mrb's blog

The Insane Bitcoin ASIC Race — And The Winner is...

Keywords: bitcoin finance hardware

...Avalon! They delivered the first Bitcoin ASIC mining device today. And to no less than core Bitcoin developer Jeff Garzik, see his blog: box opening, internals, mining live. Avalon contracted TSMC to make the chips at a 110nm process. The device mines at 66 Ghash/s and draws about 440 Watt, currently generating about $210/day (11 bitcoins/day).

Avalon is a very small scale project run by 2 chinese guys, ngzhang and BitSyncom on the bitcointalk.org forums. In the past year, they have successfully designed and sold FPGA mining units. But their next step to increase power efficiency —developing a custom chip, or ASIC— required a much larger budget. So months ago they went to the whiteboard and announced to the community: "we can make a batch of 300 units with these performance and power characteristics, at this price point, do you want to pre-order in order to fund us?" And they pre-sold all 300 units at a price of $1300 each, which was sufficient to cover the NRE costs of developing at 110nm ($200-300k). After months of developement, BitSyncom personally shipped the first units rolling out of the assembly line to Jeff Garzik and to the Bitcoin Foundation, to establish further credibility for their project. A second batch of 500 Avalon units will open tomorrow, at $1500 each.

The story would not be complete if I did not mention the insane ASIC race that was, and still is, going on right now between different efforts, private or commercial, to ship chips in quantity. In addition to Avalon, we have:

  • The ASICMINER group, a private effort, who designed their own chips at 130nm. They received the chips a month ago from their foundry. However they seem to still be testing them and/or assembling PCBs to make fully functional devices. [Edit: on Feb 7, 2013 they had a small batch of boards for the mining machines assembled; and by Feb 14, 2013 they were finally online hashing with this initial small batch at 2 TH/s. They failed to beat Avalon to market by just a few weeks!]
  • ButterFly Labs, who started preselling their devices in June 2012. They are the most ambitious by designing at 65nm. They were the most promising and were supposed to ship in October 2012, but have been delayed by technical issues (I blogged about them). Their current estimate is February 2013.
  • bASIC, who designed at 90nm, and initially planned to ship in November 2012. They claimed to have reached a point where they had one or just a few working prototypes in a lab, but issues cropped up, causing delays, and the project leader eventually admitted being in way over his head, especially due to harsh competition with other vendors, and customers deciding to cancel their bASIC pre-orders. Eventually, bASIC was forced to shut down. Credit card refunds are currently being issued. There is some anxiousness in the community when or if the project will be able to refund all orders.

A few other ASIC projects mentionned their intentions but never concretized: Reclaimer (seemingly abandonned his plans), LargeCoin (no more updates since a while).

With the first ASICs now in the wild, and the Bitcoin exchange rate shooting up (+80% over the last 3 months), it sure is an interesting time in the Bitcoin world...

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