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Nvidia may be about to launch a $3,000 GPU that puts the RTX 3090 in the shade

Nvidia A100 GPU
(Image credit: Nvidia)

The current cryptocurrency rumour de jour has Nvidia potentially pulling the GA100 GPU from its most expensive Ampere graphics card, the Nvidia A100, and dropping it into a monstrous CMP card configured specifically for cryptocurrency mining. That would arguably deliver the most powerful mining GPU the world has ever known, and probably the most expensive too.

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The shiny AI-focused A100 is a $10,000 graphics card and was the first Ampere GPU to see the light of day. But when you price a graphics card at that level you're inevitably going to be restricting its potential to reach the widest possible audience and arguably a lot of those GPUs that were going to be bought by universities and research institutions already have been. 

So, what's a multi-billion dollar company to do with a bunch of expensive GPUs that it can't shift, or at least shift right now? Well, when its GeForce RTX 3090 cards are already going for twice their asking price you could probably forgive Nvidia for thinking it could make a mint off its more expensive chips given the seemingly insatiable demand for GPUs.

This rumoured new card will supposedly be called the Nvidia CMP 220HX, and retail for a princely $3,000. Though the likelihood is it will change hands for considerably more as miners fight for the privilege of owning a 250W card that's reportedly capable of nailing 210 MH/s.

All of this can only be treated as rumour right now, with a pair of ever-leaky Twitter accounts (via WCCFTech), chatting among themselves as to the potential specs of such a card. It was first speculated by kopite7kimi, with I_Leak_VN then responding with some potential details.

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So why would the GA100 GPU be able to offer so much higher Ethereum hash rates than the GA102 chip inside the RTX 3090, which itself is able to deliver 120 MH/s? The algorithm itself thrives on memory bandwidth and the silicon Nvidia shipped with the A100 card contained five stacks of high bandwidth memory (HBM) as well as ten 512-bit memory controllers (whitepaper PDF warning). 

HBM is what allows the Radeon VII to be AMD's crypto hero right now, despite the fact that it was one of the worst graphics card deals for gamers at launch.

That's likely the biggest reason behind the higher hash rate, rather than the actual core configuration itself. On the surface, as a GPU you're getting fewer CUDA cores with the A100 versus the RTX 3090. There are 6,912 CUDA cores in the A100's version of the GA100 GPU (the full core has 8,192) and there are 10,496 CUDA cores inside the GA102 in the top GeForce card.

But the GeForce version of Ampere is geared towards gaming, and so that core count takes into account both the straight FP32 units and the shared FP32/INT32 units. If an operation just needs floating point calculations then it can use all 128 units in each GeForce Ampere SM, but if it needs to run integer calculations then it can only call on 64 INT32 units in each SM.

(Image credit: Nvidia)

Ethereum isn't really so bothered with floating-point calculations, so that effective doubling of core counts means nothing to cryptocurrency mining as it's more into integer operations. And if you take that into consideration the RTX 3090 only has 5,248 INT32 units while the A100's GPU houses 6,912 INT32 units.

Those extra 1,664 INT32 units, and the potential 1,555 GB/s of memory bandwidth, is going to make any GA100-powered CMP card an absolute mining monster. Though realistically, Nvidia is unlikely to pack the same 40GB of HBM2 onto the card, but it's still going to come with a huge amount of bandwidth to call on if that's cut down to 20GB, or even 10GB of HBM2.

So, what impact will this have on the GPU market? Is this going to mean there's more chance of gamers actually being able to buy themselves a GeForce RTX 3080 Ti when that gets released, while the miners focus on these CMP 220HX cards? Arguably no. Miners still love themselves some resale value, and it's also unlikely that Nvidia could make enough of either to satisfy the combined demands of gamers and miners.

The end result, then, is likely just another boost to Nvidia's bottom line. Smart play, if there's a bunch of A100 chips going spare, Jen-Hsun. 

Dave has been obsessed with gaming since the days of Zaxxon on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. Thankfully it's a lot easier to build a gaming rig now there are no motherboard jumper switches, though he has been breaking technology ever since… at least he gets paid for it now.