This morning, Nvidia announced that it would artificially reduce the performance of its upcoming $329 GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card when it comes to one specific task: Ethereum cryptocurrency mining. As weird as that news might sound, it was music to the ears of some gamers — who have been trying and failing to get their hands on graphics cards for months due to the great GPU shortage, and blaming miners for part of that.
You might be wondering: what does this mean for other GPUs? Nvidia isn’t talking about its plans for future graphics cards just yet, but the company tells The Verge (in no uncertain terms) that it won’t nerf existing GPUs. “We are not limiting the performance of GPUs already sold,” says a spokesperson.
I was also a bit skeptical that the company’s new batch of Cryptocurrency Mining Processor (CMP) cards, marketed as an alternative for those miners, would mean that gamers might actually be able to buy an RTX 3060 as a result. If Nvidia’s diverting its already limited production capacity of GPUs towards CMPs, doesn’t that mean fewer gaming GPUs to begin with? There’s a global semiconductor shortage going on, you know.
But Nvidia strongly suggests the new CMPs won’t impact the ability to produce GeForce gaming cards at all. “The chips used for CMP could not meet the specifications of GeForce and don’t impact overall GeForce capacity or availability,” replied a spokesperson by email.
While Nvidia wouldn’t confirm that it’s talking about binning — the process by which chipmakers like Intel, AMD, Nvidia and others take chips that aren’t 100 percent operational due to occasional manufacturing defects, and sell them as slower or less feature-filled parts instead — the statement certainly sounds something like that.
But it could also be that they’re different altogether. The shot you see above of Nvidia’s CMP looks nothing like the layout of Nvidia’s GA102 used in the Ampere-based RTX 3080 and 3090, or the GA104 used in the RTX 3070 and RTX 3060 Ti. It doesn’t look much like Nvidia’s previous-gen Turing desktop chips, either. Perhaps the CMP is simply a GPU design that hasn’t publicly been revealed.
Real GA102 Ampere Die-Shot, very close to the official rendering. pic.twitter.com/qLUhzylT7B— Fritzchens Fritz (@FritzchensFritz) December 13, 2020
If so, it’s vaguely possible that Nvidia has a stockpile of older chips it’s putting to use. The company’s bringing back the GTX 1050 Ti from 2016, after all, and it’s doubtful that Nvidia switched over one of the RTX 30-series factories just to make that happen. But without knowing what the CMP actually is, your guess is as good as ours.
You might also be wondering: will other distributed computing applications get caught in Nvidia’s web and similarly see reduced performance? No, says long-time GeForce PR manager Bryan Del Rizzo on Twitter:
There is no impact on other applications. Thanks for the question.— Bryan Del Rizzo (@bdelrizzo) February 19, 2021
Why only nerf Ethereum mining, when other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have also seen incredible gains? Here’s Nvidia’s full answer:
Ethereum has the highest global mining yield for any GPU-mineable coin at the moment and thus is likely the main demand driver for GPUs in mining. Other algorithms do not contribute significantly to GPU demand and this cannot change quickly due to network effects within a given cryptocurrency. The rate limiter applies to anything that uses Dagger Hashimoto or Ethash-like algorithms.
And in case you’re thinking enterprising Ethereum miners will simply roll their own drivers to escape this limitation, Nvidia is suggesting that might be tough: “There is a secure handshake between the driver, the RTX 3060 silicon, and the BIOS (firmware) that prevents removal of the hash rate limiter,” Del Rizzo wrote Thursday evening.
Hi Ryan. It's not just a driver thing. There is a secure handshake between the driver, the RTX 3060 silicon, and the BIOS (firmware) that prevents removal of the hash rate limiter.— Bryan Del Rizzo (@bdelrizzo) February 19, 2021
We’re looking forward to seeing whether Nvidia can make the $329 GeForce RTX 3060 any easier to buy than previous GPUs when it launches February 25th at 12PM ET. After months of around-the-clock hunting, I finally managed to nab a 3060 Ti a couple weeks back — here’s hoping you won’t need to go that far.
Update February 19th, 1:09PM ET: Added additional info from Nvidia’s Bryan Del Rizzo on Twitter.