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Why the Litecoin Craze Hurts More Than Helps Brand AMD Radeon

Discussion in 'News' started by btarunr, Jan 2, 2014.

  1. btarunr

    btarunr Editor & Senior Moderator Staff Member

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    Price wars between GPU makers are something to look forward to each year, as that's typically when you get the best bang for your buck. Such an optimal time to buy new graphics cards usually comes when both AMD and NVIDIA have launched a new graphics card lineup, each. AMD tends to launch its lineup first, followed by NVIDIA, which then begins a cycle of proactive and reactive price-cuts between the two, which churns up the $300 price-performance sweet-spot so well, that a purchase from that segment usually sets your PC up for the following three years. 2013-14 saw a major disruption to this cycle, Litecoin mining. Litecoin miners will hurt more than help brand AMD Radeon, here's why.

    [​IMG]

    Litecoin miners are buying up AMD Radeon GPUs. The reason being, that GPUs based on the Graphics CoreNext architecture are exceptionally good at processing P2P currency hash workloads, the only way just about anyone with a computer can create real money by putting their CPU or GPU to work. CPUs simply won't cut it with such processing loads anymore, despite being multi-core and equipped with AES-NI instruction sets.

    GPUs can inherently handle parallelized workloads better, and it just so happens that investing in AMD Radeon GPUs is profitable for Litecoin miners, because they pay for themselves, and go on to generate revenue, when deployed in a good enough scale. Graphics CoreNext is the only GPU architecture that restores competitiveness of GPUs against ASICs, chips purpose-built to handle peer-to-peer currency validation hash processing.

    Litecoin, like Bitcoin, is a peer-to-peer currency. It's decentralized, in that there's no central bank or monetary authority. The U.S. Federal Reserve governs the U.S. Dollar, for example. A triad of HSBC, Standard Chartered, and Bank of China issues the Hong Kong Dollar; Euro by the European Central Bank, and most countries have constitutional bodies set up to handle their currencies. Every transaction using a currency, including buying soda from a vending machine using loose change, is vouched for by its central bank. Litecoin doesn't have that, and so it relies on a distributed computing network to validate each transaction, and the integrity of each unit of the currency, with the wallet it's part of.

    Unlike older distributed computing ventures like Folding@Home and WCG, which continue to draw people to donate some of their CPU/GPU time for charitable causes like processing scientific problems; the Bitcoin and Litecoin networks pay people who participate in their computing networks. They're paid in, well, Bitcoins and Litecoins, respectively. The beauty of it all? Not only can you pay for some goods and services with these currencies, but also exchange them for your everyday currency. They convert to U.S. Dollar, and you probably can convert a U.S. Dollar to any other currency on the planet.

    The faster you process P2P currency validation loads, the more load is directed toward you, and the more you earn. Performance per Dollar immediately becomes the king here. Litecoin.info compiled an exhaustive list of AMD and NVIDIA GPUs, sorted by their Litecoin Hash processing performance. You'll note how at reference clock-speeds, NVIDIA's GeForce GTX Titan crunches just 320 kH/s (kilo-hash per second), while a Radeon R9 290X, at reference base-clock speeds, yields over three times that, at 980 kH/s. The GeForce GTX 780 Ti in the comparison yields 430 kH/s, but its clock speeds are not mentioned, and so you can't take its numbers at face-value. Even for a moment if we assume that the $650 GTX 780 Ti is running at reference speeds, you can still work out a huge price-performance gap between it and the $550 R9 290X. This, we believe, has led to some North American retailers getting opportunistic, who inflated the retail price of the R9 290X to prices close to $700, and the R9 290 (non-X), close to $500, from the $399 MSRP it launched with.

    These hikes in prices of AMD Radeon R9 series products needn't be in reaction to a hike in demand, and retailers have the luxury of assuming that anyone who is buying a Graphics CoreNext-based GPU is doing so for Litecoin/Bitcoin. And so we find the argument that Litecoin mining has caused a shortage in AMD Radeon inventories, which is responsible for the price hike, absolute horse poo. More so, because AMD's chips not just destroy NVIDIA's, but also go up against some purpose-built ASIC boards, on the cost-performance metric.

    Yet another reason we believe that the hike in AMD Radeon prices is not a result of inventory shortage, is because of pricing in other markets. Retailers in the EU apparently have healthy inventories of AMD Radeon, or at least the unaffected prices of graphics cards there seem to suggest that, if we were to believe the short-supply argument. We don't think Europeans aren't enamored by P2P currency, or the art of making money, but that European retailers aren't getting cocky about pricing their AMD Radeon inventory to end users, at least not yet. Eventually, bad pricing of AMD Radeon may catch up in Europe.

    That brings us to the operational portion of this OP-ED. How the P2P currency craze hurts AMD more than helps it. AMD isn't manufacturing "Hawaii" silicon on a war footing. There are no indications that the company is scaling up supply to the "demand." The inflation in AMD Radeon prices appears to be backed more by the chips' huge price-performance advantage over NVIDIA at P2P currency processing, rather than short-supply. Whoever is into Litecoin processing, is apparently willing to cough up $700 for an R9 290X.

    What this does, is it makes AMD Radeon prohibitively expensive for the target market of AMD Radeon, gamers and PC enthusiasts. Price-performance gaps between AMD and NVIDIA are tight and mangled; when it comes to the stuff Radeon and GeForce are actually designed for, to render 3D graphics for games. Fewer gamers and enthusiasts will buy AMD Radeon from here on out, as a result of the Litecoin craze. In the worst case scenario, this could give NVIDIA the opportunity to arbitrarily raise prices of GeForce GTX products slightly, while still maintaining higher price-performance at gaming, if not P2P currency processing.

    Here's what AMD could try, to wriggle itself out of this mess - fight fire with fire, and build low-cost, limited edition AMD Stream GPGPU boards based on the Graphics CoreNext architecture, which offer higher price-performance ratios (at P2P currency processing) than even its own Radeon R9 series graphics cards. Those AMD Stream boards could be based on chips that are purpose-built for P2P currency processing loads, don't come with too much memory, and lack unnecessary components, so they could be sold at relatively low prices, and beat Radeon R9 series at price-performance. Again, there are two price-performance ratios at play here, one at P2P currency processing, and one at gaming, and the former is holding the latter hostage, in the current scenario. If AMD succeeds in making Radeon R9 series unappealing to the P2P currency community, it will restore the brand to its original target audience, the gamers.

    AMD spent the better part of the past five years in building some impressive game developer relations, who developed and optimized their games for AMD Radeon. The company risks harming those efforts, if it gives in to the Litecoin craze. It may cut some profit by catering to the craze with Radeon R9 in the short term, but those profits will inevitably be at the expense of brand-Radeon in the long term. Time for some hard thinking.
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  2. btarunr

    btarunr Editor & Senior Moderator Staff Member

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    Marked "Editorial."
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  3. damric

    damric

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    Such a peculiar nature is the pricing of graphics cards. In my opinion, it all works out in the end. You always overpay for the new top tier stuff. It ends up slower than the next mid-range stuff that costs 1/3 as much, then you see the top tier stuff sell for an even smaller fraction of cost on forum marketplaces. Example: GTX 480 going for less than $100.

    Now you got all these miners. Bitcoin bought up all the HD 5970s, 5870s, 5850s, and 5830s. Six months later they dump them back on the market for a fraction of what they paid. I fully expect that Litecoin miners will dump all the 280s and 290s back on the market when the well runs dry. By then there will be new radeons anyway, and I'll have the next mid-range card that runs just as well. Example: my $120 (($100 when I get my rebate)HD 7850 outperforms last generation's $500 GTX 580, so sad.

    I don't think this affects much in the short term either. Only a minor amount of pc gamers go for the highest tier products anyway. By far most sales are for mid range and low end.

    There is a better argument that miners are increasing global warming :)

    Ah well, it's time for a die shrink anyway.
  4. Regenweald

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    I don't think this editorial makes any sense. AMD should design and release stripped down chips to deal with a short term craze so as not to undermine its already strong presence in gaming, an industry that has more longevity, and that will certainly outlast this crypto-coin craze.

    With dedicated competing ASICs already being sold and in current development that would render these hypothetical 'stripped down' cards moot ?

    seriously ?

    Because one seasonal shortage will make gamers around the world shun the brand altogether ?
  5. cadaveca

    cadaveca My name is Dave

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    If you are looking into the greater outlook, years, actually, right now is a critical time for AMD to build critical mass in it's user base. This truly isn't a simple subject that can be discussed quickly, but right now, it is very important that AMD be in people's mouths, and not just for being good at generating income, because as you said, there is a limit to the usefulness of said processing prowess. If a gamer, like myself, can't buy an AMD GPU, since they are out of stock.. they'll buy NVidia, like I did. the real option for me was the R9 290, and you cannot find it anywhere. performance-equivalent for NVidia is a GTX780...and guess who just dropped $1000 on a couple of 780's?

    Tax season is coming, and refunds of tech enthusiasts are going to be spent on tech...and not AMD's tech, if they don't have affordable products to sell any more. When priced similarly to NVidia's counterparts, many users will choose NVidia first.
  6. EpicShweetness

    EpicShweetness

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    Personally this sucks! I was looking at a R9 290, but now that these cards are fueling greed and now that the prices are inflated to ridiculous levels forget it. I understand greed and I understand it's drive. More money equals more comfort, but now I as a regular customer I'am ejected in dismay from a crowd were I was so willing to be.
    Hopefully it is a craze, hopefully 20nm will take foot, and all this overpricing will go away, until then find your level with reason, and help the community damn it.
  7. remixedcat

    remixedcat

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    Damn my card wouldn't do so well for this :(
  8. harry90

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    LOL i got my 290x right after the release on October before any of this price inflation. It's not Amd's fault really, these litecoin crazies are willing and able to pay $700+ for 290x so retailers raise the price as much as they can!
  9. The Von Matrices

    The Von Matrices

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    Two comments from a scrypt miner:

    First, I use scrypt mining as a way to justify holding high-end hardware, and I suspect there are quite a few people like me. There is no way I could justify three 7970's in my PC without it. Contrary to your article, the profitability of mining actually keeps me as an AMD gaming customer. I would like to be able to actually game using all my cards, but Crossfire is useless for me in gaming since I use Eyefinity, and the company's one year and counting driver development of Crossfire Eyefinity frame facing has me more than frustrated. If it wasn't for mining, I would have switched to NVidia a long time ago.

    Second, it's worth noting that there's a horde mentality on buying these cards, and the people paying $100 -$200 over MSRP for a mining card are fools who will either break even or not recoup their outlays. There are large numbers of people who go into mining looking at the short term view (one friend of mine did exactly this, against my advice). He (and I suspect many others) saw the Litecoin prices in late November, where you could earn about 20 USD/day mining Litecoin on a 7970/280X and assumed that trend would continue indefinitely. Of course, it doesn't continue forever, and the profitability actually declines very quickly.

    Mining is a zero sum game, so every miner added to the network decreases everyone else's average payout proportionately. The Litecoin difficulty has tripled in the past two months (=1/3 the profit) with no increase in price (the price is actually down 25% since late November). Now that 7970/280X that was earning 20 USD/day is only earning 5 USD/day, and you still have to subtract electricity costs from that. Plus, the difficulty is still rising, and prices are stagnant. The people who back-ordered cards in late November with late December delivery are sunk, and anyone paying those prices today is crazy.

    There are plenty of Bitcoin/SHA-256 ASICs on the market. However, Litecoin/scrypt ASICs are not available. The most recent news has them as "in development" rather than with prototypes and definitive release dates, so GPUs still have their place in the network for the near future.

    I agree, the "stripped down" AMD cards probably would not have a market with enough longevity for AMD to consider releasing a SKU. A mining SKU would have to use existing silicon to beat the ASICs to market, but if it did, then the cost savings would be minimal. Plus, designing and validating such a card would take time, missing the all important market window that would allow buyers to recoup their costs. Look at all the Bitcoin mining motherboards, which were released months after Bitcoin GPU mining became unprofitable. Also, a dedicated AMD mining SKU could not be used for gaming making its resale value zero if scrypt cryptocurrencies fail, while a gaming card used for mining could still be resold as a gaming card.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2014
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  10. R-T-B

    R-T-B

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    I'm also a litecoin miner. However, I rent GPU miners, I don't mine the currency directly. My opinion: This is temporary, but Litecoin/crypto currency is not. Manufacturers will catch up with demand, they have a product to sell after all. Litecoin will eventually find a more efficient way to mine as well, it's the nature of the currency. Litecoin will not dissapear, but your graphics cards will be back on the shelves sooner than you expect...
    The Von Matrices says thanks.
  11. Regenweald

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    I think if we are talking big picture, the existing shortage does not matter. Smart gamers will exercise choice, no AMD cards available, I buy Nvidia, next gen, I evaluate again.

    But consider, AMD wholly runs console gaming, console gaming in no small part drives PC AAA experiences. Every game developer involved in consoles is developing on AMD toolchains and will be for the foreseeable future. My point is: at no point in the future will AMD not be able to match or out-perform Nvidia cards due to arch and game optimizations. So the question of mindshare is not an issue really.

    Future generations will be evaluated as the 290* was, and if it is a better card, gamers will buy them as they have. The litecoin phenomenon was unexpected, but as was pointed out by someone in the industry, mid term dedicated ASICs will appear, and things will settle again until someone makes up another 'crypto-currency' for GPUs.

    I just really don't see a shortage for a few months with one solitary generation of cards affecting gamers' ability to read videocard reviews and make informed purchases.
  12. GC_PaNzerFIN

    GC_PaNzerFIN

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    I don't really agree with this editorial, but still I am mining LTC with 4 x R9 280X. With access to free electricity the profits are pretty decent. :)

    That said, I would really prefer to use NVIDIA GFX for gaming. I have GTX TITAN which I use for games rather than 1-4 R9 280Xs.

    Btw, HD 7970 GHz Edition / R9 280X offer superior price / power consumption / hash rate compared to 290(X).
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2014
  13. Nihilus

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    Is there nothing the board partners can do? "MSI 290x Bios Modified Sucky Mining Edition" Half the cost of regular 290x cards. I admit I don't know much about the hardware, but if a board partner could do it they would lead the way for the others. AMD could care less about who buys the cards and for how much. As long as they are being sold.
  14. Relayer

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    Where is AMD supposed to get these Hawaii chips to put on the stripped down mining cards?
  15. john_

    john_

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    I really can't understand the argument that "selling like hotcakes is something bad".
    Yeah there is an explanation but also there the fact that in Europe prices are normal. There is also the fact that hi end market is small compared to the rest of the market. Selling everything you've got in the high end market is not bad. Taking in consideration how badly reviews 290/290X got about the reference cooler, selling all these cards to miners it is not bad either. Any gamer with half a brain and patience is waiting for the custom cards anyway. Not to mention that the chip is fast and it started at really low prices. A custom 290X at $700 will be competitive with 780Ti. A custom 290 at $500 will be more than competitive with 780. But no one seems to mention that 780Ti is extremely expensive compared to custom 290X's and it should see a price drop as soon as possible. No one seems to mention that 780 at $500 is just NOT competitive with custom 290's. Everyone seems to worry about AMD selling too many cards, no one seems to worry about the posibility Nvidia to see it's sales hit the bottom with out a new price cut.
    I also don't remember articles like this for the good old 8800GT that come out at $200 but because it was so good it's price in just a matter of weeks moved over $250. It is funny that everyone worries about AMD. When it is doing badly they worry about it's future and when it is doing really well they worry again.
    The way it's meant to worry?
  16. DeadSkull

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    AMD cards selling out like hotcakes is bad for pc gamers but not bad for AMD.
  17. Dj-ElectriC

    Dj-ElectriC

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    I fully agree with bta on this one. Just waiting for everything to drop.
  18. Mathragh

    Mathragh

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    Like said above, it is actually also bad for AMD in the long run: This litecoin/whatever coin will blow over eventually. however, AMD will then still need people to buy their cards. Those people normally are gamers, and if those gamers all of a sudden cannot buy an AMD card for gaming for a whole generation, those gamers will probably be less inclined to once again start buying AMD. This is just a result of human nature, you buy what you know, and many people will know Nvidia a lot better when they aren't able to buy an AMD card for a decent price.

    Looks like they're the victim of their own architectural succes. Also them being so far ahead of the competition when it comes to these computational workloads shows they have a whole lot to gain from integrating this tech more closely into their CPU's (think Kaveri).

    Edit:
    Prices here in euroland indeed arent as bad. Currently a R9 290 can be had for €359,- which is close to what I paid for my (then dirt cheap) 7950.
  19. john_

    john_

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    Not really. As I said the high end market is small, many are waiting for the custom cards and in Europe it seems that the prices didn't skyrocketed. What happened is that, temporary, AMD and it's partners found another target group to sell all these reference cards. Considering how ugly was the attack from the press to AMD's reference cards, the reference cooler's mediocre if not bad performance and the variability of the gpu clock, I think what happened was the best possible scenario for AMD. Think it like you are producing a product, something is going wrong with the first batch and while you are thinking that most of these are not going to sell, people are buying them like there is no tomorrow. The fact also that these cards sold help not only AMD to sell chips, but also it's partners and shops to get rid of the reference cards before the customs. The fact that the reference cards didn't sold to gamers gives the opportunity to AMD's partners to sell twice the cards they where expecting making more money in the end. Impact in sales could have in a few moths when all these cards start appearing in the market for used cards. But even then AMD will gain because people will be able to find many AMD hi end cards at cheap prices, expanding AMD's market share even more.
  20. alwayssts

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    Lot of interesting discussion here, and I appreciate all the opinions from those directly involved with mining. I take the viewpoint of a guy that simply followed tech pretty closely over the last couple decades.

    While I understand the idea of this editorial, I have to wonder if it's as true as it once was. It's true, AMD's biggest necessity up this point has always been to garner hearts and minds versus their larger competition, which are often seen as the default brands because of years of marketing/engrained public perception they were stronger technologies.

    Over the last year or so though, if not longer, they have dramatically gotten a lot of their crap together, regardless of why. Be that driver improvements, developer relations, actual adoption of their technologies and use of their architectural strong-points, the development of the promise of HSA, good-enough cpus mixed with good-enough gpus in their value apus (with very strong adoption), etc. In my opinion, those things strengthen a brand that many once solely associated with value, because they are no longer just good-enough, they are solving problems others have not and are doing it a way others can not or will not. While I will always argue ATi's technological foresight and value/efficiency of AMD's designs over the competition, their largest problem was adoption of their ideals, and it seems they have finally cracked the nut.

    Now we have Adobe and others using the gpu for their programs, mantle (and conceivably their sound tech) being pushed VERY hard with the biggest software publisher in the world devoting allegiance to it, a foundation for HSA that includes every conceivable chip player outside of their two main rivals (but conceivably won't be in the future because of that fact), consoles that are solely based on their architecture that will be in the homes of 50 million plus people over the next couple years (which are aimed towards higher memory usage similar to their products), not to mention the rumor-that-will-not-die that nvidia's maxwell will adopt a very similar smx structure to 4 GCN CUs. These are tangible benefits coming to fruition, and some, if not all, will give them a realistic advantage.

    When all this is considered, one has to ask if many of the Hawaii prices are that crazy. No, it isn't cool that a product that was launch-priced at $400 is now $500 (even though it was originally supposed to have a 250w tdp and compete with 770 until the last minute, even though prices remain unchanged...people forget that even as they wonder why the 290x lost a large portion of it's relevance), nor 550 closer to 600 or so, but when a 290 is almost dead ringer for a 780 in performance, and a 290x more-or-less price/performanced to a 780ti, one has to ask if you're really being ripped off...or simply if the market adjusted to the fact AMD no longer has to live in the shadows to nvidia, a company whom has taken every opportunity up to this point to make that their motto whenever the opportunity arises.

    Mining (or vicariously floating point performance) is a benefit, just like mantle, physx, true audio, shadow play, a forward-thinking larger buffer, or a better stock fan. On a even scale it may sound odd, but in reality they are still priced to compete. You don't have to like the current prices, I surely don't, but all things considered in the current to near-future landscape, they are hardly unfair comparatively.

    I await lower prices again, which will happen (but likely more proportionally than amd's typical undercutting in the past), but until then I hear newegg will throw in a nice freebie to compensate the price difference from launch prices. That's more than you'll get from nvidia, whom everyone must remember set the price range for these levels of performance and have dictate how high prices could go on the comparable parts from amd, even if deemed useful for a purpose outside of gaming.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2014
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  21. HammerON

    HammerON The Watchful Moderator Staff Member

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    Sub'd for the debate...
    I find the editorial interesting. However I also see some of the points made by others. The fact that the Litecoin craze has inflated prices is beyond AMD's control. The bonus for AMD is that their GPU's are selling like crazy. I would believe that they do not care who buys their cards or for what purpose. The bottom line is sales.
    With that said, NVidia has already adjusted prices and brought new GPU's to the market because of the 290 and 290X. So I see this as a positive outcome regardless of whom is buying the AMD GPU's.
    Crunching for Team TPU
  22. Relayer

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    I agree John

    Remember when it was AMD's fault that Titan was $1K because they didn't offer nVidia any competition? Well, by the same logic isn't this all nVidia's fault because they can't compete in the mining market?

    When nVidia was overcharging for the 780, where were the articles saying how they were hurting their brand? Instead we got reviews who did their best to justify the 780 being more than 2x the price of a 7970 (which could be had for ~$300 at the time). "Oh look, you can get ~Titan performance so much cheaper now" was the comparison we kept reading about.

    When the 290X came out and beat Titan for $550 dollars, nobody wanted to make that comparison. Instead the 780 (finally) dropped to a reasonable $500 and that's where the comparisons were drawn to. That couldn't have been played better if nVidia marketing themselves devised it (Things that make you go hmmm?).
  23. jihadjoe

    jihadjoe

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    The litecoin craze isn't hurting AMD at all. It sells all their cards.

    The real hurting here is coming from opportunistic US retailers. These scumbag retailers are hurting honest consumers who want to buy an AMD card to play games. They're hurting litecoin miners too. In any other market a person should be able to buy an AMD 290X at SRP without anyone making assumptions as to what they will be using for.
  24. Vinska

    Vinska

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    Power here in Yurip is much more expensive than in 'Murica. Also, a hefty VAT for computer parts. So it's much harder to run such things profitably here. x0ax0ax0ax0a!!
    Crunching for Team TPU
  25. jboydgolfer

    jboydgolfer

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    I've been noticing this on Etailer, and I THOUGHT this was why prices were risingg, but wasn't TOO sure. Guess I WAS right. I mean C'mon $500 7950's??!! HELL NO!

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