Graphics cards are no longer the preserve of either the casual or the hardcore gamer. With cryptocurrency mining being a hardware-intensive method of generating money in the lucrative altcoin sector, such cards are rapidly becoming one of the hottest commodities on the market.
At its simplest level, in order to mine bitcoins (or any other kind of digital currency) you need to verify transactions on the blockchain, the permanent and immutable ledger of all financial transactions conducted with the currency. In return for this, you are able to unlock a cache of new coins, which will then fall into your possession. However, as more coins enter the marketplace, and more users attempt to mine those that remain, the more work needs to be put in at the mining stage of the process.
There are many ways to get around this: some enter mining pools, where a syndicate of miners do a bit of the work each, and split whatever profits come their way; others use illegal malware to leech the processing power of other users on the internet for their own ends. The more technical and hardware minded individuals create customised mining rigs with more processing power than their host PC to do the necessary number crunching for them at terrific speeds.
It is these rigs, with their demand for processing power, that has made graphics cards such hot property. Indeed, you can go to any computer fair in the country these days and find cards being sold in the dozens, with instructions on how to hook them up to your mining rig for optimum efficiency. A far cry from even a year ago, when you were more likely to have been sold a single, high-end card to get the best looking graphics your PC could cope with.
For the traders, it makes perfect sense. Why sell one card to a dedicated gamer, when you can sell 10, or 20, or more to an eager data miner in one go?
Not everybody is as pleased. A spokesman for graphics card veterans Nvidia recently gave an interview to German magazine, Computerbase, in which he said that gamers should come first, and urged the company’s trading partners to meet gamers’ needs before altcoin miners.
Of course, it’s entirely unenforceable and, in any case, Nvidia reap the same profits as their vendors when their cards sell, whatever the purpose. Perhaps it is just a way for Nvidia to keep in the good graces of the gaming community.