In February, as cryptocurrency prices spiked, Nvidia released new processors specifically for mining crypto. They can’t power a computer monitor, but they can generate valuable ether coins.
On Wednesday, the company provided an update on how its cryptocurrency, or CMP, cards are faring in the market. It booked $155 million in revenue from CMP cards in its fiscal first quarter, which ended May 2, and expected sales of $400 million in the current quarter — impressive numbers for a brand new product line.
But Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang talks about the new product line not as an exciting frontier for the company, but as a bone thrown to cryptocurrency obsessives to protect gamers. As it turns out, gaming processors — Nvidia’s original and core business — are still its most important, generating $2.76 billion in revenue, an increase of 106% from last year.
The reason Nvidia is now dabbling in crypto chips is to save the supply of graphics processing units, or GPUs, for gamers, Huang explained. While GPUs can be used for mining, the CMP chips can’t be used for gaming, and it’s easier for Nvidia to manufacture the CMP chips.
The CEO says its core gaming market is the largest it’s ever been, and it can’t risk missing out because crypto miners keep buying cards meant for gamers.
“What we hope is that the CMPs will satisfy the miners and will stay in the professional mines” and the product “protects” graphics cards supply for gamers, Huang said on a call with analysts.
“The gaming industry is really large, and what’s really exciting on top of that is that gaming is no longer just gaming. It’s infused into sports, e-sports. It’s infused into art. It’s infused into social. And so gaming has such a large cultural impact now. It’s the largest form of entertainment, and I think the experience we’re going through is going to last a while,” Jensen said.
It is not easy to find one of Nvidia’s new GeForce RTX 30-series graphics cards.
The cards retail for as little as $399 and range up to $1,499, depending on configuration, but consumers rarely find one online at those prices.
Short supply and high demand means they fly off shelves when they’re in stock, and when they’re not, buyers pay a hefty premium — sometimes more than double list price — at a reseller.
Huge demand for GeForce graphics cards was the primary reason Nvidia sales soared in the first quarter, rising 84% to $5.66 billion, beating both Wall Street’s and the company’s own expectations.
Who is buying these cards?
It’s possible that there’s simply massive demand for PC gaming, partially accelerated due to the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as a worldwide shortage of microchip manufacturing capacity.
But it’s also possible these cards are being bought by cryptocurrency miners, who can turn the problem-solving capacity of a graphics card into significant amounts of ether, a cryptocurrency which has hit several all-time highs this year.
Nvidia isn’t sure. CFO Colette Kress said it is “hard to determine to what extent” cryptocurrency miners contributed to its gaming division.
But it wants to untangle the question. Nvidia is starting to add software to its gaming cards to make mining more difficult.
Over the past five years, Nvidia’s stock has increased over 1,200%, bolstered by the company’s expertise in graphics processors, which were originally intended for gaming but now lie at the heart of some of the most exciting fields in technology.
Because Nvidia first commercialized the GPU, investors flocked to the stock hoping that it would see Nvidia selling those chips to self-driving car companies, cloud computing providers (particularly for artificial intelligence applications), and most recently, cryptocurrency miners.
None of these businesses has truly blown up. Nvidia still has an automotive business, but it was down 1% and generated only $154 million — less than the revenue from CMP cards in the first quarter alone. Its data center business sales grew 79%, but a lot of that came from an acquisition last year.
Meanwhile, Nvidia insists that it still sees huge demand from gamers that won’t end soon. A glance at social media threads about sales for new graphics cards reveals scores of gamers frustrated they can’t get one. Nvidia’s 30-series cards are a bigger upgrade than most years, with new technologies like ray tracing, and Nvidia is at the beginning of its cycle.