As everyone knows by now, cryptocurrencies are the latest craze in the computing community. You’ve got people mining BitCoins on industrial scales using ASIC miners and you’ve got countless people mining LiteCoins (and all the other crytocoins) using their gaming GPUs. Currently, the BitCoin sits at a price of $905 at the time of publication, but in the past week has fluctuated as much as $300 in either direction. While it appears that BitCoin [BTC] has leveled off for now, the new more affordable and heavily mined currency is the LiteCoin [LTC].
BitCoins’ price over the past 30 days
LiteCoin [LTC] is currently at $32 per coin, which is vastly more affordable for most people to buy and at the same time is also vastly easier to obtain through mining than a BitCoin. Because all of these cryptocurrencies use hashing to do the ‘mining’ AMD’s GPUs are just faster and more efficient at accomplishing this task than Nvidia’s GPUs. If you’ve already got an Nvidia GPU, nobody is going to criticize you for mining using one, but you’re better off with an AMD Radeon. Now that we’ve given you a little background on cryptocurrencies and their popularity, this should explain why there is a shortage of AMD GPUs. People are buying these GPUs in anticipation of mining LiteCoins at much more efficient rates and most people are buying R9 280X and R9 290s for their mining rigs. At $30 a coin, LiteCoin mining more than pays for itself in terms of electricity consumed and in the long term will also pay for the hardware used as well. Additionally, if the price of LiteCoins maintains steady, AMD GPUs will remain a consistent method of generating LiteCoins. This is because LiteCoins use a different algorithm than BitCoins and are easier to generate and there are more of them (still a finite amount). If you look at LTC and BTC, you can see that both currencies’ fates have been almost tied to each other almost perfectly with the last few weeks looking identical in terms of price.
LiteCoins’ price over the past 30 days
Because of this fact, If you go online and try to buy an R9 280X or an R9 290 your options are severely limited. Heck, even the $550 R9 290X is difficult to come by for the very same reasons. We’ve spoken to some people involved with the retailers and some retailers themselves and we’ve been finding that most retailers simply have very little to no stock of cards. And this is not for having enough cards coming in, but rather that in some cases back orders are outstripping the incoming stock. If you head on over to Newegg, you can see that only 4 out of 17 models of the R9 280X are available for sale, the rest are completely sold out. In addition to that, only 2 of the 16 models of the R9 290X are available for sale as well. The story is the same with the R9 290 as well, with only two of the 7 models of the card available for sale.
Do keep in mind that some of these vendors (ASUS, XFX, Sapphire, etc.) will be coming out with their own non-reference designs with custom coolers and such to reduce the heat generated by the R9 290 series GPUs. However, this usually does not affect the overall stock of reference cards as most vendors tend to keep selling their reference cards alongside their non-reference cards in order to command a price premium with the non-reference design cards.
We wanted to make sure that it wasn’t that these cards were getting EOL’d or cut down in quantities, so we did a stock check with another retailer and verified our hypothesis. For the R9 290, they had 225 cards incoming with 121 back orders already being filled. The R9 290X was a much more drastic story with 290 cards shipping and 259 backorders being filled, effectively only leaving 30 cards in inventory, which will likely be snapped up immediately after they are shown as in stock. Even the R9 280X, which is effectively an HD 7970 refreshed into a new card has an insane amount of backorders with a quantity of 642 cards being shipped and 525 backorders being filled immediately.
Upon talking with one retailer, we heard them say that this is the best month they have ever had for GPU sales and it is only the 9th of December. Considering that many more cards will be shipped before the end of the month, I suspect that this could be the best month of GPU sales for AMD and most vendors and their retailers, ever.
Edit 12/10/2013 7:30: We also spoke with a European retailer that stated that they had sold over 1,000 high-end AMD GPUs over the course of last week (starting with Cyber Monday) and that 65% of those sales were multi-GPU sales. They said that they suspect most of those sales were for LiteCoin.
As a result, this retailer and many retailers will likely be sold out of AMD high-end GPUs for the time coming and if you want one and see it is in stock, buy it. Because there is a strong likelihood that you won’t see very many cards coming in stock until late December or early January. Sure, there will be some of the new non-reference cooler models coming out, but those are usually produced in lower quantities, especially in their first few runs. I suspect that between these developments and the PS4 and Xbox One selling very well, AMD is going to have an incredibly strong fourth quarter of 2013. One I don’t think anyone would have suspected.