Mining Graphics Cards: Worth Buying?

Sapphire 470 Mining Card. Look, not even DVI!

Over the last few weeks graphics card manufactures Sapphire and Asus have released dedicated RX470 based graphics cards designed for mining. This is a whole new concept, until now GPU based miners have used graphics cards intended for gamers in their mining machines. These new cards claim to be better suited for mining. This begs the question, are they worth buying? AMD’s card partners at the time of writing have a problem- miners are buying up the whole supply of available gamer cards. Pushing miners to buy a separate card type solves that problem for the manufacturers, but have they actually done enough to make it worth the miners buying them?

The Drawbacks:
Well lets first look at the reasons why you should’t be buying those cards- the price, and the eventual resale value. Miners base their purchasing decision maths on Return on Investment. Back in the days of buying ASIC miners for Bitcoin, a ROI of a year or longer was often considered acceptable. Normally by the time you’d hit the two year mark, your miner was old news and had lost most of it’s value. You’d still make a profit of course, but much of it relied on the increase in value of the mined coins to make it worthwhile.

Now with the new GPU mined altcoins, in particular Etherium and ZCash, we are looking at the ROI in terms of months, and sometimes even weeks. The cherry on the cake was that the GPU itself was backed up by the gaming industry, and would still be a valuable asset with a resale value years down the line. Old GPUs loose value, but it’s a relatively slow cycle, with cards often holding over 50% of their value for as much as 3 years. AMD is slow to roll out new architecture, with a lot of new series of graphics cards in truth just being re-brands over the previous series with a few minor tweaks. Until that new architecture rolls out, old series cards are viable purchases, especially as gamers stick at HD resolutions and are slow to move to 4k.

These new mining based cards are of no real use to gamers. That means their value depends entirely on the continued viability of mining coins. If there comes a day when there is no coin worth mining on a GPU, the cards will lose all of their value. Of course by then maybe they will have paid for themselves 10 times over, buy maybe not. We know the crypto market can be a fickle beast.

Additionally the upfront price of these cards is higher than really is justified.  Just 3 months ago an RX470 card could be picked up on the market for around £160- these new mining cards have asking prices up around the £250 mark. Of course, a lot of that is just the supply/demand problem right now pushing prices up- but it still feels a little like profiteering.

The Benefits:
So, money concerns aside, what reasons are there to buy these cards?

Certainly longevity is an issue on standard cards. My personal farm consisted of about 28 cards at one point recently, and replacing fans lost to bad bearings is a common irritation. Replacement GPU fans are hard to find, cost over the odds, and are fiddly to install. That being said, most fan failures that I have experienced are on cards over 2 years old, or ultimately caused by user error.

The fans on these new cards also boast dust resistance. Then again dust is easy to defeat with a hoover.

So what about the higher clock speeds? Sure those are nice, but we can overclock on a standard card too.

What we really have here then is a card, sans a few monitor headers, but with longer life fans. It’s not exactly revolutionary.

Conclusion:
I really don’t see the argument for buying these cards. Maybe if standard gaming cards are out of stock and these are all you can get, then go for it. In the long run I see the longer lasting resale value of the standard gaming cards makes them a clear winner. In order for mining cards to be worth buying, the manufacturers need to cut out all the features that miners don’t need, and then pass on the savings that creates to the user. Mining is all about making money at the end of the day, so which cards you buy has to be all about that, too.

Asus Mining 470
The Asus Mining 470

 

 

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