Intel, one of the world’s largest semiconductor companies, has filed a patent for a new Bitcoin mining chip accelerator. Entitled “Bitcoin Mining Hardware Accelerator with Optimized Message Digest and Message Scheduler Datapath,” the patent was originally submitted in September of 2016, but is now being released for the first time.
Bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining has long been under scrutiny for the excessive energy it allegedly uses. Countries like Iceland, for example, admit that more energy is used to mine Bitcoin than to power its residences, while cities like Plattsburgh, New York — a once-popular haven for commercial Bitcoin mining — have imposed strict moratoriums to lessen miners’ growing needs and the surging costs of electricity.
Intel claims to have found a more reasonable and cost-effective way to mine bitcoins. The patent says the product can decrease energy use by up to 35 percent while lowering financial requirements and mining more bitcoins in the process.
The document reads:
Because the software and hardware utilized in Bitcoin mining uses brute force to repeatedly and endlessly perform SHA-256 functions, the process of Bitcoin mining can be very power-intensive and utilize large amounts of hardware space. The embodiments described herein optimize Bitcoin mining operations by reducing the space utilized and power consumed by Bitcoin mining hardware.
Intel explains that one of the most expensive and rigorous steps involved in any mining venture is finding the 32-bit field. The value is set so that the block hash contains a nonce, or a solid set of zeros. After computation is complete, these zeros are attached to the “hash of the transaction hashes in the blockchain” and other headers.
The traditional 256-bit hash that the document discusses is less than a “pre-defined threshold value.” There are two primary computational blocks involved: a message scheduler and a message digest. Both blocks work together to combine several 32-bit words and 32-bit additions, which can thus bring energy use down.
Several problems exist, however, within the present mining community. Energy costs in most of the United States are increasing, while other nations like China — prime locations for mining operations due to their low-priced energy supplies — have sought to slow cryptocurrency innovation by “clamping down” on Bitcoin miners or limiting available energy.
Perhaps the largest problem stems from bitcoin’s current price. At press time, one bitcoin is trading for roughly $6,600 — a massive drop from the $8,000+ mark seen earlier this week. Figures like Fundstrat’s Thomas Lee now say that Bitcoin mining is no longer profitable, with most miners either breaking even or falling short between what they earn and what they’ve spent to extract coins.
Randy Copeland, an Intel partner and the president of Velocity Micro, says that Intel’s new accelerator could change things for the better. Speaking with CRN, Copeland explains, “Once this new Intel technology comes to market, more people will mine again because it’s profitable again, driving down the market value of the coins and finding a new market balance that will again put locations with lower electricity costs back at the advantage.”
This is not Intel’s first attempt to enter the cryptocurrency arena. Last May, the company partnered with healthcare transaction service provider PokitDok to help bring blockchain technology to the healthcare industry. Executives also joined hands with Chinese media and tech firm Tencent in September to collaborate on a new blockchain solution.
Later in October, Intel partnered with hardware wallet developer Ledger to store digital currency on the company’s platform.
Intel’s actions could prove to be significant. Patents among some Bitcoin companies have been deemed “unethical,” as the original Bitcoin software is available freely as open-source software. In addition, patents for Bitcoin mining products present concerns regarding the decentralized nature and competitiveness of the industry. If one company is able to use significantly less resources and thereby operate more efficiently, that venture may wind up the single or dominant party, while the rest make a permanent exit — a situation that could result in reduced decentralization and security.
The recent Blockchain Defensive Patent License (BDPL) is seeking to provide a more open arena for Bitcoin miners. Should a Bitcoin- or blockchain-based company enter the agreement, they must share all their patents with “other license holders” as long as those holders are also members. The BDPL imposes strict regulations that deny blockchain companies specific rights to certain patents or products, and penalizes “licensees who attack the patents licensed” to other members.
It will certainly be interesting to see if Intel, with its latest technology, decides to follow in the spirit of other Bitcoin mining companies and become the BDPL’s newest affiliate.