GTC 2020: GPU Topics Go Beyond Technical Prowess and Applications

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When Nvidia’s GTC conference kicks off this week, the sessions will be filled with some of the typical discussions on technical topics like CUDA architecture, data-centric AI, or simulating quantum computers. In the background, however, there will be more whispers about highly untechnical areas such as central banking, supply chain stress, unstoppable inflation and invasion. This is a far cry from just a few years ago when the only weapons chatter was about the virtual models in the latest first person shooter.

The chips once noticed only by gamers and AI scientists are now key components in many of the economy’s most vital parts. GPUs are the most notable circuits sold at the highest prices and they are now something of a flagship for the entire industry. If they are hard to find or are going up in price, everyone will notice.

The effects can be seen as you browse the shelves. For over the past year, gamers have been loudly complaining about how difficult it can be to find a GPU card, resulting in videos full of bitter humor. Many swear on Twitter GPU scalpers and GPU Shortages

Why it’s not raining GPUs

Some suggest the drought is easing, if only because stores aren’t completely empty. Still, many of the listings for Nvidia graphics cards at Amazon right now contain little notes in red warning that there are only a few left in stock. Other suppliers such as CDW have many cards listed as backordered for 4-6 weeks. Currently, used prices on cards like the RTX 3070 are often just a few dollars below the list price for new ones.

If the problem were limited to just the gamers who had to wait a little longer to meander through an expansive 60Hz virtual world, that would be one thing. But these shortages affect many other industries. Automakers can’t get all the chips they need to make the latest models and prices are skyrocketing for anything that rolls. Mannheim’s used car index was 22% higher in March 2022 than a year earlier.

These supply shocks are flowing like a waterfall through the economy. If employees can’t afford a car, they can’t get a job. If they cannot get to work, the assembly lines are shut down. Prices skyrocket because supply cannot keep up with demand. And the process repeats and repeats in what no one wants to turn into an infinite loop that blocks the economy.

“The chip shortage just isn’t getting any better and it won’t get any better in a few years,” said Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Lopez Research. “There will be quite an increase in the processing power we need to do certain things, like driving the metaverse or guiding autonomous cars. There is a huge demand for GPU cycles and it far exceeds anyone’s ability to deliver it.”

Inflation is just one of many GPU-related topics that are driving up the world’s stress level. Part of the reason the demand for the GPUs is so high is that some cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Ethereum reward the first to solve a worthless math puzzle. Nvidia’s GPUs are some of the fastest options to find a solution and so any bump in Bitcoin, Ethereum or any number of other cryptocurrencies leads to an increase in GPU demand.

However, this so-called proof-of-work might be more appropriately called proof-of-waste-energy, and many are wondering whether it makes sense for society to pump so many joules into what was supposed to be a cheap, frictionless means of deleveraging. to solve. Environmentalists point to the carbon footprint and anyone who has to compete for electricity to cook or heat a house, for example, has to pay more.

Nvidia, for its part, has tried to limit these side effects. Some of their newer models have been modified to make them dramatically slower for cryptocurrency applications, but still quite snappy for gamers or AI researchers. However, the hackers look for weaknesses and it is difficult to keep market forces at bay, especially when the GPUs are designed to be easy to reprogram.

Has COVID-19 Driven GPU Prices?

Another wrinkle is the future of the COVID-19 pandemic and the world’s response to it. Some have wondered how much the pandemic has pushed up GPU prices. More parents and children working and learning remotely meant more purchases of PCs and laptops. Will the demand drop when the world goes back to an office? Or is this a new GPU demand pattern?

A recent outbreak of a new strain of COVID is also haunting the electronics industry, closing factories in Schenzen. Apple’s main supplier, Foxxconn, shut down some assembly lines on April 14. Will similar caution affect GPU supplies? No one can be sure.

A tricky topic is what could happen to Taiwan Semiconductor Company (TSMC), the world’s largest chip maker producing some of Nvidia’s best chips, if a shooting war breaks out between China and Taiwan. Just a few months ago, no one would have thought that such a battle would begin, but a few months ago, few believed that Russia would send waves of tanks to invade Ukraine.

The real war bursting through the proscenium wall is creating a bit of an impedance mismatch for the gaming community. While the industry has long paid an impressive level of attention to even the smallest details to mimic much of the combat feel, it’s somehow different when there are real tanks and real AK-47s.

Gamers are, of course, well educated on patrol-level tactics in the Ardennes Forest thanks to titles like ‘Call of Duty WWII’. Shadow War DLC Pack 4 of the game sends the user on a mission to “unravel the secrets of a classified Axis weapons facility”, but this does not prepare them to find a way to save the fantastic lines that make the chips which are one time they loved.

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