In an effort to partially mitigate the market chaos that has come from the cryptocurrency mining boom over the last 6 months, last month NVIDIA very publicly introduced a mining throttling mechanism for its then-new GeForce RTX 3060 cards. By throttling the performance of Ethereum mining on these cards to half their native rate, it would ideally keep miners from immediately snapping up any (and every) RTX 3060 card in search for a profit, leaving more available for NVIDIA’s gaming customers. Essentially a software security/DRM system, the success of NVIDIA’s effort would hinge largely on ensuring the underlying throttling mechanism remain undefeated – an effort that has significantly fumbled after NVIDIA accidentally released a driver without the complete throttling code.

As part of the development of their upcoming Release 470 driver branch, last week NVIDIA released driver 470.05 to developers and Windows Insiders. Among other things, this development driver enabled CUDA support on the Windows Subsystem for Linux 2 (WSL2) for the first time. Unfortunately, this driver didn’t include the complete throttling code for Ethereum, and as a result it’s possible to use the driver to mine the cryptocoin on RTX 3060 cards at their full (native) rate.

The news was initially broken by HardwareLuxx and ComputerBase, who had the driver and were able to confirm that they were no longer getting throttled with the new driver. NVIDIA in turn has since confirmed the matter as well, sending a statement out to various members of the press that “A developer driver inadvertently included code used for internal development which removes the hash rate limiter on RTX 3060 in some configurations. The driver has been removed.”

Unfortunately, this is a prime, real-world example of how software security (and DRM-like systems) are only as strong as their weakest link – in this case NVIDIA’s driver team. NVIDIA security mechanisms rely on signature checks for the BIOS and drivers to prevent bypassing the throttling mechanism, but since this is a signed, legitimate NVIDIA driver to begin with, it is readily accepted by the card. And since the driver doesn’t have a timebomb on it, the genie is out of the bottle, as it were. Windows cryptominers should be able to use the driver with RTX 3060 cards indefinitely, and since the driver was widely released there’s no possibility to preventing its re-distribution.

The silver(ish) lining to this otherwise bad news is that it could have been even worse for NVIDIA. This driver was for Windows and not for Linux, with the latter being the preferred platform for industrial miners. Furthermore there are apparently other mining-checks in the driver that do still work (e.g. checking the PCIe link width), so NVIDIA’s anti-Ethereum throttle for the RTX 3060 is not completely broken. It has, however, had a massive chunk taken out of it with this driver release.

All of which means that the ongoing chip crunch has just become all that more severe for gamers and other video card buyers. With an unthrottled RTX 3060 able to pull in around $5/day in profit, the card risks being a reasonably attractive offering for miners looking to make a quick buck.

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  • Supercell99 - Monday, March 22, 2021 - link

    I can easily write code to tell the driver I am running what ever video card I want in linux or windows. This is so dumb. Nvidia is running a fools errand.
  • Supercell99 - Monday, March 22, 2021 - link

    The solution is Nvidia needs to make specialty cards that perform better on $/hash/watt by focusing some hardware specific tensor cores, firmware for mining and marketing those specific cards to miners. When the difference between those cards and the commodity GPU'S is >20% the regularly gpus will be unattractive to miners
  • FatFlatulentGit - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    Didn't it just kneecap Etherium mining and get cracked pretty quickly anyway? I'm not sure this will make a big difference at this point. If Nvidia is serious about pushing miners to its crypto products then they'd have to implement this at the hardware/firmware level.
  • WaltC - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    It really needs to be emphasized (constantly) that both AMD and nVidia have 100% control over selling their GPUs. I don't think the problem is the miners, because they're getting scalped like everyone else. There's no "magic store" for miners where unlimited stocks appear on demand out of the ether...;) But if the miners are getting first dibs on the GPU supply then it is because AMD and nVidia are deliberately giving it to them. But I don't think so. I think what is happening is a manufacturing shortage that for some reason neither AMD nor nVidia is anxious to openly discuss. It's doubly fascinating as it involves two separate FABs, one in S. korea and one in Taiwan.
  • Reflex - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    I mean there are manufacturing shortages going on, that's well documented in the industry and neither AMD nor nV has been shy to speak about it. But that does not change the fact that miners snap up every available GPU they can find, and there are more of them than there are gamers in the market attempting to get a new card so here we are.

    As you point out there is not some secret mining store out there, which also means AMD and nV have nothing to do with who is buying their product, they sell to the channel and the channel just puts them up for sale with few controls.
  • meacupla - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    Fabs are expensive to setup and operate.
    Why would you setup a new fab to meet the peak of volatile demand?
    You know when crypto bursts again, there's going to be a flood of cheap used cards on the market anyways.

    And anyways, there is something like 30% shortfall of silicon right now.
    It's not just AMD and nVidia that have silicon shortage.
    Other products, like cars, have also stopped their production lines because they can't get their controller chips.

    2020 was fucked
    2021 is fucked
    Even if there was corporate will to increase silicon and fab capacity, there's no way they can get it up and running by the end of this year.

    Stop hyper focusing on one aspect and look at the bigger picture.
  • Yojimbo - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    No they don't have 100% control.
  • Yojimbo - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    As far as the manufacturing shortage, you are right that it exists, but wrong that they won't openly discuss it. They've been discussing it for months. Just look at any of the investor calls or analyst days. Just as one example: From a recent Seeking Alpha article: In a Seeking Alpha interview, Nvidia's CFO Colette Kress stressed that there had been strong demand for Ampere GPUs and supply remains tight. "We expect the overall channel inventories, meaning the inventories that are with our AIC partners as well as in our e-tail and retail channels will likely remain lean throughout Q1 (April)." "Our overall capacity has not been able to keep up with that overall strong demand that we have seen. We've seen in terms of constraints, constraints really from the overall global surge of compute and the overall capacity, capacity that may be necessary for assembly and test and/or subtrates as well."

    Where do you come up with this stuff?
  • Targon - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    You must have missed a page from, "how reality works", because you are completely wrong when it comes to the video card market. Both AMD and NVIDIA sell the GPU chips themselves to the companies that make the video cards. They do not make the cards, then give them to the video card makers to modify, they provide ONLY the actual GPUs, and MAYBE a supply of video memory chips, or some help in that area. The custom PCBs, coolers, and actually assembling the video cards are all handled by each video card maker on their own.

    So, how much does it cost to actually take that GPU, mount it on a PCB, add the video memory, all of those other elements on there for power, and of course the cooler, connectors, and such? That's all free, with AMD and NVIDIA just getting all the money?

    So, once the GPU is shipped by AMD and NVIDIA to these video card makers, the only thing AMD and/or NVIDIA can do is try to push these companies to sell to consumers. If the video cards go to DISTRIBUTORS, and the distributors at that point sell direct to miners instead of retail outlets, that is several layers of the process disconnected from AMD and NVIDIA.
  • DejayC - Tuesday, March 16, 2021 - link

    Yes. Given the fact that Ford had to stop production of the f-150 due to chip shortages I doubt the fault lies with miners.

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