An Ethereum ASIC miner could be your worst nightmare, or your best friend – depending on your interest in technology. Talk to a gamer about your intent to mine cryptocurrency, and you may get a dirty look. Talk to an Ethereum fanatic about ASIC rigs and you might get an even dirtier one.
The news that Bitmain has reportedly developed a specialist ASIC miner for Ethash may have been a contributing factor in the recent plunge in Ethereum’s price, to well under $500 at the time of writing.
Why Are Gamers Mad?
Ever since Bitcoin skyrocketed in price at the end of 2017 (bringing every other cryptocurrency on the ride with it), PC gamers have been suffering. Graphics cards are the cornerstone of a competent PC gaming build, but GPUs (the processors on high-end graphics cards) are also used for mining many cryptocurrencies.
The price hike spurred a run on graphics cards, and manufacturers like Nvidia and AMD experienced a supply shortage. That shortage (known in gaming circles as the Great Graphics Card Shortage of 2018), caused cards to double in price. It was certainly a boon to Nvidia’s stock price, and online retailers like Amazon and Newegg started bundling components to profit from the high demand.
This battle spurred a new industry, and hardware manufacturers (especially those in Asia) started creating more sophisticated crypto mining rigs. FPGA and ASIC machines are being created by more and more companies at prices that rival traditional desktop PCs.
ASIC machines are specifically programmed by the manufacturer to perform only one specific task. They can only be configured to mine cryptocurrencies that use the same hashing technique. An ASIC miner built for bitcoin’s SHA-256 algorithm can’t be reconfigured to mine Monero’s proof-of-work algorithm.
Chinese company Bitmain, for example, has several ASIC mining rigs on their way in Spring 2018, including the rumored Ethereum miner.
Gamers are jumping for joy at this announcement, but not everyone’s on board. Nvidia and AMD’s investors are worried about market competition, while crypto businesses like Monero are pushing updates to render these new machines useless on their blockchains.
Who will inevitably win this technological arms race, and why is everyone up in arms over the development of an Ethereum ASIC miner?
The Race to Powerful Computers
In fact, several services like Genesis Mining, let you join your PC to a swarm network to cloud-mine cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Dash, and Monero. It’s similar to a botnet or DDoS attack in which the power of numbers are used to mine cryptos, then divide the bounty among all participants.
As time went on, GPUs were necessary to mine Bitcoin. Without getting too wonky on you, the reason is because a CPU core can execute four to eight 32-bit instructions per clock. A GPU can execute 3200. Even if you have four 12-core CPUs in a quad-processor server motherboard, you’re processing 384 instructions per clock, which is still 10x slower than a GeForce GTX 1070 or AMD Radeon RX 580, and for a lot more money.
Then people went even further, creating ASIC and FPGA machines meant for mining. Whereas your PC and smartphone can perform a variety of tasks (word processing, gaming, etc.), these machines were designed with only one purpose – to mine cryptocurrencies. These machines are about 9000x faster than the most powerful GPUs. But there was no Ethereum ASIC miner, as it had long been considered ASIC-resistant.
And this is where the crypto community is mad: the point of Bitcoin’s creation was to take the power out of the financial industry’s hands and give it back to the people. Many crypto supporters share this belief, and the average person can’t afford to spend $1000+ on a machine whose only purpose is to mine cryptocurrency. That’s where the controversy stems.
An Ethereum ASIC Miner: Power to the People?
With over 1500 cryptocurrencies on the market, there are bound to be differences of opinion. Each cryptocurrency uses a different algorithm and mining technique.
Some, like Bitcoin and Litecoin, can only be mined using an ASIC or FPGA mining machine. Others, like Ethereum and Monero, are too memory-intensive for existing ASICs and require GPUs to mine. And then there are CryptoNight coins, which are only mineable with a CPU.
What Bitmain is rumored to have done is create ASIC rigs that are capable of mining both Ethereum (Antminer F3) and Monero (Antminer x3). These machines cost over $10,000, and the worry among crypto enthusiasts is that Bitmain will effectively centralize mining of these decentralized coins.
Monero responded by pushing an update that could render these expensive machines useless, and Ethereum is considering a move to proof-of-stake, but the community already seems to have made clear its concern about an Ethereum ASIC miner through the recent price movements.
Tech hardware giants like Samsung and ASRock are also following the money into the ASIC arena. Analysts estimate chip manufacturers are making almost $3 billion a year from crypto miners, and everyone wants a piece of that pie.
But gamers don’t care about any of this – they just want to play Fortnite and PUBG. Crypto mining is becoming a dirty word in some gaming circles, and over 700 million PC gamers around the world can create a very strong voice.