MSI has launched an experiment to test how much cryptocurrency revenue one of its laptops can generate. According to the company, it’s using a GE76 Raider and will report how much revenue it earned from the machine at the end of a one-month test.
MSI’s blog post announcing this test does double-duty as an introduction to cryptocurrency mining, with step-by-step instructions for how to get started. This is not a great development.
Cryptocurrency Mining Is Destroying the Consumer GPU Market
The first cryptocurrency boom almost killed AMD’s GPU business. AMD GPU prices skyrocketed while Nvidia cards were readily available at MSRP. AMD sold every GPU it could manufacture for a few months, but the sky-high channel prices drove gamers to Nvidia.
The second cryptocurrency boom affected both AMD and Nvidia and made Pascal cards difficult to source for much of 2017 and early 2018. One of the reasons Turing adoption was so low compared with Pascal is that Nvidia wound up with a ton of inventory after it misjudged how quickly the crypto boom would fade away. The GTX 1070 and 1080 hit some of their all-time best prices right as the RTX 2070 and 2080 launched with higher MSRPs than their predecessors.
The third wave has made it nearly impossible to score a GPU at MSRP since September. There’s some evidence that GPU prices are moving in the right direction, but it could be 3-9 months before cards are readily available.
I’ve been reviewing hardware for two decades. This didn’t use to happen. Companies still ran out of inventory on launch day, and scalpers still tried to hawk cards on eBay for more than MSRP, but these situations got resolved within a month or two. These 6-12 month periods where prices are 150 percent or more above MSRP are “features” of the cryptocurrency market.
The gaming laptop and desktop markets have been less affected by these issues because OEMs negotiate price contracts long in advance. The boutique market has been the last refuge for gamers who would have normally built their own systems if retail GPUs weren’t selling for only slightly less than entire gaming PCs. If cryptocurrency mining moves into laptops, that refuge vanishes.
MSI, Other ODMs Need to Pick a Side
It is currently impossible to support both gamers and cryptocurrency miners. Component shortages have turned silicon manufacturing into a zero-sum game. Every GPU that ships out in a mining rig is one less card for gaming. There are undoubtedly miners who game and gamers who mine, but enthusiasts with a single RTX 3080 aren’t the people driving demand.
The GPU shortages of 2017-2018 were proof that cryptocurrency can starve the retail market for months without a global silicon shortage on top of that. Nvidia’s decision to limit Etherium mining on the RTX 3060 is a good start, but it won’t address the entire problem. Launching a new line of “CMP” cards specifically intended for mining may reduce demand for gaming cards but it does nothing to increase the total number of boards Nvidia can sell per month.
MSI, Asus, Gigabyte, and the other ODMs should choose to support gaming over mining. These enthusiast-oriented companies have leaned on the idea that they “got” gamers and gaming for literally decades. It’s time for them to make good on those promises. There’s no way for GPU manufacturers to prevent mining on desktop cards, but they can at least abstain from promoting GPU-equipped laptops for crypto mining or selling hardware into that market. If Nvidia launches mobile CMP chips that may be a different story, but no such parts exist today.
Mining isn’t just a fun enthusiast hobby or a way to make a few bucks anymore. It doesn’t just cause higher GPU demand for a month or two. In an ideal world, AMD and Nvidia would be able to guarantee regular GPU availability and mining versus gaming wouldn’t be a zero-sum game. We don’t live in a perfect world, GPU prices have been above MSRPs for almost half of the past five years, and ODMs who choose to market laptops for cryptocurrency mining are sending a very clear message regarding which customers they care about and which customers they don’t.
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