Old RTX 3080 GPUs repurposed and modded for Chinese market as 20GB AI cards with blower-style cooling

(Image credit: I_Leak_VN)

Repurposed batches of "RTX 3080 20G AI" cards featuring blower-style coolers and with 20GB GDDR6X are being spotted in large quantities over in China, stored and sold via AliExpress. These are yet another attempt to work around U.S export controls that now prohibit the sale of the fastest data center and consumer GPUs to China and other countries. These won't make our list of the best graphics cards, as they're previous generation hardware and are unlikely to entice most consumers, but they're another interesting take on the previous generation Ampere architecture.

Prolific leaker I_Leak_VN also found many of these RTX 3080 20G AI blowers in warehouses via the Xianyu app, a Chinese-based used goods e-commerce website owned by Alibaba group. There are also screenshots showing a couple of benchmarks and GPU-Z, indicating the GPUs are ready for use.

These cards are re-branded as 'Jieshuo Nvidia RTX 3080 RG Turbo Gaming Graphics Card GDDR6X' with a supposed two-year manufacturer warranty and a price tag that translates to US$ 916.62. We wouldn't count on getting proper warranty support if you're not in China, and perhaps not even then, but the products are clearly intended for server use.

The repurposed RTX 3080 clock speeds are 1440/1710 MHz base/boost clock, the same as the reference 3080. They're shown running on slightly older Nvidia 537.42 drivers with Windows 10 64-bit. The cards have three DisplayPort and one HDMI outputs. Power comes from dual 8-pin PCIe power connectors, typical of many custom 3080 cards made in the 2020–2022 era, and avoiding any potential complications with 12-pin or newer 16-pin 12VHPWR connectors (and adapters).

Contrary to the advertised 'turbo gaming' purpose, these are clearly intended for use as AI accelerators. LLM (Large Language Model) workloads greatly benefit from more VRAM, and there are other offerings showing repurposed RTX 3080 Ti 24GB GDDR6X cards. These are also fitted with blower-style coolers for ease of installation and improved cooling in server clusters.

Repurposed from RTX 3080 10G GDDR6 GPUs

RTX 3080 with 20G GDDR6X PCB Layout

(Image credit: I_Leak_VN)

The retail RTX 3080 came with either 10GB or 12GB GDDR6X, using 1GB chips. Nvidia introduced a 12GB GDDR6X variant in January 2022 with two additional memory controllers, and also increased its CUDA cores from the 8704 used in the 10GB variant to 8960. These repurposed RTX 3080 cores have 8704 CUDA cores, indicating these are desoldered from RTX 3080 GPUs originally with 10GB GDDR6X VRAM. Given the nature of what's being done, however, we wouldn't be surprised if some of these RTX 3080 20GB AI cards come with 8960 CUDA cores.

Back in September 2022, modders demonstrated that it was possible to upgrade the 10GB/8704 CUDA core RTX 3080 with 20GB of memory. This was done using the MSI GeForce RTX 3080 Ventus 3X 20G OC and another Gigabyte variant. All that was required was to remove the existing 1GB chips and replace them with newer 2GB chips, though the utility of the upgrade for gaming was limited. Of course, back then there were no export sanctions against China, either.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and we're now seeing Chinese retailers repurposing RTX 3080, 3090, and 4090 "consumer" graphics cards into AI accelerators to at least partially work around the U.S. sanctions. These repurposed AI accelerators are being sold exclusively in the Chinese domestic market. We can't help but wonder how well they handle AI workloads. Clearly, they're not A100/H100 replacements, but there's still a good amount of compute and VRAM capacity on the cards.

Where did these cards come from?

It's likely these RTX 3080 chips are repurposed from GPUs used in now-defunct crypto mines. Earlier, these GPUs were sold for dirt cheap as miners wanted to get rid of them quickly to recover some of their investment. But it's possible some cards were used purely for gaming.

The RTX 30-series has lived a very interesting life in countries like China, and it looks like its job is far from over. Will these repurposed cards once again become scarce as demand expands, or are they more gimmick than useful? That remains to be seen.

While these cards may provide a stopgap solution for the current AI accelerator market in China, it's only a matter of time before newer cards become a requirement as the workload complexity increases. Sanctions can eventually relax or expire, but when and how will always be the question. These repurposed RTX 3080 Ti and RTX 3080 may give some breathing room in the meantime, though we'll have to see how the state of affairs evolves during 2024.

Roshan Ashraf Shaikh
Contributing Writer

Roshan Ashraf Shaikh has been in the Indian PC hardware community since the early 2000s and has been building PCs, contributing to many Indian tech forums, & blogs. He operated Hardware BBQ for 11 years and wrote news for eTeknix & TweakTown before joining Tom's Hardware team. Besides tech, he is interested in fighting games, movies, anime, and mechanical watches.

  • artk2219
    Id buy one of those for a decent price, 20GB of VRAM and a blower so it can fit into 2 slots and smaller cases, it wouldn't be particularly quiet, but yeah, theres a market for that.
  • MnamesPAUL
    artk2219 said:
    Id buy one of those for a decent price, 20GB of VRAM and a blower so it can fit into 2 slots and smaller cases, it wouldn't be particularly quiet, but yeah, theres a market for that.
    These sound awesome. I'd totally be part of that market too.... but then I got to thinking about what the drivers situation would be for something like this...

    They called my baby "old" and "last gen" and I am very very buttsad about it though.
  • 0xDEADFED5
    artk2219 said:
    Id buy one of those for a decent price, 20GB of VRAM and a blower so it can fit into 2 slots and smaller cases, it wouldn't be particularly quiet, but yeah, theres a market for that.
    if you wanna save a buck and do light AI, get an Intel Arc A770 16GB for under 300. SD.Next works great