NVIDIA this morning has released a new driver set for their GeForce cards, version 466.27. And though it’s primarily for next week’s release of Metro Exodus PC Enhanced Edition and a couple of other games, this latest driver drop from NVIDIA also includes an update to their anti-Ethereum throttle, which they first implemented in their GeForce RTX 3060 cards. In short, NVIDIA has tweaked future RTX 3060 cards to require this driver (or newer), which will prevent them from using older drivers that can bypass NVIDIA’s hash limiter. As a result, RTX 3060 cards shipping starting in mid-May will once again be fully locked down against running Ethereum at full (native) speed.

As a quick refresher, back in February with the launch of the GeForce RTX 3060 family of desktop video cards, NVIDIA implemented a novel throttling mechanism to artificially limit the Ethereum mining performance of the cards. This was done in an attempt to make the cards less palatable for miners – who have infamously been buying up cards in what is already a supply-constrained market – and thereby ensure more cards made it to gamers. Unfortunately for NVIDIA, this strategy worked for less than a month before the company accidentally released a driver without the full anti-Ethereum code in place, making it possible to mine Ethereum at full speed in some cases.

Now, having learned from their previous snafu, NVIDIA is taking another shot at locking down the Ethereum mining performance in future RTX 3060 cards by updating their hash limiter and preventing those new cards from using the older, broken development driver.

It also updates the hash limiter for the GeForce RTX 3060 and is required for products shipped starting mid-May 2021.

Unpacking this short (and somewhat ambiguous) statement a bit, starting with the next batch of RTX 3060 cards, which are expected to begin shipping in mid-May, 466.27 will be the minimum driver version required for these cards. Which, despite NVIDIA’s multi-branch naming system, is a newer driver than the compromised 470.05 released back in March. This driver has the updated hash limiter code, and thus, baring future unforced errors on NVIDIA’s part, it will not be possible to mine Ethereum at full speed on future RTX 3060 cards.

NVIDIA has otherwise been fairly tight-lipped on their anti-Ethereum code, but thanks to their March flub and efforts by miners to get around the code, we can take an educated guess at what NVIDIA is doing under the hood with these future RTX 3060 cards. Most likely, NVIDIA has blown an eFuse or two in order to require that newly-minted GA106 GPUs can’t be used with older BIOSes. By changing the minimum BIOS requirement, NVIDIA can have the newer BIOS enforce the newer driver requirement, with the driver in turn enforcing (or at least helping to enforce) the Ethereum throttle. All told, this is very similar to how hardware security works on consoles, where NVIDIA has some experience thanks to the Tegra X1-powered Nintendo Switch.

As for whether this attempt will fare any better than NVIDIA’s previous one, it remains to be seen. But even as things stand with current-generation RTX 3060 cards, NVIDIA’s anti-Ethereum throttle has largely held up; the March snafu has exposed that NVIDIA is already operating a “defense in depth” strategy with multiple checks to identify mining cards, looking for things such as cards operating on a PCIe x1 bus and cards not hooked up to monitors. So if there are any weaknesses, especially on the Linux side of things, then this will be NVIDIA’s opportunity to shore things up for their anti-Ethereum throttle.

Finally, NVIDIA has also informed us that these revised RTX 3060 cards will not be labeled any differently than existing RTX 3060 cards. Since the actual product specifications and functionality haven’t changed – and presumably the GPU hasn’t either – the revised cards will be sold with the same RTX 3060 branding as they have since their launch in February. So once these cards hit the market, it will end up being a relatively silent swap.

Source: NVIDIA

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  • Spunjji - Thursday, April 29, 2021 - link

    It'll be interesting to see if these end up being available in any reasonable quantity and, if so, at what cost.
  • Ryan Smith - Thursday, April 29, 2021 - link

    Same cost and quantity as 3060s to date, I expect. It's a relatively small change in a big sea of demand.
  • Spunjji - Friday, April 30, 2021 - link

    That's what I'd be expecting, but in theory, if mining has been a big impact on demand then the supply should be a little more adequate and - perhaps - the prices will end up reflecting that after a month or two.
  • Oxford Guy - Friday, April 30, 2021 - link

    Oh please.
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, May 18, 2021 - link

    @Oxford Guy - Good grief, you're easy to upset. I was speculating about what would happen *if* certain narratives have truth to them - *in theory* this move ought to provide evidence for or against one or more prevailing narratives.
  • tamalero - Monday, May 3, 2021 - link

    This is a well crafted lie by Nvidia.
    Since the same chips will be used for the mining cards.
    What they did is just force market segmentation to avoid huge sales crash when the next mining bubble bursts. Because mining cards will be useless to players and players's cards will be useless for mining.
  • tamalero - Monday, May 3, 2021 - link

    And there won't be any relief for normal players. They had 100 cards, and instead of making 100 gaming cards that can also be used for mining, they are doing 60 gaming cards and 40 mining cards now.
  • Samus - Wednesday, May 5, 2021 - link

    This is an ethical move as well as a PR move by nVidia.

    Of course they would love to sell millions of cards to miners at top dollar, but there are two long-term issues that conflict with nVidia's survival. Ethically, mining is total bullshit. Mining accounts for more energy use than Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Apple combined. All to find imaginary money. nVidia's products being used to support such a climate scam is a bad image and that is mostly why you see these types of throttling moves. Then there is the obvious: regular people who don't want to spend thousands mining monopoly money and simply want to enjoy their lives socializing through videogames simply cannot afford to pay 2-3x the already ridiculous MSRP of mainstream cards. Mainstream used to equal $200 for a videocard, not $400 (currently $1000)
  • Spunjji - Tuesday, May 18, 2021 - link

    @tamalero - "Since the same chips will be used for the mining cards."
    This isn't entirely true, though. The awful e-waste mining edition cards aren't using GA106, and at least two of them are based on Turing. I'm in agreement that dedicated mining cards are a gross move by Nvidia, but it's not really relevant to what I was saying.
  • Yojimbo - Thursday, April 29, 2021 - link

    You either get a card or you don't. It will increase the number that get cards and decrease the number that don't, but it won't make the cards not sold out all the time. It should also reduce the prices scalpers are charging as the demand should be lower. As far as how much it changes these things, I think it's anyone's guess how much of the demand is mining-related. NVIDIA claims it's mostly gaming demand, but looking at the steam surveys I'd say that while a fair number of cards are ending up in gamers' hands it's not nearly as many as there should be. I think NVIDIA is applying spin to the fact that even without the mining demand the gaming demand would be sufficient to cause the cards to all be sold out.

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