At Consensus 2018, many blockchain software developers viewed Bitmain’s recent launch of their newest Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) miners as proof of the impending future for all cryptocurrencies. ASIC hardware will soon hit the markets for previously deemed ASIC-resistant cryptocurrencies such as Ethereum, Monero, and Zcash.
David Vorick, a founder of ASIC manufacturer Obelisk stated:
“I think any GPU-mined coin is going to become an ASIC-mined coin at some point. Bitmain has been pretty methodical about demonstrating this.”
Bitmain is one of the main manufacturers of ASIC miners. Looking at Blockchain.info, Bitmain’s BTC.com and Antpool mining pools also make up an excess of 40% of the hashing power on the network.
Cryptocurrencies to remain completely ASIC-resistant for how long?
Crypto developers believe the advancement in technology surrounding mining will continue to increase at a similar rate as to which the resistant code is developed to combat them.
Most ASIC-resistant algorithms were produced by software engineers with a pre-conceived idea of what custom hardware is capable of, mainly due to their limited understanding of the functionalities of the hardware.
We’ve been hopeful on how long the ASIC resistance will last. Samsung, IBM, and Intel are among the giants who are looking to develop dedicated mining hardware, while established companies such as Bitmain and Bitfury already dominate the market. General purpose technology like CPUs, GPUs, and even DRAM all make sacrifices in efficiency for particular tasks in order to facilitate a wider deployment. To make a comparison, most mobile phones are capable of taking pictures but won’t compare to a standalone camera’s quality as it sacrifices that for portability and other functionalities. For that reason, general purpose hardware will always be limited and will often be superseded by dedicated machinery.
With ASICs being developed so rapidly, they can often slip under the radar in secret mining operations. Several months ago, an ASIC Monero mining operation was exposed which was rumored to have been running since early 2017. It was estimated that the secret ASICs accounted for more than 50% of the hash rate. This kind of network dominance could have led to a 51% attack at any time.
Vorick continues to explain how preventative measures taken by developers only delay the inevitable:
“The strategy of hardforking ASICs off of a network is going to lose potency the more it happens, because chip designers do have the ability to make chips that are flexible, anywhere from slightly flexible to highly flexible, with each piece of flexibility costing only a bit of performance. The Monero devs have committed to keeping the same general structure for the PoW algorithm, and because of that commitment, we believe that you could make a Monero miner capable of surviving hard forks with less than a 5x hit to performance.”
ASIC vs ASIC
ASICs have already got a strong foothold in the network with the future of management rather than mitigation an inevitable reality. Although we have to ask was there ever really a war against ASICs? Nvidia, Intel, and other companies identify their technology as ASICs internally but us as customers are familiar with these products for their more generic use. The main controversial topic surrounding ASICs is more of centralization and network control.
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