When Ryan’s video card popped during an extended Valheim session, thankfully he had a backup that could get him by until a card became available at retail. Nevertheless worried about the performance of his older and less reliable temporary card, Ryan also started looking for a viable long-term replacement. The thing is, as mentioned in my last Valheim post, there just aren’t a lot of cards to go around. But why is that?
Thanks to COVID, anyone who has ever looked at their Steam library and said to themselves “If only I had more free time” suddenly found themselves with limitless free time on their hands. COVID had forced everyone indoors, and outdoor social interactions were stigmatized. Basically, a gamer’s dream. With nothing but time on their hands, gamers started upgrading their rigs so they could play the latest and greatest games. Except when they went to buy a new card, they couldn’t find one.
For future historians, in this time of COVID, Cryptomining has resurged in popularity. Bitcoin, Etherium, and Doge seem to be given almost as much airtime in mainstream media as COVID and the subsequent vaccination efforts. Every time Elon Musk says something publically about cryptocurrencies, the global economy shifts. The latest topic of discussion after a 7200% seemingly overnight surge in Dogecoin valuation, is the effects of Cryptomining on the environment. The thing is, Cryptomining isn’t very efficient, at least not now. At one point, a dedicated Cryptomining rig could handily churn out Bitcoin, but when the difficulty went up (along with the market value), so did the amount of time taken to mine a single coin. Now, a high-end mining rig could toil for days on end, for a fraction of a percentage of a Bitcoin.
That being said, with the value of crypto increasing faster than the amount of time taken to mine a coin, there are still profits to be made. And where there profits to be made, there’ll be profiteers. It’s no secret that one of the keys to an average mining rig is a decent video card, and when the latest range of 3D cards was announced at shockingly low MSRP the crypto mining community jumped on board. Sure you can use dedicated ASICs for mining coins, but why bother when the video card manufacturers are making a comparable product for rock bottom prices? Crypto mining enthusiasts started snatching up new cards as quickly as they could get their hands on them.
Around the same time the new gaming cards were announced, global chip shortages were also announced. Note that I didn’t specify what kind of chip, because if asked for specifics, it’s safe to say “All of them”. Anything using any sort of chip suddenly became in short supply. Regions responsible for chip production were hit pretty hard by COVID, and factories either shut down or dramatically dialed back operations in an effort to slow the infection. As a result, the already dwindling chip supply became even smaller.
When demand outstrips supply, another player enters the game. These are the scalpers, people who make a living based on buying low and selling high. Normally relegated to ballgame and concert tickets, in this case, scalpers quickly started buying gaming cards at MSRP and selling for far more than the manufacturer intended. In a shocking move, this happed to all video cards, not just the new high-end RTX and RX series cards from nVidia and AMD. At one point I jokingly told my wife I could sell my aging 1060 for more than I paid for it. (I was only half-joking.) The thing is, every time I opened a game that taxed the card in the slightest, I panicked a little. The fans would spin up (thankfully drowned out by my gaming headset), and I’d try to ignore the strained efforts of the card. But in the back of my head, I knew if this card popped, much like Ryan’s had, I wouldn’t have a replacement for it.
And then something strange happened.
News outlets worldwide started talking about China’s newly announced efforts to stop cryptocurrency mining. According to MSNBC, Chinese crypto mining farms were consuming 128 terrawatt-hours of electricity per year, more than the annual requirements for the entire country of Ukraine. The enormous power draw, combined with the equally enormous heat output of mining rigs, was simply not sustainable long-term. Crypto-farms in China started shutting down, with hundreds and thousands of rigs being taken offline and decommissioned.
A lot of people will say that the crypto mining operations weren’t ultimately responsible for the global card shortage, but seemingly overnight, the cards arrived back in stock. I’m not saying there’s a correlation, but the timing seems awfully suspect. Around the same time, Ryan had been calling around looking for a new card and a local retailer told him “sure, we have some cards, come on in.” A few days later, I found myself driving past the same retailer, and for no real reason other than to satisfy my curiosity, I decided to pop in and see if they have any RTX-capable cards handy.
Shockingly, they did. I’d assumed Ryan’s experience had been a fluke, but no – I had an RTX 2060 in my hands, available for MSRP prices should I want it. But there was one thing I had to know. “Is it worth waiting for the 3000 series?” I asked. “Oh yeah, they’re like $20 more than this card, and if you don’t need it today, give me your name and I’ll call you when one comes in.” I gave them my name and number and assumed I’d have some time to break the news of my impending purchase to my wife. As it turns out, I didn’t have to wait long. The next day, sitting in the yard watching our kids playing in the pool, I got a call.
“We have a shipment of 3060s that just arrived if you want one.” I looked to my wife, who shook her head, sighed, and said “Sure, go for it.” Which is how I found myself back at the same store, less than 24 hours later, a brand new Asus 3060 TUF in hand. Later that day I eagerly installed it in my system, and gleefully cranked all graphics sliders as high as they could go.
Somehow my 1060 had held on long enough, powering through well over 100 hours of Valheim and World War Z, onboard fans screaming the entire time. Sure, I could’ve sold it for more than I paid for it. But that wouldn’t have been fair to the loyal card that got me through COVID.