The Bitcoin mining industry exists in a very close competition; every miner must stay on the cutting edge of the technology, in order to compete and stay profitable. Any potential efficiency gain creates an instant arms race, and is nearly impossible to overlook while remaining in the game.
Cryptocurrency experts and Mathematical researchers, Dr. Timo Hanke and Sergio Demián Lerner, recently announced their new ASIC mining chip technology, called AsicBoost, that claims to improve mining performance and revenues by up to 20 percent.
This new technology is implemented at the ASIC chip manufacturing level, existing both inside the processor hardware, and the software it runs. The result shortcuts particular, unneeded steps of the hashing process, thanks to a new design of the SHA-256 hashing engine.
“The new AsicBoost technology constitutes a breakthrough because it allows the mining chip to re-use calculation outputs that would otherwise be created and discarded on a continuous basis internally to the many hashing cores working in parallel on the chip.”
– Timo Hanke
Dr. Hanke explained that “while AsicBoost’s gain comes from the chip design, it also has a large software pre-processing component to it. [The] high-level design improvement reduces the number of gates needed to achieve a given hashrate.” The resulting process improves energy efficiency, while at the same time decreases the cost of the silicon manufacturing.
“AsicBoost is a huge architectural leap ahead that was widely expected to be impossible,” Dr. Hanke explained. “We expect [improvements] to be 12.5% for a very simple straight-forward implementation of AsicBoost, and something closer to 20% for a more sophisticated design.”
A recent Bitcoin mining design improvement, Approximate Mining, was slated to make impressive efficiency gains earlier this year. AsicBoost is a very different process that is up to four times faster, according Lerners’ estimate of Approximate Mining last year. The two processes are “definitely not” related to each other, Hanke told Brave New Coin. “They don’t affect each other at all.”
AsicBoost, by contrast, is much closer to being deployed than the more theoretical Approximate Mining design, and can be added to existing chipsets without quite as much effort. The design behind AsicBoost is also open source. “We believe AsicBoost will find its way into the next generation of chips,” Hanke said, “and from there on become standard in all future Bitcoin mining chips.”
“AsicBoost will be the first to offer an open design.”
– Sergio Demián Lerner
The time it will take to see this new technology appear in mining rigs could be less than a year, Hanke explained. The patent-pending technology has already been freely made available to chip manufacturers. “Any chip that is in its design phase can still be modified to adopt AsicBoost,” he told Brave New Coin. “This modification is easy and will only set back the schedule by a few weeks. But even at a later phase the transition to AsicBoost is still possible.”
Hanke states that the major limiting factor in the rate of deployment will actually be on the investment side. “Given the slower investment and development cycles that we are seeing in the Bitcoin mining industry now.”
Costs to implement AsicBoost will be negligible, with absolutely no cost difference in the hardware. “The cell density on the chip does not change,” Hanke said. “This is because whether you implement AsicBoost or not, you will always try to pack the gates as dense as possible. And AsicBoost does not affect your ability to do that.”
“It will probably take about 1 year before we see a product in the market. But technologically it is certainly possible to push it through faster.”
Development cost, however, is another story, depending on which point manufactures are in the fabrication process. “The only price you pay for AsicBoost is time: the development time to implement it. As consultants we will make sure our clients achieve the best possible improvement to their existing design within all possible constraints that the client may have.”
AsicBoost’s services don’t end with this process alone. According to Hanke, his “consulting and services are not limited to AsicBoost, not even to mining,” he explained. “We have deep experience in blockchain technology and provide that to anyone who wants to build applications based on a distributed ledger.”
Lerner is well known throughout the bitcoin world as a core developer, senior security consultant, and an executive developer at Rootstock Labs. He co-created the AsicBoost process with Dr. Hanke in 2013-2014, and the pair applied for a patent “immediately, without much thought,” Lerner recalled.
“We didn’t publish nor try to sell it because we were not sure if the patent idea was good or not for something as delicate as Bitcoin mining.”
After discussing the technology with developers Gregory Maxwell and Gavin Andresen, they ruled out simply giving the patent to the Bitcoin Foundation, “at that time the foundation was in the middle of a PR storm,” Lerner explained. The team then decided to make the technology available to ASIC manufacturers for a licensing fee, so it does not favor any one miner over another, nor incentivize centralization in any way.
The problem of mining centralization has been weighing heavily on many bitcoin developers’ minds lately, especially since core developer Peter Todd published an article two weeks ago pointing out a plan to allegedly bribe Bitcoin miners to work against bitcoin’s privacy.
In Lerner’s opinion, Satoshi Nakamoto’s original SHA-256 cryptography, still in use in Bitcoin today, is a vulnerable point, and should be replaced as soon as possible. “The original design had several flaws,” Lerner told Brave New Coin. “None of them fatal. Nowadays we know much more about PoW than when Bitcoin was created.”
“To really prevent mining centralization as it is today it would be better to replace SHA-256 with another PoW function altogether, such as ZeroCash EquiHash.”
Lerner says he is currently busy with his work on Rootstock, and will not be taking an active role at AsicBoost. More a point of pride than duty for helping to create the technology, Lerner is helping where he can because he feels that AsicBoost is a “unique, unexpected mining algorithmic improvement that was overlooked by Satoshi and everyone else.”