According to a new report, cryptocurrency miners aren’t just buying up desktop PC GPUs — they’ve started hoovering up gaming laptops as well. This has kept gaming laptop sales high through Q1 when normally the market would have cooled off by now.
This information comes courtesy of DigiTimes, via THG. The original DigiTimes article is now behind a paywall. According to them, cryptocurrency miners in China, Taiwan, and South Korea buy large stocks of laptops fitted out with RTX 3000 GPUs. Miners have (again, according to DT) even been lobbying manufacturers to create systems with low-budget components and powerful GPUs, since there’s no intent to use them for anything but cryptocurrency mining.
This is a new, infuriating wrinkle. For the third time in less than five years, cryptocurrency mining has pushed GPU prices beyond all sanity. The first cryptocurrency boom only hit AMD cards. The second affected both AMD and Nvidia and broke the retail channel for months. We’re already six months deep in the current shortage.
Every time we hit one of these shortages, the retail market warps badly enough to make even a boutique laptop or desktop a comparatively good deal. If cryptocurrency miners start buying laptops in bulk, it could drive prices up in this space as well.
As before, AMD and Nvidia are not the companies making bank off these events. While both manufacturers benefit from high demand, neither Nvidia nor AMD will raise their negotiated prices with OEMs to take a higher cut of the profits. Yes, both manufacturers are selling every GPU they can make, but the unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic guarantee they’d be doing so no matter what.
The last cryptocurrency boom left Nvidia with hundreds of millions of dollars in un-sold Pascal inventory last time around. Nvidia managed Turing much more carefully, drawing down manufacturing well in advance of Ampere’s launch, but the current demand for cards has forced the company to restart some RTX 2000 production to meet demand.
Seasonality Isn’t a Thing This Year
Consumer semiconductor demand typically falls in Q1, rises somewhat in Q2, rises again in Q3 thanks to the back-to-school season, and then hit its high point in Q4 with the winter holidays. One of the ways semiconductor foundries can manage supply, typically, is by planning their manufacturing schedules around regular demand expectations.
This year, seasonality isn’t going to be a thing. Nobody wants to predict what the market may do as vaccines roll out and areas come out from lockdowns. Some customers, like auto manufacturers, are desperate for chips now. TSMC and Samsung can shift some manufacturing capacity to accommodate that demand, but customers pushed to the side in February and March will have to be given capacity at some other time. In short, there’s no short-term solution to these problems.
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