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FPGA- And ASIC-Based Mining Devices

All About Bitcoin Mining: Road To Riches Or Fool's Gold?
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FPGA-Based Mining Devices

In late 2011 and early 2012, innovative companies like Butterfly Labs, ZTEX in Germany, a grad student in China, and some individuals in the U.S. started offering FPGA-based mining devices. While most of these were based on the $100 Xilinx Spartan6-150 FPGA, the BFL design used an Altera FPGA, which the company sourced at a discounted price.

The Xilinx Spartan6-150-based mining boards achieved about 200 to 220 MH/s per FPGA, and sold for approximately $1 to $2.50 per MH/s.

Meanwhile, Butterfly Labs offered its dual-FPGA 830 MH/s Single for the very aggressive price of $600 (less than 75 cents per MH/s).

In mid-2012, BFL started to ship the so-called miniRig, a 25.2 GH/s mining device consisting of a PC tower-like case with nine intake fans on the left side of the chassis and nine exhaust fans on the right side. It contains as many FPGA boards as necessary to reach the nominal total hash rate of 25.2 GH/s. Typically, that's 17 or 18 boards with two FPGAs each. The Altera FPGAs on the miniRig’s boards are larger, more expensive chips than the ones on the Single’s board, operating between 650 and 750 MH/s each with significant variance.

Below: Half the boards of a FPGA-based miniRig, mining with cgminer.

ASIC-Based Mining Devices

Avalon

Avalon is the ASIC-based successor of Mr. Zhang’s FPGA-based Icarus device. The ASIC is a small, single-core, 110 nm chip. An Avalon rig consists of several hundred chips and achieves a hash rate of approximately 66 GH/s.

Butterfly Labs

Shortly after beginning to ship its FPGA miniRigs, Butterfly Labs announced the impending release of ASIC-based, 60 GH/s "SC Singles", as well as a 4.5 GH/s low-end product called "Jalapeno", and a 1,500 GH/s high-end product called the "SC miniRig". In order not to jeopardize ongoing sales of FPGA-based mining devices, BFL offered a trade-in-program where, upon the return of a BFL FPGA-based device, a customer would receive a full trade-in refund for a ASIC device purchase of twice the price, thus saving 50% of the ASIC-device’s purchase price.

Exactly 10 months after starting to take pre-orders for the ASIC-based machines, BFL commenced shipping the first device, a 5 GH/s device replacing the Jalapeno, but drawing about six times as much power. BFL admitted to missing the power specification of its 65 nm ASICs by an order of magnitude, essentially turning a would-be 8 GH/s ASIC (16 cores @ 500 MHz) into a 4 GH/s chip clocked at a mere 250 MHz.

ASICminer

ASICminer created a 130 nm ASIC for its mining pool, but have started to auction a few 10 GH/s boards and are in the process of commencing sales of a USB key-style 300 MH/s miner: the Block Erupter USB. While the auction of the former devolved into a bidding war that ended at the questionably-high price of 75 or 76 BTC per device, the USB keys are being offered at a fixed price of 1.99 BTC each.

Comparison of FPGA and ASIC Chips


Spartan6-150
BFL Single
BFL miniRig
Avalon
BFL
ASICminer
Type
Xilinx FPGA
Altera FPGA
FPGA
ASIC
ASIC
ASIC
Process
45 nm
45 nm (?)
45 nm (?)
110 nm
65 nm
130 nm
Hash Rate Per Chip
210 MH/s
415 MH/s
650-750 MH/s
280 MH/s
4 GH/s
300 MH/s
Power Draw
15 W
40 W
35 W
2.8 W
30 W
2.5 W
Efficiency (MH/s per W)
14
10
20
100
133
120
US$ / MH/s
1 to 2.5
0.75
0.6
Varies
Varies
Varies
Notes
Typically 1 to 4 FPGAs Per Board
2 FPGAs Per Board
2 FPGAs Per Board, 17 to 18 Boards
Priced In BTC (prices increase)
BFL Anticipates A Slight Reduction In Power Draw
Priced In BTC (prices increase)
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Top Comments
  • 12 Hide
    dannyboy3210 , June 9, 2013 10:39 PM
    A very interesting read. I had been reading about Bitcoins (mainly because I just couldn't figure out what they were exactly), but this clears a lot of things up.
    Also, at the bottom of page 5, in the Comparison of FPGA and ASIC Chips table it says "Power Fraw".
  • 12 Hide
    phenomiix6 , June 9, 2013 11:37 PM
Other Comments
  • 8 Hide
    Darkman69 , June 9, 2013 9:49 PM
    Finally a proper write up on Mining Bitcoin with the good the bad and the reality.
  • -9 Hide
    esrever , June 9, 2013 9:54 PM
    How does mining new coins make sense if there will ever only be 21 million? I am so confused by that point.
    Another thing is, with an economic system like this, a billionaire can easily manipulate market prices and make extremely large amount of money and still be completely fine due to this being in a grey area of the law. You can't pump and dump stocks legally but it seems pretty easy for something like this considering you can dump the bit coins off as currency in any country.
  • -5 Hide
    s3anister , June 9, 2013 10:00 PM
    Quote:
    How does mining new coins make sense if there will ever only be 21 million? I am so confused by that point.


    To quote the Bitcoin wiki page: "The last block that will generate coins will be block #6,929,999 which should be generated at or near the year 2140."

    So to directly answer your question, the whole reason for mining bitcoins is because you'll most definitely be dead before the last block chain is even completed.
  • -6 Hide
    smeezekitty , June 9, 2013 10:14 PM
    Shitcoins definitely = fools gold!
    Huge waste computing power IMO
  • 1 Hide
    vmem , June 9, 2013 10:27 PM
    Quote:
    Shitcoins definitely = fools gold!
    Huge waste computing power IMO


    someone needs to rewrite the algorithm and somehow hook up block generation to folding@home or some similar constructive use of the computational power.
  • -1 Hide
    smeezekitty , June 9, 2013 10:28 PM
    Quote:
    Quote:
    Shitcoins definitely = fools gold!
    Huge waste computing power IMO


    someone needs to rewrite the algorithm and somehow hook up block generation to folding@home or some similar constructive use of the computational power.

    That would be a great idea. Verifying a relatively small hash to screen out the cheaters then perform something useful like F@H.

  • 12 Hide
    dannyboy3210 , June 9, 2013 10:39 PM
    A very interesting read. I had been reading about Bitcoins (mainly because I just couldn't figure out what they were exactly), but this clears a lot of things up.
    Also, at the bottom of page 5, in the Comparison of FPGA and ASIC Chips table it says "Power Fraw".
  • -8 Hide
    slomo4sho , June 9, 2013 11:02 PM
    Fiat currencies... I guess for some people the dollar wasn't worthless enough.
    It is amazing how you can lose your "wallet" and your funds permanently disappear from the pool.
  • -9 Hide
    toarranre , June 9, 2013 11:02 PM
    Never heard of this and I'm quite confused by it. Use graphics cards to find units of a currency that from what I can tell must be extremely succeptable to artificial inflation or all out collapse.
  • 12 Hide
    phenomiix6 , June 9, 2013 11:37 PM
  • 9 Hide
    csf60 , June 10, 2013 12:53 AM
    In 2010 I started bitmining and reached 3 bitcoins in 2 months with a 5850. Each bitcoin was worth 3$ at that point so I just gave up and lost my wallet. If I only knew 3 years later they would change for 150$ each... :face palm:
  • 3 Hide
    choz , June 10, 2013 12:58 AM
    Thanks for your calculations. I now have more things to laugh about here in Australia when I read about bitcoin "miners" setting up multi-gpu rigs when our power price is around the 25c per KWh mark and rising by 5% annually.
  • 0 Hide
    ET3D , June 10, 2013 1:16 AM
    I've only skimmed the article, but I didn't see a good discussion of mining pool, trading and all the DDoS, phishing and hacking that goes with it.
    The technical aspects and financial calculations are one thing, but going bitcoins is somewhat of a hornets' nest, and it's really worth discussing this stuff.
    I haven't mined seriously, but the first time I tried (for two weeks, generated half a bitcoin), I left the bitcoins in the pool and one of the pool's founders embezzled and took what was there and left. I've seen other pools hacked, and there are regular DDoS attacks on them, changes in the terms, all kinds of things you really need to follow carefully if you want to mine effectively. Just leaving your miner running and hoping that you'll get the expected coins eventually doesn't cut it.
    I currently mine a little LTC for fun (partly because after installing Catalyst 13.4 I can't mine BTC and can only mine LTC with an old cgminer version I have installed). I'm not sure that it's worth it financially, and I'll probably shut down mining in the not too far future.
  • 4 Hide
    Madn3ss795 , June 10, 2013 1:19 AM
    Quote:
    I bought a few Radeon HD 7790 graphics cards

    7790 already out in June 2011 ? :lol: 
  • 2 Hide
    immanuel_aj , June 10, 2013 2:28 AM
    Quote:

    Or better yet, enjoy this crazy sideshow from the bleachers.


    Yup, that's exactly what I'll be doing! There's always something in the news about it every month these days. :) 

  • 5 Hide
    uruquiora , June 10, 2013 3:05 AM
    this is why i think TH is one of the best IT news website around nowadays... thanks for a very interesting article and for sharing the good and the bad with newbies like me on that subject.
  • -1 Hide
    somebodyspecial , June 10, 2013 3:29 AM
    Maybe now we won't have to see this in benchmarks. It's over for gpus.
  • 0 Hide
    tlg , June 10, 2013 4:17 AM
    I am also wondering how he got the HD7790 in June 2011, except if this is a typo because later on in the same page he talks about November 2012.
  • 0 Hide
    dalmvern , June 10, 2013 6:05 AM
    Great article, I have been wondering what the fuss was all about. Now the only question I have is:
    What is all this processing power being used to do?
    As it was mentioned in an earlier comment, it would be great to use it for something like scientific research like F@H...but I have never seen anything explaining IF it is being used, and if it is, what it is being used to do.
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