FPGA: the secet mining chip is about to become public

Any career counselor will say that adaptability is the most important skill for the success of the 21st century. Producers of specialized mining cryptocurrency platforms will be reflecting on this while inspecting inactive custom circuit rooms and shelves loaded with unsold chips, the victims of Crypto's nuclear winter. For them, things are about to get even worse.

The extraction of cryptocurrency has evolved from bedroom to large-scale production, undertaken by companies that use specialized facilities called ASICs or application-specific integrated circuits.

In order to increase their chances of winning new digital currency, mining companies will pool resources, leading to mega conglomerates that terrorize cryptic startups due to security implications (when the power of extraction is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals , can give rise to an acquisition, as a 51% attack). Start-ups reacted by introducing algorithms resistant to ASICs.

The efficiency of ASICs has already led to a decline in the popularity of GPUs, previously the means of mining choice. However, a new type of highly adaptable, efficient and low-cost technology has been quietly developed in secret, and is about to change the mining industry as we know it.

The FPGA, abbreviation of field-programmable gate arrays are drilling rigs that can be programmed on the fly. If a network changes its algorithm, an FPGA can change with it. Although they have been around since 2012, initial versions were not convenient. Now, however, new models are about to reach the market, along with free software that promises to improve efficiency. This democratization of the mining sector, with the potential to bring the crypt back to its mining roots in the bedroom, could improve security through greater decentralization and make miners' riots like the Bitcoin Cash debacle less likely.

Where is the off-switch?

In July, Richard Ells, CEO of the mobile cryptocurrency Electroneum, had a mutiny of the miners with whom to fight.

Like a good number of cryptic companies, Electroneum had asked GPU miners to disable ASIC mining, which made it difficult to compete with GPU-based operations. But as the powerful ASICs were being routed, the GPU owners refused to come back, complaining that the level of hashing power now needed for mine made it unnecessary. A couple of weeks of nail biting saw a 97% drop in hash power, and the GPU owners still refuse to pull it out.

It was Ells' conviction of the revolutionary potential of the FPGAs and their ability to fight the ASIC resistance that ultimately led to his decision to abandon the ghost on GPU extraction, let the ASICs come back and become a supporter of FPGAs. If a company changes its algorithm, everything a user needs to do to start mining again is to load a new program, he explained. "Your equipment remains the same but you change the effect, they are very powerful, very cheap, they are the future of mineral cryptocurrencies, and nobody will be able to shut them down."

Resistance to ASIC is a hot topic because altcoins – all with relatively small networks compared to bitcoins – are so vulnerable to attack. According to a report published by Technavio, ASICs dominated the mining hardware market in 2017, accounting for over 74% of the market share, so there are good reasons to be worried.

FPGAs are not as efficient as custom ASICs, but they are more flexible. They also offer a reduction in operating costs of up to 40% for business extraction facilities, according to the developers of the Canadian mining infrastructure Squire. Squire claims that an important group of business miners has estimated that this is worth up to $ 60 million a year in savings.

But while they have many advantages, the current generation of FPGAs is expensive to reprogram. This meant that until now the miners who were using the technology did so secretly, fearing that revealing the power they had at their disposal would cause coin developers to change their algorithms more frequently. So they kept their operations secret and enjoyed the enormous processing benefit enjoyed by miners using GPUs and the security of being able to adapt, unlike ASIC-based systems.

Immerse yourself in the melee

Everything changed last April, when a pseudo-anonymous post from the whitefire990 user on the bitcoin forum, Bitcointalk revealed the extension of the FPGA secret activity, together with the intention of allowing anyone to extract the FPGAs. His post generated 93 pages of answers, with miners desperate for more information.

As the creator of technology passes from the Whitefire990 alias, a quick search on Google has easily identified him as Eric Fattah. In an email, Fattah said his motivation is simple: get better decentralization. "Nobody wants a single private group to be able to take over the entire currency, and the large secret farms are therefore not in the interest of the future and the security of the currencies, to have FPGAs in the hands of miners" home "(distributed equally throughout the world) greatly increases the security of a currency".

"We have received many huge financial offers from large private farms, giving us a lot of money to provide private / exclusive bit streams for their private farms, and in all cases we have refused."

Eric Fattah, Zetheron

Fattah already has some experience in trailblazing. But of a very different variety. A world-class diver, in 2001 he set the world record in apnea "at constant weight", reaching a depth of 269 feet. As an engineer, he has already set up a company and his inventions have won seven patents.

The latest Fattah startup, Zetheron, based in Canada, has already started providing FPGA software, more accurately described as "bitstreams". The software is free, but has a "development fee" of 4%, which means that for four minutes out of every 100, it will be mine for Zetheron's address. However, he firmly believes that he is not for the big money:

"Since our April 30th" reveals "the FPGA landscape, we have received many huge financial offers from large private farms, offering us a lot of money to provide private / exclusive bit streams for their private farms. we have refused, as this nullifies the purpose of what we are trying to achieve ".

Zetheron is also collaborating with hardware manufacturers, advising them on the best ways to optimize rigs and how to allow hardware to adapt only with software-based changes. FPGA hardware is still expensive but, according to Fattah, it offers a return on investment (ROI) faster than GPUs.

Everything changes

However, there are coins that are not suitable for FPGA extraction. Bitcoin, which still requires huge amounts of energy, has never changed its algorithm, which means that the ASIC miners will probably continue. Networks that are deliberately optimized for GPUs, such as Bitcoin Private, will remain outside the reach of FPGA mining.

But for coins like Monero and Bitcoin Gold, those that, in an attempt to discourage the ASIC miners, change their algorithms every few months, the fastest reconfigurable processors are FPGAs. The new models arriving in 2019 will serve most of the Altcoins including Ethereum. Several coins (including Electroneum) are trying to adopt FPGA compatible algorithms. And the practice is likely to take hold while start-ups try to arm themselves against large mining conglomerates.

"With distributed FPGAs spanning a coin network, the chances of an ASIC change in management fall dramatically," says Fattah. "Because the FPGAs are so incredibly fast, an ASIC can only have a 3x to 20x speed advantage over an FPGA, compared to a 30x to 1000x speed gain on a graphics card, which means that a coin is extracted from FPGA is much more resistant to the acquisition of ASIC ".

In order to out-process FPGA, Fattah believes that a mining operation would require many expensive ASICs, making it impractical (since the machines would cost a lot more to design and produce, while they would only do a negligible amount in more per day).

With high-speed bitstream development, high interest rates and FPGA hardware prices starting at $ 480, FPGAs will no doubt affect the sales of ASICs and GPUs. GPUs, which have othersuch as the game and, now, decentralized storage – will easily find new jobs. But what about all those personalized ASICs? It's already a bit of a joke in the industry, but they make a great doorstop.

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