NVIDIA Limits Crypto Mining on GeForce RTX 3060 Graphics Card
Apart from restricting Cryptocurrency Mining Efficiency to 50%, NVIDIA also plans to launch its Cryptocurrency Mining Processor cards
Cryptocurrency may not be as popular as it used to be, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. Amid the demands for mining GPUs, NVIDIA has made plans for a new batch of Cryptocurrency Mining Processor (CMP) cards in the market. CMPs are GPUs with the video outputs removed, allowing them to be made and sold more cheaply. NVIDIA’s RTX 30-Series GPUs are popular with miners.
CMPs don’t meet the specifications required of a GeForce GPU and, thus, would not impact the availability of GeForce GPUs to gamers. Also, CMP lacks display outputs, enabling improved airflow while mining so they can be more densely packed. CMPs also have a lower peak core voltage and frequency, which improves mining power efficiency.
Also, last week, NVIDIA announced that it would artificially reduce the performance of its upcoming US$329 GeForce RTX 3060 graphics card when it comes to one specific task: Ethereum cryptocurrency mining. RTX 3060 software drivers are designed to detect specific attributes of the Ethereum cryptocurrency mining algorithm, and limit the hash rate, or cryptocurrency mining efficiency. It will achieve this by detecting the math coming through the pipeline and restricting access to the hardware for those operations. By limiting the hash rate, a miner who is using it for coin mining will see a 50% drop in efficiency. This makes the cards a remarkably less attractive option for crypto mining.
What is Crypto Mining?
Crypto mining involves solving complex cryptographic equations through the use of computers to get cryptocurrencies as a reward. The computer resource used in solving these complex cryptographic equations determines the type of mining. Typically, crypto mining can be carried out using an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), a central processing unit (CPU) or GPU. To mine a cryptocurrency, digital coins must be built on a blockchain architecture that supports proof-of-work (PoW) mining. E.g., of cryptocurrencies include Bitcoin, Dogecoins, Ethereum and Litecoin.
Just like we have different cryptocurrencies built on different blockchains, we have different types of cryptocurrency mining (hashing) algorithms available. Some hashing algorithms available that support GPU mining are:
- SHA-256 algorithm (Bitcoin, Bitcoin Cash, Terracoin and Peercoin)
- Scrypt algorithm (Litecoin, Dogecoin)
- X11 algorithm (Dash, StartCoin, CannabisCoin and XCurrency)
- Ethash algorithm (Ethereum, Ethereum Classic and Expanse)
Problem with Ethash Algorithm
Ethash algorithms run best on GPU cards, which is the kind of chip that NVIDIA is known for. Miners often buy several graphics cards and put them in a single machine to maximize their return. Last fall, NVIDIA released a new series of graphics cards marketed at PC gamers that have been consistently sold out. Also, the pandemic has worsened the shortage that the semiconductor industry is currently facing.
Even the cryptocurrency miners are known to buy as many new GPUs as they can, so that they can build stronger, more efficient mining operations. This creates a stock deficiency in the market and people who wish to purchase GPUs only to play video games are left with none to buy! And, whatever is left in stores is sold off at higher prices.
Since miners care only about compute performance, not graphics performance, NVIDIA could sell cards to miners that have defective texture units, or bad video encoders—products that would have gone to the scrap heap otherwise. Moreover, cryptocurrency mining is all about computing performance. So even if certain components of a GPU like hardware video encoders come out defective during the binning process, it would not be a loss for the manufacturer. These GPUs can be sold to the miners.
NVIDIA believes by throttling GeForce RTX 3060 card’s mining abilities to ensure sufficient supply for gamers and designers. It believes that this limitation will discourage the purchase of gaming-oriented graphics cards for large cryptocurrency mining operations.
According to early tests, the RTX 3060 delivers around 25 MH/s after a minute or two of mining. While still somewhat profitable for casual miners, it is only equivalent to the GTX 1060 — a 5-year-old GPU. In comparison, NVIDIA’s own RTX 3060 Ti delivers around 60 MH/s. This represents a performance gain of over 100% compared to the 3060, while priced just 20% higher at US$400.
The move comes following several years of graphics card shortages, first starting in 2018 after Bitcoin spiked around 400% in the space of just a few months. NVIDIA also added that end users cannot remove the hash limiter from the driver. There is a secure handshake between the driver, the RTX 3060 silicon, and the BIOS (firmware) that prevents removal of the hash rate limiter.
It is not the first time that NVIDIA has used artificial restraints to limit the sale of chips to certain industries. In 2018, it updated the EULA on consumer-focused GeForce GPUs to prohibit data center use. With its GeForce RTX 3060 gaming processor launching February 25, NVIDIA said it was “taking an important step to help ensure GeForce GPUs end up in the hands of gamers.”
CMPs to Bring New Age of Crypto Mining
Looping back to CMPs, 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,” a spokesperson informed The Verge by email. NVIDIA has also confirmed that performance restrictions will be going in for their Linux drivers as well as their Windows drivers. The inclusion of Linux drivers is incredibly important, as most dedicated miners are thought to be using Linux rather than Windows.
NVIDIA CMP HX is a dedicated GPU for professional mining. This new NVIDIA CMP HX will come in four variants up to 320 W, and from authorized partners including ASUS, Colorful, EVGA, Gigabyte, MSI, Palit, and PC Partner. These cards (along with drivers) are also set to be designed such that more of these cards can be enabled in a single system. The first CMP designs are the 26 megahash per second 30HX and 36 megahash 40HX, both of which should be available this quarter from vendors like ASUS, EVGA and Gigabyte. More powerful 50X (45MH/s) and 90HX (86MH/s) boards are due in the second quarter.