Cryptocurrency mining is normally performed by high-end computers souped up with expensive, powerful processors. Now, Asustek Computer, a Taiwanese hardware firm with a record for experimental devices, is installing software on its gaming PCs that will allow users to mine cryptocurrencies while they’re not in mid-match. Gamers will be able to deploy idle graphics processing units, or GPUs, to authenticate blockchain transactions and earn digital currencies, according to tech media reports. Asustek will source it mining software from blockchain technology provider Quantumcloud.
The new scheme will likely give the Taiwanese tech company known more commonly as Asus a new way to market its PCs, allowing it to boost sales amid the tough global competition for gamers, tech analysts say. That is, whenever cryptocurrency prices reverse their downward trend.
“Crypto-mining by idle consumer PCs is rare today,” says Neil Mawston, executive director for wireless devices with market research firm Strategy Analytics in the U.K. “It is practiced by home-build PC fans and tech geeks, but it is not yet a mainstream feature.”
How the scheme works
Asus declined comment for this report, but tech experts say the use of idle GPUs will let everyday users of powerful PCs become crypto miners. PCs for hardcore gamers already have strong GPUs, so their owners wouldn’t need to install specialized components for the job. Asus did not provide any estimates of their expected volumes, scheduling or pricing.
The idle GPUs would explore the blockchain, which is the official public ledger for cryptocurrency transactions, to authenticate trades. That process creates new records on the blockchain and gives miners a small amount of the cryptocurrency as a reward.
Spending on gaming PCs across brands has been projected to rise to more than $9 billion by 2020 from $6.7 billion in 2015 as end users make upgrades or replacements, market research firm Gartner says. Asus vies with Acer, Dell and MSI among others for gamers’ dollars.
Payback when crypto prices rise again
Bitcoin prices have slumped 67% this year, making it far more difficult for miners to earn a profit. Moreover, mining has also become increasingly competitive due to the influx of new players while the reward formulas become more complex. The cost of mining has exacerbated the fall in crypto prices, according to an analysis by Coinswitch.co. So, what’s the endgame for Asus?
“I’m worried that Asus is just trying to piggyback off of the interest in cryptocurrency over the past year or so,” says Bryan Ma, devices research vice president with market analysis firm IDC in Singapore. “And to make it worse, the market has been tumbling in recent weeks, making Asus look late to the game.”
Another risk, Ma says, is competition from mining heavyweights sometimes known as ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) farms. They deploy racks of computers busy solving cryptographic calculations on the blockchain.
Other vendors have tried what Asus is proposing too, reducing its novelty value, says Michael Yum, CEO of the game developer PM Studios. “It will merely be a deal that rides the coattails of other industry innovators, which is surprising because Asus is usually out front in terms of technological innovation,” he says.
But blockchain technology is expected to grow eventually as banks and stock exchanges increasingly use it in developing financial technology, a field better known as fintech. The world fintech-blockchain market was worth $23o million in 2017 on track to an estimated $22.58 billion by 2025, Envision Intelligence estimates.
Asus earned a NT$16 billion net profit in 2017, down 19% from the previous year. The company said its revenue came in at NT$434 billion amid amid “increasing competition across the industry.” Gaming GPUs that double as crypto mining tools will likely bolster those figures when crypto prices rise again, but perhaps more as a marketing tool than a driver of sales.
“It’s something you can use as a hook to attract gamers,” says Tracy Tsai, a Gartner research VP in Taipei. “The primary purpose won’t be to make money.”