Nvidia has won a lawsuit brought against it by multiple investors who claimed the company had deliberately and recklessly misrepresented the provenance of over a billion dollars in crypto-mining sales during the last boom in 2017-2018.
To briefly recap: A few years ago, when cryptocurrency-related demand for GPUs was through the roof, Nvidia told investors that the bulk of the demand it was seeing was actually for gaming GPUs. The previous cryptocurrency boom of 2013-2014 had targeted AMD cards almost exclusively, so the idea that miners were still preferring GCN over Pascal had a certain credibility to it. Nvidia’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang dismissed the idea that cryptocurrency was having a significant impact on Nvidia sales at multiple points. This part of the record is uncontested.
The reason Judge Haywood Gilliam has dismissed the case is straightforward: None of the evidence presented by the plaintiffs was sufficiently detailed to support the weight of the accusations brought against Nvidia. While the lawsuit identified resources it claimed guided Nvidia’s actions with respect to the cryptocurrency market, it didn’t produce enough direct evidence to satisfy the judge. Having already been granted leave to amend their case once, the judge denied them leave to do so a second time.
Judge Gilliam may have cleared Nvidia of legal wrongdoing, but the question of what the hell the PC channel is supposed to do about the ongoing GPU disaster hasn’t gotten the attention it needs. Even if the market improves more quickly than expected — which is to say, it improves during 2021 — there’s nothing stopping this from happening again. Every time the price of cryptocurrencies spikes, GPU availability dies. Things have gotten bad enough that miners are targeting laptops, too. Nvidia’s plan to limit hashing may not work if cards are still profitable at reduced hash rates.
The first time this happened, people thought the rise of FPGAs and ASICs would end the disaster. But people like the ease and ubiquity of mining on consumer GPUs, and cryptocurrency coins specifically designed to mine poorly on FPGAs and ASICs soon appeared. So long as cryptocurrencies remain deflationary, this problem is going to keep happening.
Gaming, as a hobby, relies on the idea that upgrades and replacement parts are available over time. If people can’t buy the upgrades and replacement parts they need, they’ll find other hobbies. In the past, customers who wanted a GPU could either buy Nvidia (2012-2013) or buy a pre-built OEM system (2017-2018). This time around, higher tariffs and worldwide shortages have driven OEM prices upwards, too.
Ampere is now six months old. Nvidia tends to launch new GPU architectures every other year these days. If it takes another six months for these GPU shortages to clear — and based on what we’ve heard from the industry, six months seems pretty reasonable — it means we’ll be halfway to Ampere’s projected replacement before you can stroll out and buy the current card at whim as opposed to hovering over the keyboard, hitting refresh like a jockey in a race.
The industry needs a real, long-term solution to this problem. I’m really not looking forward to the day, a few months from now, when the GPU market will have been overheated for more than half the time since Pascal launched in 2016. We won’t cross that bridge until the July / August time frame, so there’s still a chance to fix this problem first. Demand for GPUs isn’t good for gaming if the cards aren’t actually being used to game.