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Too poor for a new graphics card? Blame cryptocurrency

Good luck building a new gaming rig. Graphics cards can be used to mine cryptocurrency, so they're overpriced and sold out everywhere.

The AMD Radeon RX 480 -- beloved by gamers and miners alike.

The AMD Radeon RX 480 -- beloved by gamers and miners alike.

AMD

There were once two kinds of PC gamers: those who bought prebuilt gaming rigs kitted out with everything they needed to start playing, and those who took pride in building their own, more powerful machines. And that DIY crowd would often pay less for the exact same machine.

But those days might be over, at least for a little while. Over the last few weeks, the PC building community has struggled with widespread graphics card shortages and unprecedented price gouging. Suddenly, building your own gaming machine is prohibitively expensive -- if you can find the parts you need to build one at all.

The unlikely culprit? Bitcoin. Or, at least, the sudden spike in cryptocurrency values across the board. These digital currencies can be purchased like a commodity, but they're created when computers are used to solve complex mathematical puzzles that help secure the cryptocurrency blockchain -- sort of as a reward for contributing to the health of the network. Solving those puzzles takes a lot of computing power.

Technically, you can't actually make a profit mining Bitcoin on consumer-grade GPUs these days, but it turns out popular gaming video cards are great for mining other coins, like Ethereum -- and it's hurting the market for regular folks who just want to upgrade a gaming PC.

It's the curse of supply and demand. With cryptocurrency miners buying up popular cards like Nvidia's GTX 1070 and 1080, or AMD's RX 480, 580 or RX Vega 56 cards, there's scant few left for the gaming community, and the ones that are available are being sold at extravagantly high prices. Nvidia's less powerful GTX 1060 carries a manufacturer's suggested retail price of between $200 and $300, depending on the model. If you want one today, you can expect to pay as much as $480. That's if you're buying one directly from a reputable site like Newegg. Third party sellers on eBay and Amazon are asking upward of $700 for these same cards.

GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1060
Newegg.com

The best GPUs for gaming (and by extension, mining) can command price tags in the thousands right now.

That makes building an affordable gaming rig a bit difficult. But cryptocurrency prices are always fluctuating, and there's no telling how long the demands of the mining community will affect the supply for PC gamers.

This is just another example of how the exploding interest in cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin is starting to have a material impact on our lives. In the last month, Bitcoin's value rocketed to over $17,000, dragging other digital currencies along with it. Bitcoin itself has settled down to around $10,000 per coin, but momentum is still strong. Ethereum is hovering at just over $1,000 -- a $300+ spike in value since December.

Still want a gaming PC, but can't afford the price-gouging? Sadly, it seems the best remaining option is to become the first kind of PC gamer: Just buy a prebuilt machine. It's not as fun, and you won't foster the same sense of pride you might get by assembling your own hardware. But for the first time in a while, it's probably the most affordable way to get your hands on a gaming PC.

AMD and Newegg didn't respond to requests for comment. Nvidia declined to comment. 

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