Mining hardware – The evolution

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By Lumai Mubanga. mlumai@gmail.com

When Nakamoto Satoshi released the source code for bitcoins in 2009, he probably did not realise the wider effects of that act on the world economy. He set forth a stream of innovations that would give birth to different terms and expressions that would become common in our century and beyond. Cloud Mining, Mining hardware are some expression today besides the various cryptocurrencies, hash rates, mining farms, mining pools and many more as illustrated in the caption below.

Before we discuss some of the expressions above, just what is mining hardware as used above in the mining of Zcash?

Bitcoins were created as a reward for a process called mining. Bitcoin mining involve powerful computational calculations that solves mathematical challenges that gets harder and harder every time there is a computational success.

The first bitcoin mining was done using standard personal computers. The CPUs had enough computational power to mine bitcoins for two reasons. First, very few people were interested in bitcoins at that time and secondly, the level of difficulty was low. That meant, more individuals could mine bitcoins without so much challenge.

However, by September 2017, mining with a CPU would take close to 7.6 Million years to find a block. The reason was that, the mining network had introduced much more powerful hardware that out played the Standard CPU. It was the graphical processing unit – GPU. While CPUs are designed to undertake generic computations, they could not effectively handle the calculation of hashes. It was discovered that GPUs had better computational power than CPUs with a capability to hash at a faster rate.

GPU mining was repurposed from Gaming into Mining because of their computational Power. Sooner or later however, disadvanteges were discovered in the use of GPUs. One was that, they had component irrelevance. Mining bitcoins does not require floating points that which the GPUs were generating. Secondly, they could not be run side by side and this meant that they could not be installed at a mining farm, a trend that was quickly taking shape. Large-scale mining was not supported.

This is how the Field Programmable gate array (FPGA) can into play.

These devices were optimized for bitcoin mining but they did not have all the required computational power. It was a tradeoff although they were able to offer 1 billion hashes/second in 157 thousand years. They did not last long and the next generation of Hardware came into the market.

Application Specific Integrated Circuits – ASIC

ASCI are often mentioned in the bitcoin ecosystem for a good reason. Unlike their predecessors, they are designed for one purpose, mining. They do nothing but solve hash puzzles. They are highly customizable ranging from choosing a lower base cost in exchange for higher electricity use, or choosing a smaller device and losing out on the hash rate.

One downside to the ASIC is their initial cost largely due to their initial upfront production cost. Another one is the need to purchase them in batches to make a reasonable profit.

One of the most popular and powerful ASIC is the Antiminer S9. It is capable of performing 14 Million Hashes per second, but would still take about 10.9 Years to find a block.

Other versions of the same hardware have however immerged on the market. With more power requirements and difficulty in creating block, the future is yet to witness another breakthough in hardware mining for cryptocurrencies.

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