The bane of PC Gaming—GPU mining—is drawing to an end. The imminent move of ethereum to proof of stake, and away from energy intensive proof of work, means bulk mining graphics card purchases have ended. We can see this reflected in the plummeting prices of new graphics cards and the flood of second-hand sales, including some auctions that were even live streamed. (opens in new tab)
During the peak of the mining boom, it was very difficult to get a new high-end card at a price that didn't involve some non-essential organ harvesting. Miners on the other hand, had no problem shelling out big bucks for cards in bulk when ethereum pricing was at its all-time highs, making it easier to recoup their outlay costs.
If you wanted a card or two, you'd go to a retailer. If you wanted a hundred, try a distributor, but if you wanted a thousand, actual manufacturers would certainly have been happy to take your call. MSI appears to be one such company. According to pictures posted by @hongxing2020 (opens in new tab) (via Videocardz (opens in new tab)), MSI sold unreleased RTX 3080 20GB cards directly to miners.
Back in time, there were rumours that Nvidia was considering selling 20GB RTX 3080s (opens in new tab). It made sense as 10GB feels a bit on the thin side compared to a 16GB RX 6800/XT card or the 24GB RTX 3090. It turns out the card went far beyond the planning stage and actually made it to production.
Interestingly, the cards were full hash rate (FHR) versions, meaning they delivered a better hash rate than the consumer low hash rate (LHR) versions. Bad luck for you small time miners who had to deal with the hash rate block on retail RTX 3080s. Money talks it seems, and if there's one thing big miners don't lack, it's money.
According to @hongxing2020 (opens in new tab) there are at least 100 available and they're selling for "over 3,000 RMB" or above $400. That sounds like a bargain, right? But don't buy one. Nvidia never released the card so there is no official driver support. Which means, unless you plan to mine for a few more weeks, this card will end up as little more than a novelty collector's edition with limited gaming prowess.
And even if you could buy one for gaming, it wouldn’t have made sense compared to the RTX 3080 12GB (opens in new tab) which features more cores and a wider memory bus. That means the RTX 3080 20GB would actually be a downgrade over a 3080 12GB. And hey, few games make use of more than 12GB of VRAM anyway.
An RTX 3080 20GB would make hve a good choice for a prosumer working with large data sets, but why would Nvidia sell it in that market when it can push them towards an RTX 3090 with 24GB? So while an RTX 3080 20GB might look good on paper, the card would have ended up being rather pointless when compared to its sibling cards.
The fact the card existed goes to show just how much market power miners had. At a time when gamers had to pay exorbitant prices for cards, the GPU makers were quietly more than happy to sell to miners behind the scenes.
All hail proof of stake, it can't come soon enough!