Nvidia RTX 3080 ex-cryptomining cards are being turned into 20GB AI accelerators in China

WTF?! Another case of gaming graphics cards being repurposed as AI solutions in China has been uncovered. This time, RTX 3080s that were likely used for cryptomining are being turned into AI accelerators with blower-style coolers. It was only last week that we heard of entire warehouses dedicated to turning now-banned RTX 4090s into AI products.

With the US government having banned the most powerful and fastest AI-focused and gaming (RTX 4090) cards from being exported to China, the country is turning to other means of meeting demand for AI accelerators.

Leaker I_Leak_VN posted that they found a number of “RTX 3080 20G AI Blower” cards via the Xianyu app, which is owned by the Alibaba group. The same cards are also available on the Alibaba Express retail site.

Called the Jieshuo Nvidia RTX 3080 RG Turbo Gaming Graphics Card GDDR6X, the Alibaba description notes that the cards are used but come with a two-year guarantee.

Despite the “gaming card” moniker and only a single mention of the term AI in the description, it’s obvious what these cards are designed for. The RTX 3080 came with 10GB of VRAM, with a 12GB variant released at the start of last year, but there had been rumors of canceled 20GB versions. Modders showed it’s possible to upgrade the card to a more AI-friendly 20GB by replacing the 1GB chips with 2GB alternatives.

It’s likely that the RTX 3080 cards had been used by cryptominers looking to offload their hardware following digital currencies’ price collapse and the Chinese government’s crackdown on the industry. These ex-mining cards often come with problems stemming from excessive use, though they might not be as bad as you think.

The same repurposing is being carried out on AMD Radeon RX 580 cards, too, increasing the 8GB of VRAM to 16GB and transferring the important components into different boards with blower-style coolers, which are more suitable for server racks, so they can be sold to AI firms.

Pallets full of powerful RTX 4090 had also been bought by Chinese customers and turned into AI accelerators before the gaming card was banned from export to the country.

Following the US government’s updated export restrictions on made-for-China A800 and H800 GPUs – reduced versions of the A100, A100X, and H100 chips already prohibited from export to the Asian nation – Nvidia created three new products, the H20, L20, and L2, which comply with the latest rules. According to a recent report, the H20, the most powerful of the trio, has had its launch delayed by several months, which could push Chinese AI firms toward makeshift solutions like repurposed gaming cards.

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