Update: Intel’s bonanza mining chip has now surfaced in a contract with a mining startup, confirming that Intel is getting into the crypto mining hardware business.
it looks like intel could get into the bitcoin mining hardware business, but not with its new upcoming gpu. the isscc conference is an annual gathering of the best and brightest minds in the chip industry. This year, Intel has a scheduled presentation in the “Featured Chip Launches” category to outline a new “bonanza mine” processor, a chip described as a “low-voltage, power-efficient Bitcoin mining Asic.” That means Intel could soon compete with the likes of Bitmain in the market for specialized Bitcoin mining ASICS. intel also commented on the new chip for tom hardware, saying “intel has done design work around optimized sha 256 asics for several years, beginning with research work done in intel labs. we will share more details at the future”. The presentation comes on the heels of comments from Intel GPU chief Raja Koduri during a live stream last December indicating that the company is working on specialized hardware for blockchain/cryptocurrency technologies.
bitcoin is typically mined in asics, which are specialized processors specifically designed to run one type of workload. ASICS offers efficiency and performance advantages over more complex chip types, such as CPUs and GPUs, that can perform the same task. As a result, the overwhelming majority of bitcoin mining occurs on ASICS, with companies like Bitmain providing the specialized silicon to miners at premium prices. The first signs of Intel’s interest in mining hardware came in 2018 in the form of a patent for a specialized processing system that uses an optimized SHA-256 data path (a cryptographic algorithm) for high-performance Bitcoin mining. As with all patents, it takes some time for the final product to reach the market, but Intel has a great deal of experience in hardware-assisted SHA-256 algorithms due to the use of these instructions in their CPU products. Coupled with its silicon production capabilities, Intel could be a particularly competitive entrant in the Bitcoin hardware market, especially given the focus on low-power, high-efficiency operations. Fast forward to December 29, 2021, and Intel Graphics and Systems Architect, Senior Vice President, and GM Raja Koduri appeared on the popular streamer Dr. lupo’s show to promote the company’s launch of its first gaming gpus, the arc alchemist line due later this year.
Intel has made it very clear that it won’t limit the mining performance of its upcoming discrete gaming gpu, but the company doesn’t want its gpu used for that purpose just yet. naturally gpus are used for mining ethereum and other types of currencies, not bitcoin, but the topic led koduri to make some interesting statements about blockchain technology, which is the fundamental underlying technology behind cryptography. Koduri explained that Intel does not have an install base as a newcomer to the discrete gaming GPU market. as such, intel prefers its gpus to be used by gamers than miners. however, additional comments from koduri are revealing (28:20 in the video above): “the other part of the answer is that we believe that all this blockchain, as you call it, whose coins are good [ … ], I think blockchain is a transaction that runs much more efficiently than burning hardware cycles, it’s something we’re working on.” koduri said, “and that’s not a gpu thing, so don’t try to confuse it with a gpu thing. gpus will do graphics and games and all that wonderful stuff. but be able to do much more efficient blockchain validation at a much more price lower cost, much lower power, it’s a pretty solvable problem. and you know, we’re working on that, and at some point, hopefully not too far in the future, we’ll share some interesting hardware for that.” given the timing of the isscc presentation and the topic, it looks like intel will share that information about the new hardware on wednesday feb 23 at 7am pst. The ‘ds1’ moniker in the preview listing indicates that Intel will have a video demonstration of the chip. For now, it is unclear if Intel will release the Bonanza Mine chip as a product to the public or if it will remain confined to a research project. However, given that the chip is on the “Featured Chip Releases: Digital/ML” track and koduri’s feedback, it stands to reason that these chips, or some variant thereof, may be offered to customers in the future. Major Bitcoin ASIC manufacturers such as Bitmain suffer from long lead times and charge prohibitively high prices for their chips, in large part because they have to rely on third-party foundries to make the chips. Furthermore, smelters like TSMC tend not to give these companies preferential status in their factories due to the uncertainty of demand and the sporadic nature of crypto mining; instead, factories prioritize long-term stable business from larger chip designers. All of this is to say that Intel could make a significant and lucrative entry into this high-margin market backed by its incredible production capacity, giving it an edge over its competitors. whether or not that will happen remains to be seen.
we’ll be there at isscc to find out more about the new chips. stay tuned.
update 01/18/2022, 11 a.m. m. (Pacific Time) – Added intel statement to article.
See also: Why Bitcoin Will Succeed | Alexandria