back to article Good luck building a VR PC: Ethereum miners are buying all the GPUs

Last month, one of my friends noted he’d been having enormous trouble trying to buy the components to assemble a virtual-reality-ready PC. Motherboards, memory, CPUs and solid state drives were easy to find, but the one absolutely essential component - a beefy GPU to drive a head-mounted display at a vomit-preventing 90 Hz - he …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Why would anyone need two graphics cards?"

    SLI?

    Anyway, while GPUs can compute faster some tasks, they can't still replace a CPU for other tasks. They are not designed, for example, to understand the difference between kernel code and user code.

    Yet, it is true x86 can't simply go faster shrinking the chip.

    1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge

      Re: "Why would anyone need two graphics cards?"

      Precisely. GPUs are great for SIMD-like parallelism, but it can be very difficult to harness when the task at hand does not allow such parallelism. In those cases, fewer, more complex and more independent compute cores can do a better job. Horses for courses, as ever. Many compute loads show a mixture of these SIMD and MIMD type parallel tasks, and for those the key factor in current designs is the fact that GPU and CPU memory is generally separate, and the speed of the bus linking the two is too low.

      So, yes, GPUs are here to stay, but my (multi-core) CPU has this little piece of cardboard saying "I aten't dead!", and I think that is true.

      1. John Young 1

        Re: "Why would anyone need two graphics cards?"

        Upvote for the Discworld ref ;)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Why would anyone need two graphics cards?"

          "Upvote for the Discworld ref ;)"

          Even more because Esmé Weatherwax is the first to master massively parallel processing when it comes to Borrowing.

          1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

            Re: "Why would anyone need two graphics cards?"

            I seem to remember that she had already tried the mainframe approach (a castle?)

      2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: "Why would anyone need two graphics cards?"

        Until comparatively recently, GPUs had their own private memory space, and moving data between the main memory and the GPU memory (and back) was often the biggest problem when using GPUs for parallel computation streams.

        Nowadays, the PCIe3 variants have sufficient bandwidth so that it makes some sense to expose the main memory to the GPU processors, reducing the need for some complicated I/O system to shunt data around. This should make it easier to write vector type code to use the multiple processors in the GPU, but there probably needs to be a common API defined so that code can be made a little more portable.

        I'm still expecting many and more powerful GPU stream processors to appear on the CPU die with full memory access and DDR4 or DDR5 main memory, so that they can just be considered as additional processing units in a massively superscaler system, but not the poor performance GPUs that AMD put on their APU, or what Intel build in to some of their chips.

        1. Suricou Raven

          Re: "Why would anyone need two graphics cards?"

          "so that it makes some sense to expose the main memory to the GPU processors, "

          Until some OEM has a flashback and recalls that they can just dump all the GPU memory entirely and use main memory for the card instead, thus allowing them to sell a cheap-GPU machine while fiddling the specs.

          1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

            Re: "Why would anyone need two graphics cards?"

            It may make some sense, however it can savage CPU performance because of contention for memory access, not just access to memory in the same block but memory on the same physical component (chip/stick depending on implementation). This is particularly complicated by caching which for performance reasons takes place within the CPU core and therefore won't be shared with a GPU accessing the same memory block.

  2. Dave Bell

    Other problems for VR

    The graphics hardware, computer and display device, are looking to be a big barrier, but some VR concepts also seem to depend on fast internet connections, not just bandwidth but round-trip-times to servers. I have seen a figure of 40ms quoted before there start to be problems with people sharing an environment, but it hasn't been clear whether that includes the transmission time across the internet.

    Maybe it's enough to wait for the 3D world model to download, and then a user can walk around the new building to see what it looks like, but as soon as you have somebody else in view, not in the next office, there will be problems.

    You can cope with these problems with a monitor screen as a window on a virtual world. It's the new VR element, the head mounted display feeding each eye and overwhelming the other senses, which make any sluggishness a problem.

    40ms? That's barely big enough to cover California. Bandwidth has increased enormously, but the round-trip times have hardly changed since I started using dial-up.

    And I have not seen a convincing explanation of why I might be wrong. But it looks from here as if the VR-hype comes from a geographically localised cluster of enthusiasts around San Francisco Bay.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Other problems for VR

      The problem with round trip times is that they run into a HARD limit: the speed of light. It's physically impossible for data to run a round trip from New York to Los Angeles and back faster than c, and usually some fraction of c (the speed of electricity in copper is about half c).

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

        Re: Other problems for VR

        It used to be that every device in the path added 10ms as well, but that's more like 2ms these days.

        I think you'll find that with optimised code it is possible for people to share the same space and be represented by simplistic avatars with a reasonable response time. Obviously a high latency link would suffer, but that's no different than any other online experience with many people.

        PSVR seems to do it ok, shouldn't be any different for PC.

    2. cirby

      Re: Other problems for VR - not really

      There isn't much (if any) VR content that relies on direct video streaming like that.

      Generally the "40 ms" issue in internal to the VR system, and doesn't touch the network. Interactions between players by pass that, for the most part, and don't impact play any more than any other online game.

      If you have a long delay (40ms+) between the time you move your head and the time the display updates, that's a problem, and people start to get "VR sickness."

      If you have a long (300 ms+) delay in person-t-person game interactions, it just makes play seem clunky.

  3. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I doubt the Ethereum miners are going to create enough demand for PCs with GPUs to suddenly rescue the failing PC market. All it takes it someone hackets to set up a bot net mining Ethereum with 1000s of machines and then in another years time the price of Ethereum will then fall to a level that makes it uneconomical to mine them that way

    1. ilmari

      Don't forget the last gpu cryptomining fad propped up AMD's sales for a year, drove up prices and killed availability.

      I haven't been following very closely, last time only AMD GPUs were useful, are both brands useful this time around?

      1. Orv Silver badge

        Supposedly Etherium uses a hashing algorithm that's less hardware sensitive, so there isn't the same preference for AMD GPUs. They were trying to avoid the consolidation that happened in Bitcoin when it rapidly went from CPUs to GPUs to custom ASICs.

    2. Korev Silver badge

      I imagine that most bot nets would have PCs with Intel integrated graphics rather than a discrete GPU. I suspect that if you're keen enough on PCs to want a decent GPU then you'll know about patching, anti-virus etc.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    GPU's effected

    AMD vs. Nvidia???

    GTX-1080???

    GPU's built into laptops???

  5. Tom Wood

    "Proof of work"

    Greenpeace (etc) should award a prize to whoever can come up with a cryptocurrency where the "proof of work" is proof of /useful/ work - not just burning CPU cycles (= heating the planet/wasting electricity).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Proof of work"

      Id give you an award if you did some reading about Eth. Its going proof of stake for this very reason.

    2. IDoNotThinkSo
      Pint

      Re: "Proof of work"

      You mean, I do something useful, someone gives me a token for it, and I can then exchange the token for beer?

      I'm sure that would never work.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shortage? I dunno what theyre talking about , I got mysel a luverly nvidea gtx750ti ofov the ebay the other day for about £50, must've quadrupled my gfx capability . And can run that shadowplay thingy too.

    In a rare fit of generosity to my pc I also treated it to a (128gb £50) SSD and Fallout 4 (argos £16).

    and re "AMD vs. Nvidia???"

    I've always had AMD , this is my first nvidea . The support and software seems much better - i realised I now have the hardware* and software to start playing games in 3d! Nvidea has a long list of supported games including 80's sci fi parody fps - "Blood Dragon"

    (except a mini hdmi adaptor)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      A GTX 750ti is nowhere near fast enough to run VR unfortunately!

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        I beg to differ

        "A GTX 750ti is nowhere near fast enough to run VR unfortunately!"

        I know its an old comment / story an no one will ever read it but ....what?

        They did VR in the early 90s .

        my phone in a cardbox does VR.

        surely you dont need much resolution if two little screens are right near your eyes?

        if I can play a 3D game at 1080p surely you can put it on 2 lttle screens at 480x640 or whatever.

        Basically - It depends what quality u want yes?

    2. The Mighty Biff

      Nice though your 750ti is, I think it's top end GPUs that cryptocurrency miners are interested in - 980s, 1080s and the like. The prices of second hand 980tis (for instance) have gone up considerably recently and it's hard to get one for much under £300 at the moment.

      1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        re my 750ti

        " The prices of second hand 980tis (for instance) have gone up considerably recently "

        Yeah - looks like i picked the wrong time to upgrade. I shopped around I started out thinking I might get an secondhand 8 or a 9 . Did loads of reseach , looked at performance graphs etc

        https://www.geforce.com/Active/en_US/shared/images/products/shared/lineup.png

        My conclucsion: "Blimey these things never lose any value! - I'll just get the bottom end 750 , thats nearly falling off the bottom of this chart - its still better than an AMD EAH5570"

        1. Danny 14 Silver badge

          Re: re my 750ti

          Juat wait a couple of months. The compute time for eth is rising rapidly. Market will start to flood with second hand high end gpus.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You can get 256 SSDs a couple months old on Ebay for £50, or customer returns from Amazon if you wait long enough.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cmon El Reg

    The Eth gold rush ended about a week ago. Hashing is and value are currently down.

    Mainly due to uncertainty in terms of when proof of stake will be implemented and what exactly that will meam.

    1. wolfetone Silver badge

      Re: Cmon El Reg

      It still makes me cry.

      I bought some Ethereum coins in February for £10 each. Got to £30 each, sold them as I needed to fix my car. Didn't look at the price charts until a month ago.

      Well, you can imagine what I was thinking when I saw the £30 coins I sold shot up to £290.

      1. Ogi

        Re: Cmon El Reg

        > It still makes me cry.

        Once I felt the same way. When I originally got into bitcoin I ended up mining 300 coins, I sold them at £25 a pop after a while to help with my first flat deposit.

        Fast forward to present day, a bitcoin is worth almost £2000. Had I known I could have bought two flats outright with extra spending money on top.

        A friend of mine who works in trading however, gave me a piece of advice "Any profit you can walk away from is a good result. Bitcoin has hit highs now, but it could just as easily have become worthless. There was no way to be sure of either future outcome".

        And he is right. BTC could have floundered just as easily as it rallied. Makes me feel a bit better when I think of it that way. If you bought at £10 and sold at £30, then you made a very good return. ETH could have just as easily collapsed and you could have lost it all.

        Saying that, I did get out of the cryptocurrency mining. I just can't compete with people in Asia who have stupidly cheap electricity costs compared to the UK/EU, not to mention they tend to get the newest hardware first due to proximity of hardware manufacture to them.

      2. inmypjs Silver badge

        Re: Cmon El Reg

        "It still makes me cry."

        Sure because Ethereum is free money for everyone......

        Any money made from currency speculation is someone else's loss. Console yourself with the knowledge that a bigger fool than you lost the £20 per coin you made.

      3. goldcd

        Re: Cmon El Reg

        350 bitcoins from when, y'know, you could mine them on a cpu and they came in 50s.

        I made out like a bandit when they reached £7 each..

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Cmon El Reg

      Years ago I bought one bitcoin for about £70, intending to see if I could buy anything 'fun' on Silkroad. Completely forgot about it until they hit £700, so I sold a chunk to buy a new GPU, and then forgot about it all over again.

      Last month I decided to see if I still had access to the wallet, and how much was left in there. Turns out I had enough to buy a brand new monitor :)

      Sure, if I'd held onto the BTC I could have sold it now for £2000, but from my point of view, I spent £70, and have so far got about £700 of goods.

      (I've still got about 0.02 left, so maybe in a few years that'll pay for another GPU upgrade).

  8. Brenda McViking

    Rejoice

    This just means that a few months down the line, the 2nd hand market will be flooded by these things and knock-down prices as the Eretheum miners have all moved on to ponzi-scheme ASIC suppliers after GPUs have had their day and are too slow to compete. It's almost like this happened before with bitcoin...

    And the end result is that VR capable hardware is affordable for a (graphics card) generation.

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: Rejoice

      Etherium's hash function was specifically designed not to be ASIC-friendly. Specifically it needs a lot of memory to compute. Even low-end graphics cards can't, they just don't have enough video memory to hold the entire structure needed at once.

      1. Brangdon

        Re: Rejoice

        If/when Etherium moves to Proof of Stake, then the GPUs will become worthless for it.

  9. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

    CPU Types

    Within a few years, every computing device of consequence - supercomputer, desktop or smartphone - will be driven by architectures and operating systems that center around the GPU.

    GPU or a highly parallel vector processor?

    I think you'll still need a general purpose CPU to glue everything together, but you'll undoubtedly have various special purpose chips to assist.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: CPU Types

      Thus recreating the Amiga architecture, again.

  10. article22

    This article is misguided...the only cards which aren't in stock are those which are best for crypto mining.

    So low end and high end stock is unaffected still though the GTX 1080 Ti is getting more and more popular.

    VR doesn't need that much grunt and the GTX 1080 is easily good enough and no one wants them for mining as there is a problem with DDR5X memory still.

    1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

      Can you use...

      "Not that much" and "GTX 1080" i the same sentence? ;)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "the GTX 1080 is easily good enough"

      FYI - the GTX 1080 @ 6.5 TFLOPs is roughly equivalent to the GPU in the Xbox One X @ 6 TFLOPs. Well except that the Xbox One X has 50% greater memory bandwidth...

      1. cirby

        The GTX 1080 is a 9 teraflop card. not 6.5. The 1070 is about 6.5.

        The Xbox One X has about the same bandwidth as the 1080, not 50% greater. Again, 1070.

        Basically, you were using the 1070's specs to compare to the Xbox One X.

  11. EddieD

    Phew...

    I'm glad I got my 1070 when I did - I just glanced at Amazon and just about everyone is "Not in stock" "Delivery in 2-4 weeks" or similar - and the price has rocketed.

    Daft, imo. I think (and I'll admit that I'm normally wrong when I think) that just like when BitCoin was the cryptocurrency de jour and ASICs rapidly outstripped GPUs as the mining engine of choice, the same will happen with Ethereum, and the gamers and both VR freaks will get their hands on the GPUs again.

    Actually, thinking about it, Ephemerum might be a better choice of name.

  12. Cobug

    What card was he looking for?

    This is a big problem, especially for AMD cards at the moment, however, due to the price point NVIDIA's 1080 and 1080Ti should be available. For high end gaming and VR they'll give better performance than any AMD card at the moment, the 1080Ti is hands down the best card available for those uses. Cryptocurrency miners generally don't use them because the diminishing returns for mining make buying slightly cheaper AMD cards a better investment. Obviously this won't help if the 1080 series is outside of his budget but if not those are the cards he should be buying anyway.

  13. WonkoTheSane Silver badge

    Mining-specific GPUs

    I read elsewhere the other week that AMD are producing a range of mining-specific GPUs, which have zero monitor connectors.

    Details:- https://videocardz.com/70764/amd-to-launch-radeon-rx-560d-with-896-stream-processors

    1. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Mining-specific GPUs

      nVidia have been selling 'headless' versions of their GPUs for a few years now, for use in servers. See their "Tesla" range. They are not cheap.

      AMD have been at it for a while too.

      1. Orv Silver badge

        Re: Mining-specific GPUs

        I was going to say.

        High-performance computing clusters now often consist of rack boxes full of headless GPUs, depending on what the workload is.

  14. jason 7 Silver badge

    Silly prices for 8GB RX480's on Ebay

    Been seeing used RX480's going for well over £300 there. I think I paid £250 for mine about 10 months ago.

    1. cirby

      Re: Silly prices for 8GB RX480's on Ebay

      A 1070 is currently $525 to $600+ - the one in my VR machine cost me $399 last year, but is going for $649 now...

      A new 970 (up to $450) is more expensive than a 1070 was in January.

      (I had a lightning strike kill this computer last week, and I was panicking at the thought of replacing the graphics card - luckily, it survived.)

    2. Colonel Mad

      Re: Silly prices for 8GB RX480's on Ebay

      Tempting isn't it?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    GPUs, ASICs, Proof of Work, Ethereum and you.

    Eth is ASIC resistant. It'll be a whike at least before we see ASIC miners on Eth, if at all because...

    Eth is moving to a proof of stake model rather than proof of work. Meaning grunt will be less important. The idea is to save electricity.

    All these people that rushed out to buy GPUs are morons. They would have been better off just buying Eth as the amount of Eth you hold will affect the return on mining in the future.

    As a counter balance to this, if too many Whales start pissing in the pool the return on mining will drop as the network is geared up to provide high returns to many smaller stakeholders not fewer massive stakeholders.

    All the big dicked high rollers thinking they can pay to dominate the Eth network are in for a surprise I think.

    These aspects are why Eth has become so popular because other crypto currencies are plagued with whales and are biased towards those that have significant resources. Eth was designed to resist this kind of activity as best it can.

    Currently the breakeven point for GPU mining is approx 9 months, but the proof of stake will likely kick in before then. Which means its highly likely that most peple that rushed out to buy a load of GPUs won't get their money back in the short term.

    1. Duffy Moon

      Re: GPUs, ASICs, Proof of Work, Ethereum and you.

      Forgive my ignorance, bit how does "proof of stake" work?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: GPUs, ASICs, Proof of Work, Ethereum and you.

        @duffy moon

        https://github.com/ethereum/wiki/wiki/Proof-of-Stake-FAQ

  16. iron Silver badge

    Not to worry

    The price of Ethereum crashed last week and it is now next to worthless. There will be plenty of slightly used GPUs on the second hand market soon.

    1. jjk

      Re: Not to worry

      "slightly used" = "ran overclocked 24/7 in a hot room for several months"

      1. Halfmad Silver badge

        Re: Not to worry

        Generally less stressful for the card than the hot/cold of gaming. Buy card, reapply fresh thermal paste and a new cooler and it'll be fine.

        I've still got a couple of 7950s in Crossfire on a PC which ran for 3 years overclocked at a friends house.

  17. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
    Coat

    Catchy name

    Ethereum? Where did they come up with that?

    "Captain , unless we get a new supply of Ethereum ore , the reactors will go critical in 2 hours!"

    1. Patched Out

      Re: Catchy name

      Ethereum - derived from Ether. You know that imaginary substance that was believed to bind everything together?

      Ethereum = imaginary currency = truth in advertising, unlike most of our physical currency systems. ;-)

      Besides, Unoptanium was already used.

      1. Suricou Raven

        Re: Catchy name

        Currency hasn't been physical for a long time.

        You think your money is real because it comes in little bits of paper or coins of negligible metallic value? That's not money. It's just a convenient way of counting it. Money is an abstraction - it's valuable because there is a widespread agreement that it is valuable, which lets you spend it to buy things of actual utility. Or because the tax collector will send men to arrest you if you can't supply enough of it.

        If you look at a bank note you'll find a notice on there: "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of x pounds." That's a relic of where notes come from: They used to be an indicator of debt. You'd give the bank your bag-of-gold and they'd give you notes for it. Very handy things, as gold is bulky and heavy. The notes were as valuable as the gold because you could always take them back to the bank and have a legal guarantee that they would return said gold, and you could trade the notes in lieu of the gold. Then over time the actual piles of gold in the vaults were accessed less and less often, until it was possible to do away with them altogether. That's where we are today: Money is a shared fiction, but simply having enough people act as if it's real can make it real.

    2. Korev Silver badge
      Linux

      Re: Catchy name

      The currency is called eth and there are various versions. Do you think they have eth0, eth1 etc - not at all hard to Google for!

      1. Orv Silver badge

        Re: Catchy name

        According to ifconfig, eth0 is UP, so maybe a good time to sell.

  18. Ben1892

    I really don't think mining is going away any time soon, and the GPU manufacturers are going to be wary of pandering to a bubble, so I can't see supply increasing to meet demand.

    Has anyone actually seen one of these "mining specific" cards yet - again they are going to be wary of retooling only to suffer a glut in the market. Overall they'd prefer loyal gaming customers that buy a card every two or three years.

    In related news, I did just make £50 profit selling two USB Antminer U2 ASIC cards that I bought three years ago - more than I earned mining with them :)

    1. Orv Silver badge

      The only way I can see them doing that is if they think they can pivot and sell them to the high-performance computing market once the Eth bubble bursts.

  19. inmypjs Silver badge

    Out of date

    Ethereum mining with GPUs is no longer profitable. You certainly won't make money buying GPUs and shortly it won't even be worth buying electricity for GPUs you already have. So good news for gamers the second hand market will soon be flooded.

    That or maybe miners will hang on to them for the next invented crypto currency bubble.

  20. jason 7 Silver badge

    If you don't...

    get on the wagon in the first three months...may as well not bother.

  21. mattje

    An Exercise in Futility?

    Here's my Spanish Inquisition:

    1) What is the point of a 'Cryptocurrency'?

    2) Isn't it more like a CryptoCommodity? ("Pack of gum please, here's a $2000 Bitcoin...")

    3) Isn't mining these a tremendous waste of GPUs and electricity - why not do something useful with the resources...?

    1. jason 7 Silver badge

      Re: An Exercise in Futility?

      Sometimes folks on the forums ask me why I don't do such things.

      I just reply that my electricity is funded by me and not Mum & Dad.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: An Exercise in Futility?

      "3) Isn't mining these a tremendous waste of GPUs and electricity - why not do something useful with the resources...?"

      There are a number of worthwhile mathematical challenges which would fit the bill as worthwhile, but they tend not to scale well to cyrptographically strong challenges. (EG: The OGR project)

    3. Suricou Raven

      Re: An Exercise in Futility?

      1) Cryptocurrency was born of the crypto-anarchist community. They don't trust banks, and they certainly don't trust governments. Crypto-currency provides a means to do away with the middle-men who take their cut and play games with your money to their benefit. This does make it especially appealing to the criminal underground, and to people who object to any government regulation of finances for ideological reasons.

      2) When something is that easily moved around and so interchangable with others of itsself, currency and commodity are really the same thing.

      3) Certainly. But people are selfish bastards. They'll happily burn up power if it brings them money. If you wish to be better than that, please go ahead and donate your idle processor time (and thus electricity bill) to a worthy distributed computing project.

  22. MadocOwain

    I ran into this as well when trying to put together 16 PCs for my new VR Arcade. My frustration in June was the 1-2 per household limit, which was attributable to those cards being marked as "loss-leaders". Now in July, the cards I like are marked by Amazon as 4 weeks backordered. Some of the pricing of the non-TI 1080s is ridiculous. Fortunately, if you are patient, and willing to buy cards from different manufacturers, it's possible to get what you need, eventually.

  23. tullio

    I am using two GPU boards, a nVidia GTX 1050 Ti and a nVidia GTX 750 Ti to run 2 BOINC projects, SETI@home and Einstein@home. The speedup is impressive over CPUs and I get many more credits for the same running time. People use up to 8 GPU boards on the same PC.

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