The Merge, which will end Ethereum mining with GPUs, is taking important steps to becoming a reality with the formal opening of a new testnet designed to work out the kinks in the upcoming mining-less approach. That means gamers eventually won't have to compete with Ethereum miners for graphics cards.
This news comes on the tail end of a pretty good year for Ethereum miners: Coinbase data (opens in new tab) shows the cryptocurrency's price rising from about $731 on January 1 to approximately $3,940 at the time of writing. In addition, the rise of non-fungible tokens (NFTs) pushed the Ethereum hashrate to record numbers. And the switch to a proof-of-stake model, which doesn't rely on miners to preserve the integrity of the blockchain, was delayed from the end of 2021 to some time in the first half of 2022.
But that switch—known most commonly as The Merge—is still coming. The Ethereum Foundation reminded miners of that inevitability Monday by introducing the Kintsugi testnet so developers could "familiarize themselves with Ethereum in a post-merge context." The opportunity for miners to maximize their profits ahead of The Merge or identify whichever cryptocurrency they're going to devote their compute power to afterward was left unsaid.
"The Kintsugi testnet provides the community an opportunity to experiment with post-merge Ethereum and begin to identify any issues," the foundation said in its announcement. "Once feedback has been incorporated into the client software [sic] and the specifications, a final series of testnets will be launched. In parallel, testing efforts will continue ramping up. After this, existing long-lived testnets will run through The Merge. Once these have upgraded and are stable, next up is Ethereum mainnet's transition to proof of stake 🎊." (Emoji theirs.)
Kintsugi has a dedicated landing page for testers; more information about using this public testnet can be found in the documentation. Ethereum developer Tim Beiko (who CoinDesk named one of the most influential people in crypto for 2021) offered a detailed breakdown of how Ethereum itself will operate after The Merge in an October blog post
"At a high-level, at The Merge, clients will switch from following PoW to following PoS to determine Ethereum's latest valid block," Beiko said. "Aside from that, most of the clients' functionality, and, more importantly, the EVM, its state, and how it executes transactions, will stay the same. [...] Post-merge, the current Eth1 and Eth2 clients respectively become the execution and consensus layers (or engines) of Ethereum. This means that node operators of either Eth1 or the Beacon Chain clients will need to run the 'other half' of the stack to have a fully validating node."
The rest of the blog post breaks down changes to Beacon Nodes, the Engine API, and the Execution Engine that will follow The Merge. (It's also punctuated with diagrams explaining the new architecture, but apparently they have been minted as NFTs, and we'd hate to suggest that NFT images can somehow be used by someone who doesn't own them.) Kintsugi is supposed to bring the Ethereum network one step closer to implementing this architecture.
The Ethereum Foundation has shared "various tasks to work through to make the Merge ready for Mainnet release" in "The Merge Mainnet Readiness Checklist" repository on GitHub. Of course, there's still plenty of work to do, so miners don't have to panic just yet. But it seems the day enthusiasts no longer have to compete with Ethereum miners for graphics cards is just a little closer.