graphics cards. 

We can't help but be optimistic though, here's hoping the Antminer E9 introduces a new wave of machines that free up graphics cards for other pursuits, you know, such as gaming. 

Alan Dexter

Alan has been writing about PC tech since before 3D graphics cards existed, and still vividly recalls having to fight with MS-DOS just to get games to load. He fondly remembers the killer combo of a Matrox Millenium and 3dfx Voodoo, and seeing Lara Croft in 3D for the first time. He's very glad hardware has advanced as much as it has though, and is particularly happy when putting the latest M.2 NVMe SSDs, AMD processors, and laptops through their paces. He has a long-lasting Magic: The Gathering obsession but limits this to MTG Arena these days.