GPU Shortages Will Worsen Thanks to Coin Miners

GPU mining farm
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

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.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
January 2021 GPU Cryptocurrency Mining
Component$ per DayPower $ per DayProfit per DayTime to Break Even
GeForce RTX 3090 ($1499)$10.80$0.80$10.00~150 days
GeForce RTX 3080 ($699)$8.80$0.60$8.20~85 days
GeForce RTX 3070 ($499)$5.45$0.40$5.05~99 days
GeForce RTX 3060 Ti ($399)$5.40$0.40$5.00~80 days
GeForce RTX 2080 Ti ($1199)$5.35$0.55$4.80~250 days
GeForce RTX 2080 Super ($699)$3.80$0.50$3.30~212 days
GeForce RTX 2070 Super ($499)$3.60$0.40$3.20~156 days
GeForce RTX 2060 Super ($399)$3.50$0.30$3.20~125 days
GeForce RTX 2060 ($299)$2.85$0.30$2.55~117 days
Radeon RX 6900 XT ($999)$8.05$0.55$7.50~133 days
Radeon RX 6800 XT ($649)$7.00$0.50$6.50~100 days
Radeon RX 6800 ($579)$5.75$0.40$5.35~108 days
Radeon RX 5700 XT ($399)$5.00$0.40$4.60~87 days
Radeon RX 5700 ($349)$4.80$0.40$4.40~79 days
Radeon RX 5600 XT ($279)$3.35$0.30$3.05~91 days

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.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
January 2021 CPU Cryptocurrency Mining
Component$ per DayPower $ per DayProfit per DayTime to Break Even
Ryzen 9 5950X ($799)$1.25$0.25$1.00~800 days
Ryzen 9 5900X ($549)$0.95$0.25$0.70~785 days
Ryzen 7 5800X ($449)$0.68$0.25$0.43~1050 days
Ryzen 5 5600X ($299)$0.55$0.15$0.40~747 days
Ryzen 9 3950X ($749)$1.13$0.25$0.88~850 days
Ryzen 9 3900X ($499)$0.90$0.25$0.65~767 days
Ryzen 7 3800X ($399)$0.63$0.25$0.38~1050 days
Ryzen 7 3700X ($329)$0.63$0.25$0.38~866 days
Ryzen 5 3600X ($249)$0.48$0.23$0.25~1000 days
Ryzen 5 3600 ($199)$0.45$0.15$0.30~666 days
Core i9-10900K ($499)$0.50$0.30$0.20~2500 days
Core i7-10700K ($379)$0.43$0.23$0.20~1900 days
Core i5-10600K ($265)$0.29$0.23$0.06Forget it!
Core i9-9900K ($339)$0.39$0.23$0.16~2120 days
Core i7-9700K ($269)$0.28$0.23$0.05Forget it!
Core i5-9600K ($199)$0.16$0.15$0.01Forget it!

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.

Jarred Walton

Jarred Walton is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on everything GPU. He has been working as a tech journalist since 2004, writing for AnandTech, Maximum PC, and PC Gamer. From the first S3 Virge '3D decelerators' to today's GPUs, Jarred keeps up with all the latest graphics trends and is the one to ask about game performance.

  • andrewkelb
    Miners in a mad rush to pay anything for GPUs vs scalpers buying them all up to sell them to miners at 3 times the price. Had plans to upgrade from my GTX 1070 but it looks like that will be near impossible. Thankfully the 1070 is still a good card that plays most things well.
  • King_V
    Well, crapbaskets. Also, this makes me think I should've held off another month or two on selling my GTX 1080.

    But still, in general, crapbaskets!
  • 57Stew
    Are these electronic fiat currencies just based on how much electricity you waste and how much you needlessly contribute to climate change? Can't we find something a little more useful to base a new currency on? Besides I built a new x570 pc with a 3950 and used my rx850 in it wanting to wait for next gen gpu. Now I will be waiting a lot longer. Hope bitcoin and the rest crashes hard.
  • bigdragon
    I've seen cryptocurrency articles making the front page of every news source I check over the past several days. The word is out there and getting even stronger, so the shortages are going to continue and get worse. People are buying those scalped GPUs too because the cryptocurrency craze makes even the elevated prices profitable after a while.

    Maybe we'll be able to buy GPUs again in the fall or winter. There's a several-months-long lag between cryptocurrency crashes and GPU price corrections and availability improvements.

    PC gaming is not worth this level of expense and effort.
  • Bastard2k
    put a bios on them that detects mining activity and burns the card. F those guys.
  • woot
    Nvidia and AMD should somehow modify their non-workstation RTX cards to be incapable mining. and/or design a card specificaly for mining.
  • USAFRet
    Bastard2k said:
    put a bios on them that detects mining activity and burns the card. F those guys.
    woot said:
    Nvidia and AMD should somehow modify their non-workstation RTX cards to be incapable mining. and/or design a card specificaly for mining.
    A sale to a gamer is a sale
    A sale to a miner is a sale

    Same money to them.
    Gamers hurt feelings don't matter, because gamers will still buy them anyway.
  • andrewkelb
    I have always been a proud member of the PCMR, my RAM and CPU cooler both glow a needless shade of blue for god's sake! But now I think sacrilegious thoughts... maybe it time to just look into a console if they ever get back in stock?
  • King_V
    No doubt someone's gonna figure out how to use consoles for mining.... 😡
  • Krotow
    Simply push politics to introduce laws against cryptomining with harsh penalties. And bounty on cryptominer and spammer heads. Problem solved.