Today’s topic is not exactly related to gaming, but it’s close enough!
One of my favorite activities as a gamer has nothing to do with the games at all: the building and maintaining of a sweet ass gaming PC. I know many people prefer to just order a rig from a company or even buy a pre-built unit from the store, but I love researching and picking out the parts and assembling them in to a custom machine that’s truly and uniquely mine. That’s why it saddens me to say that right now is a terrible time to build a gaming PC or any other type of computer that requires a decent graphics card.
A quick overview for the less technical gamers out there: to render the graphics in a video game requires a massive amount of calculations. What’s more, those calculations have to be performed as close to real-time as possible or else the game would be unplayable (any player who’s had to suffer a drop in frame rates understands what I’m talking about). This kind of load would easily overwhelm your computer’s CPU (Central Processing Unit) – the “boss chip” inside your machine that handles most of the machine’s operations. That’s why gaming machines use a GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) – a special chip that’s hardwired to perform graphics-related calculations at exceedingly fast speed. Since this chip is very often mounted on its own circuit board that gets slotted in to the main “motherboard” of the computer it’s sometimes referred to as a “graphics card”.
Sometimes people are able to use graphics cards for non-graphics related tasks, if those tasks happen to require calculations that are similar to the type needed to render graphics. For example, astronomers will sometimes use PC’s with graphics cards to analyze the images from their telescopes to find stellar objects faster than a human could. Another “GPU-friendly” type of task is cryptocurrency mining – and that, unfortunately, is where the problem lies.
Many of you have probably heard about cryptocurrency in the news, since Bitcoin and a few others have recently seen a huge spike in value. I won’t go in to the technical details of how they work but the important thing to know is this: new currency is “minted” by people running mining software on their computers. This software has to perform extremely intense calculations as fast as possible… sound familiar?
That’s right – many forms of crypto mining happen to be highly effective on graphics cards (although, ironically, Bitcoin isn’t one of them). Because of this miners have been buying up GPUs like gangbusters, resulting in a stock shortage for us gamers. If you’ve been trying to do a new build recently you may have noticed that most of your favorite retailers are out of stock on the cards you want, and if you go to alternative markets like eBay you might find cards going for almost double their retail price. For example, a GTX 1070 (normally going for around $380) was recently spotted selling for $700! Now you know why.
Both AMD and Nvidia say they’re scrambling to increase production and meet demand, but it will likely be months before we see stock (and prices) go back to normal. I don’t recommend buying in to the jacked up prices – if you can, hold off on that new build until the costs come back down. If you can’t wait, consider buying a cheaper or last-generation card to tide you over for awhile – most of them perform just fine unless you’re trying to play on Super Ultra Deluxe graphics settings.
Do let me know if you enjoy content like this, or if I should just stick to strictly game related topics! I recently found myself emmersed in the Cryptosphere and so I thought I’d do an article related to this on the blog, so let me know if you like topics like this!