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Intel claims sustainability for its custom chip that mines bitcoins faster than GPUs

News Analysis
Apr 08, 20223 mins

Intel's Blockscale ASIC is designed specifically for blockchain hash operations with greater power efficiency.

Binary chain links of data  >  Blockchain / blockchain security / linked elements
Credit: Ismagilov / Getty Images

Intel this week announced details of its new Blockscale ASIC chip designed specifically for more efficient blockchain computing than CPUs or GPUs. It first said it was making such a chip just two months ago.

Blockscale is specifically designed to process the Secure Hash Algorithm-256 (SHA-256), which is used by blockchain, and the performance is phenomenal, at least on paper. Blockscale has a hash rate operating speed of up to 580GH/s, or gigahashes per second.

By comparison, the Nvidia RTX 3090, the top GPU on the market, has a hash processing speed in the megahashes per second: 120MH/s to 150MH/s. When Intel announced plans for a blockchain accelerator last February, it claimed it would be 1000 times faster than GPUs. Turns out that wasn’t hyperbole.

Blockscale’s power draw may also be an asset. “Intel’s decades of R&D in cryptography, hashing techniques and ultra-low voltage circuits make it possible for blockchain applications to scale their computing power without compromising on sustainability,” said Balaji Kanigicherla, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Custom Compute in the Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics Group in a statement.

The SHA-256 algorithm is popular with all blockchain transactions because it is used to verify a file has not been altered, which is the hallmark of the blockchain. SHA-256 has never been broken and is widely used for secure transactions.

But SHA-256 processing of all typesis also power intensive. Research from Cambridge University estimates that the global power draw for crypto mining is 121.36 terawatts/hr per year, more than the entire nation of Argentina uses in a year.

So this chip has the potential to be a very viable alternative to GPU cards and at the same time reduce the power draw for hash farming through improved performance.

“We are mindful that some blockchains require an enormous amount of computing power, which unfortunately translates to an immense amount of energy,” wrote Intel’s Raja Koduri, senior vice president and general manager of the Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics Group, in a blog post in February when the company announced plans to make this chip.

“Our customers are asking for scalable and sustainable solutions, which is why we are focusing our efforts on realizing the full potential of blockchain by developing the most energy-efficient computing technologies at scale.”

Also, beause bitcoin mining is currently done using GPUs, Blockscale could ease the shortage of GPUs for other purposes. Specifically, bitcoin farms have bought up the entire supply of GPU cards on the market, leaving gamers furious and frustrated.

Shipments of the Blockscale chip will begin in the third quarter of 2022.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.