GPU giant Nvidia plans to release a processor designed for mining cryptocurrency Ethereum, and will put artificial limits on how effective its future GPUs are at mining.
The first in the Cryptocurrency Mining Processor (CMP) series will focus on Ether mining, used to make the Ethereum cryptocurrency possible, and is set to release in March.
Coming just as Ethereum hits all-time high
CMP chips will not do graphics processing, Nvidia said. Unlike gaming-focused GeForce GPUs, they also lack display outputs, enabling improved airflow while mining so they can be more densely packed. CMPs also have a lower peak core voltage and frequency, which improves mining power efficiency, the company said.
"Creating tailored products for customers with specific needs delivers the best value for customers," Matt Wuebbling, head of global GeForce marketing, said.
"With CMP, we can help miners build the most efficient data centers while preserving GeForce RTX GPUs for gamers."
At the same time, Nvidia plans to reduce the hash rate of Ethereum mining by around 50 percent on its upcoming RTX 3060 graphics cards - intentionally using software to make them worse at crypto mining. This will not affect existing GPUs, the company said.
It is not the first time that Nvidia has used artificial restraints to limit the sale of chips to certain industries. In 2018, it updated the EULA on consumer-focused GeForce GPUs to prohibit data center use - instead pushing data center companies towards the significantly more expensive enterprise GPU line. It claimed that the move was simply due to GeForce not being designed for the data center, but continued to use the chip in its own facilities for the GeForce Now cloud gaming service.
Nvidia has claimed that the new CMP chips will not affect the production of GeForce products, which have been out of stock for most of 2020 and 2021. Limited supply, caused by a global semiconductor shortage, has been made worse by booming crypto demand as Bitcoin and Ethereum hit record highs.
Instead, Nvidia argues, the new product line and software restrictions will ensure that future GeForce supplies will only go towards gamers.
There is another benefit to Nvidia that may have led to its decision to create a new product category. Cryptocurrency mining is a boom and bust industry, built on tight margins. During the last bitcoin bubble, GPU supplies were again heavily constrained - but when bitcoin's price fell precipitously, miners were forced to sell their equipment en masse, flooding the market with cheap GPUs. This cut heavily into Nvidia's profits as second-hand GPU prices fell, making purchasing a new one less appealing. Q4 2018 was "an extraordinary, unusually turbulent, and disappointing quarter," CEO Jensen Huang said at the time.
Now, should Ethereum prices collapse, miners will only be able to sell CMPs to other miners.