Cryptocurrency is back in a big way, that much has become abundantly clear to me while pottering around the show floor at this year’s Computex show. And it’s making AMD’s 500-series cards pretty thin on the ground.
Yeah, yeah, crypto-mining... whatever. These are our pick of the best graphics cards for gamers.
There are a bunch of different motherboard vendors at the show, such as ASRock and Biostar, displaying boards specifically designed for mining these crypto-currencies. These are motherboards with more PCIe slots than you’ve seen Half Life 3 rumours.
Cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, Litecoin, and any other word+coin you can think of, are basically digital currencies, but the only way new units of currency are generated is by unlocking them from the hidden depths of complicated mathematical equations. The equations are solved, and the currency therefore unlocked - or mined - using the parallel processing power of your PC.
You can use a CPU to mine cryptocurrencies, but the GPU inside your graphics card is much better at chewing through the weird mess of maths needed to uncover whatever ‘coin' you’re mining for.
And AMD GPUs are much better at it than Nvidia's. That’s why every single monster mining rig on display on the Computex show floor was rocking anything up to 13 graphics cards, and why most of them were using AMD’s Radeon RX 470.
You might think, ’meh, let ’em get on with it,’ but the recent introduction of a different kind of cryptocurrency more easily mined with current graphics cards, called Ethereum, has had an impact on the number of AMD GPUs actually available for us normies to buy. I spoke to a representative from Sapphire, AMD's largest board partner, at the show and he said that, while it’s great for their bottom line, they're not loving it because it’s not really doing anything for the brand.
Miners don’t really care who makes the graphics cards, they aren’t that interested in any features board partners have added in to differentiate themselves from the competition, they just want to run the GPU ragged until it dies.
We’re so far down the road with mining now that you’re not going to get very far with your own bedroom setup; those days have long gone. Now mining’s about big commercial system farms with row-upon-row of dedicated mining rigs.
And so graphics card companies are seeing these commercial crypto-mining operations buying up thousands of AMD GPUs each month, paying up front, leaving us gamers wondering where all the Radeons have gone.
That’s no real issue for the Gigabytes and MSIs of the world - those companies who produce both AMD and Nvidia graphics cards - but if you’re Sapphire, and no gamers can find your cards on the shelves, you might quickly get forgotten.
Edited to reflect the introduction of Ethereum, rather than Bitcoin, is responsible for the recent dearth of AMD GPUs.