AMD’s Vega RX will be at risk of shortages thanks to cryptocurrency miners

We all know about the mining “fad”. It was supposed to die out back in 2015, but waves of new cryptocurrencies and better coins designed to only be mined on graphics cards have ensured that gamers must endure annual droughts as miners pick up scores of GPUs for their farms. In previous articles covering this, I said that it was unlikely that AMD’s new Vega GPU architecture, which debuted with the Vega Frontier Edition, would be suitable for mining. Well, I have to eat those words now. We might see a shortage of Vega graphics cards as well!

On the AMD subreddit, one Redditor by the name of “dirtbagdh” posted a comment about his work optimising a Vega Frontier Edition GPU for mining Monero (listed as XMR on Altcoin exchanges), a CryptoNote/CryptoNight-based blockchain technology that is seeing some renewed interest from miners. Over the last few months it has seen similar, but much smaller surges in popularity just like Ethereum did, and its market cap is just under U.S. $700 million. According to NiceHash, the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti scores around 0.76kH/s in CryptoNight, which is 76,000 attempts at finding the correct hash for the block it is mining. AMD’s Radeon R9 Nano scores similarly at 0.80kH/s, and the Radeon R9 390 at 0.81kH/s.

Credit: Reddit (dirtbagdh)

Well, with a couple of tweaks to a Monero miner and a constant underclock of 1.3GHz, a Vega Frontier Edition card hits 1.16kH/s. That is 34% faster than a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti, and 43% faster than a single Radeon RX 580 8GB. If the gaming-focused version of Vega, Vega RX, hits those same numbers at stock frequencies and is priced to compete with the GeForce GTX 1080 (which only hits 0.48kH/s), then we are likely going to experience another shortage of high-end GPUs. Mining with it is almost twice as profitable as a GTX 1080 on Monero, and the card would pay for itself in about half the time as well if priced to sell at $499.

There’s a sliver lining to this, though. Because mining with Ethereum is better for the GTX 1000-series family at the moment, surges in Monero’s popularity won’t affect stocks for a while, at least until the coin starts hitting its stride at $100 for 1.0 XMR. Radeon R9 Fury, Nano, and Fury X are unlikely to be picked up by miners because they are slower and less efficient. So, while the Ethereum craze has died down significantly, a rush for Monero won’t take place as long as people don’t flock to it.

Once they do, though, every RX Vega GPU in the world will be snapped up by mining farms branching out into Monero. Increased production at NVIDIA and AMD’s partner fabs to meet demand for current-generation cards will ramp up to give everyone the chance to buy one again, but AMD’s newest flagship GPU could soon be out of reach for gamers, or professionals who want one for machine learning or similar workloads.

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