With the launch of the Nvidia RTX 3060 next week the green team is taking steps to reduce the desirability of the new mainstream GPU for cryptocurrency mining. Nvidia sees this as "an important step to help ensure GeForce GPUs end up in the hands of gamers," so says Matt Wuebbling in a blog post published today on Nvidia's site.
There has once more been a huge rise in interest around cryptocurrency mining, with the meteoric rise and rise of Bitcoin. That's not something which makes a whole lot of sense mining with GPUs anymore, but surrounding alt coins, such as Ethereum, are much more effectively mined with a decent graphics chip. And their value has risen alongside the beefy bump in Bitcoin's price.
There have been many reports of large crypto mining 'farms' springing up, even in internet cafes with many hard-to-find RTX 30-series graphics cards getting shoved into them, keeping them out of the hands of PC gamers. The Nvidia RTX 3080 itself has an Ethereum hashrate (the mining performance metric) of 86MH/s, while the old RTX 2080 Ti was around 50 - 60MH/s.
The 70-odd percent crypto mining gain, at a much lower cost, has made the Ampere GPUs very desirable. And the worry was that the more affordable cards based on the same architecture could be as effective when daisy-chained in a large mining setup.
And so, with stock being severely limited already around GPU launches, that potentially made the release of the RTX 3060 a particularly dicey one.
With the launch of the new mainstream Ampere GPU, however, Nvidia is dropping a new driver that is capable of detecting "specific attributes of the Ethereum cryptocurrency mining algorithm, and limit the hash rate, or cryptocurrency mining efficiency, by around 50 percent." That's quite a hack Nvidia is dropping into the new GeForce drivers... if it works.
The likelihood of enterprising coders not being able to find a workaround or patch seems pretty low. After all, where there's money, there's a way. It also won't affect the older Ampere GPUs as miners will simply be able to use older drivers that don't have the block for any Nvidia RTX 3060 Ti card and above.
But to counter that, and offer something tangibly better for the cryptocurrency miners, Nvidia has today announced the Cryptocurrency Mining Processor, or Nvidia CMP.
It's a product line designed for professional miners, and will be sold through authorised partners. The CMP cards will be optimised for performance and efficiency, with lower peak voltage and frequency levels.
They will specifically not have video outputs or run graphics workloads, and Nvidia promises that "they don’t meet the specifications required of a GeForce GPU and, thus, don’t impact the availability of GeForce GPUs to gamers."
That also means the resale value will be limited too, so the CMP products will only really be of interest to professionals, not amateurs backing their cryptocurrency gamble with the potential to ship former mining cards second hand on Ebay should the bottom fall out of the market again. Just like last time.
The first CMP cards will be available by the end of March, with more powerful options coming later on in the second quarter.
It does look like the CMP chips are still based on the Ampere architecture as the few specs Nvidia has dropped look an awful lot like some of the cards the green team has already released. The Nvidia CMP 90HX, for example, looks the spitting image of an RTX 3080, with the same hash rate, the same rated power, and the same 10GB memory config.
That's the top of the pile, however, and is going to be one of the later models, with the CMP 30HX, 40HX, and 50HX cards all falling below the Etherium hash rates of the RTX 3060 Ti.
These new CMP cards are going to have to be both bountiful and cheap to be able to temp miners away from still dropping dollar on any RTX 3070 they can get their hands on, and someone's going to have to be manufacturing that silicon, so quite how Nvidia is ensuring it doesn't impact GeForce availability we're not sure.
Potentially the CMP cards will feature failed GPUs that weren't really capable of the level of performance required of actual graphics cards, but that means they would include a lot of redundant silicon. Maybe then this is an entirely new product line, manufactured alongside the GeForce chips, in some factory no-one knew about...