GPU shortages are bad enough already: the GeForce RTX 3090, GeForce RTX 3080, GeForce RTX 3070, GeForce RTX 3060 Ti, Radeon RX 6900 XT, Radeon RX 6800 XT, and Radeon RX 6800 all continue to sell out as fast as they’re produced. Now, the best graphics cards are set to disappear even faster thanks to skyrocketing cryptocurrency prices. We’ve seen this pattern several times over the past decade since Bitcoin first came into existence, and every option at the top of our GPU benchmarks hierarchy will be impacted. It’s the great GPU shortage of 2017 all over again. Sigh.
The root cause comes from the recent upward trend in Bitcoin and Ethereum pricing, which in turn impact the prices of all of the other alternative cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin saw relatively (for Bitcoin) stable prices of around $9,000-$10,000 during the first nine months of 2020, before going ballistic starting in October. Late December saw BTC surpass the previous high of around $20,000, and a brief surge saw prices hit nearly $35,000 this past week.
Gains in Ethereum are even more dramatic. Early 2020 saw prices of under $200 before ETH jumped to $400 around August. November broke $600, and the cryptocurrency settled in around that mark in December, but it spiked to over $1,000 during the past week.
As with all mining endeavors, wildly volatile pricing can dramatically impact the final results, and GPU power usage will impact gains as well. However, even at a moderate price of $0.10 per kWh, current gains look impressive. Not that you could buy any of the new GPUs anyway, but now you’ll be fighting bots and miners to get your game on. Or, you can join the miners and hope to strike it rich. (Just remember that the biggest winners historically are the people selling equipment to the miners.)
Let’s get the bad news out of the way and check out some rough estimates on how much you can earn via mining various cryptocurrencies and the current time required to break even. We’re listing MSRPs in the first column, which are basically fantasy land at this point, but we’ll stick with that.
We don’t want to be alarmist, but profitability projections like this cause massive demand for GPU mining. Theoretically, you could purchase an RTX 3080 or RTX 3060 Ti and break even in under three months. More pragmatically, even if prices drop and mining difficulty increases, breaking even on the hardware costs of a high-end PC in under a year is certainly feasible.
Of course, you also have to provide power for the PCs and GPUs that are busy mining, and we’re talking lots of power. A typical 15A circuit in the US could maybe run four 3080 GPUs without tripping, and you’d be sucking down close to 36 kWh per day. Like most forms of mining, cryptocurrency mining is extremely environmentally unfriendly. But hey, if you’re in a colder climate, it’s at least possible to eliminate most of your heating bill.
Interestingly, on the AMD side of things, right now, the best options appear to be RX 5000 series GPUs. The RX 5600 XT, RX 5700, and RX 5700 XT could pay for themselves in 80-90 days. Even pessimistically, much less than a year is feasible. Assuming cryptocurrency prices don’t go belly up, or difficulty doesn’t spike and kill profits, either of which is entirely possible.
It’s not just GPUs either, as CPUs can also be used (for certain altcoins) and are currently profitable. Not that we’d suggest using CPUs for mining, as you’d be better off putting the power into more GPUs if you’re serious about creating a mining farm.
Best-case, a CPU like the Ryzen 5 3600 might generate $0.30 per day in profit. Even at a price of $199, that’s about two years to break even. Add in memory, storage, motherboard, power supply, PCIe riser cards, and other parts, and you’re better off getting a cheap CPU and putting all the money into GPUs.
Again, we’re not saying you should put money into building a mining PC farm, far from it. But we are saying that some people are going to do exactly that. Others will put money into procuring mining ASICs, but those are potentially even more difficult to find than GPUs. For example, the Innosilicon A10 Pro can theoretically do 500MH/s of Ethereum mining and draws less than 1000W of power. That’s about $55 per day in profits for hardware that supposedly costs $5500. Naturally, it’s sold out.
Eventually, we expect cryptocurrency prices and difficulty to reach equilibrium again. When and at what price that will happen is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, it’s going to continue to be a terrible time to buy a graphics card. Sorry.