Small secret of big mining: inexpensive FPGA for getting out of the crisis

Highly adaptive microchips have been used in mining for a long time. Mining equipment manufacturers realized that their client is not a home miner, but the owner of several thousand of devices. So they work for the second guy, releasing thousand of ASIC devices or specialized integrated circuits. To increase the chances of getting a reward miners co-operate into pools. This provokes the fear of "51% attack" and graphics cards displacement. However, given the instability of the market, an appearance of a highly adaptable, efficient and inexpensive technology that can be programmed “on-the-fly” is inevitable.

New generation FPGA

Unlike ASIC, FPGA-based mining installations can be reconfigured for other tasks. In mining it works like this: if the network algorithm changes or there is a need to switch to a more profitable blockchain, FPGA adapts to them. Although these chips have been known since 2012, the first versions weren’t economically efficient. Then the era of ASIC came.

It is possible that within few years, a return of a traditional home-scale mining and decentralization strengthening will happen. New models will be cheap, productive, with low power consumption and included software.

ASIC vs FPGA

In July of this year, Richard Ells, the creator of Electroneum - a cryptocurrency which is aimed to be used in mobile applications, gaming, trading and other services, faced a precedent. Like any novice project, ETN welcomed GPU mining and demanded switching off ASIC devices at least during the initial stage. But most users refused to comply with this recommendation, referring to the disadvantages of GPU mining due to high network complexity. Thus, the network’s hashrate had been sank by 97% for several weeks.

Then Ells remembered of such an alternative as FPGA. He did not insist on GPU miners return and allowed ASIC. However, he pointed that FPGA is as a win-win solution in case if project will change the algorithm.

“Your equipment remains the same. All that is required is to update the software to work with the new algorithm. FPGA are powerful, cheap, and are the future of mining cryptocurrencies. No one can turn them off.”

In 2017, 74% of users where ASIC miners, which threatened almost all altcoins. It’s not that FPGA aren’t that powerful, as highly specialized chips, but they are more flexible. Canadian developers from Squire talk about a 40% reduction of operating costs, which is $60 million in the scale of industrial mining.

Before new FPGA came out, miners who were using old devices, had secretly reprogrammed them. They increased competitiveness in pursuit of a reward and hid their capabilities from developers so that they wouldn’t change the algorithms. But flashing old FPGA was still expensive and not always worth it.

FPGA Rebirth

The balance in mining capacities began to change from last April. At the Bitcointalk forum, one user started a discussion in the state of FPGA devices. The topic stretched for hundreds of pages and it turned out that many participants wouldn’t mind taking advantage of the new-old chips.

The presence of evenly distributed FPGA throughout the world would have strengthened the decentralization and new coins security. This is the concept that Zetheron, startup founded by Eric Fattah, is promoting. He already delivers a heavy duty software for FPGA. While it’s free, though it has a 4% development fee.

The startup also works in tandem with manufacturers, advising them on the best mining equipment optimization and ways of adapting technology to software changes only. FPGA hardware is still expensive, but provides a quick return on investment (ROI), faster than graphics processors.

Will everything change?

Not all projects will be appropriate to use FPGA. For instance, the Bitcoin network did not change the algorithm and is very resource intensive. While Bitcoin Private is suitable only for GPU, Monero and Bitcoin Gold projects, at the same time, intentionally change the computing scope every few months. FPGA models of 2019 will be able to serve most altcoins.

FPGA will become the ASIC and «51% attack» antidote. Since FPGA are incredibly fast, ASIC can take a speed advantage from 3x to 20x compared to FPGA, as opposed to GPU speed comparison, which is 30x to 1000x higher. This means that the coin mined with FPGA is much more resistant to be “captured” by ASIC. Promising FPGA prices are planned to stay within $450-500 range.

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