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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Samsung goes crypto-currency mining

1 February 2018

Okay, the title of today's column might be a little misleading.

The South Korean electronics giant Samsung isn't actually going to be mining crypto-currency itself, it's simply decided to create an ASIC (a big custom integrated circuit) that will do the job more quickly and efficiently than traditional silicon.

If we use Bitcoin as an example, the first round of mining was done with PCs and even arrays of Raspberry Pis providing the number-crunching resources.

Pretty quickly it became apparent that such "mining rigs" were just too slow and burned too much power to be effective so innovative folk began to look for other solutions.

One of the most cost-effective solutions to date has been to repurpose high-end graphics cards, the ones that were previously used primarily for gaming.

The GPUs on these cards can do the number crunching much faster than even the fastest Intel processors and are well suited to type of processing involved.

An unfortunate side-effect of Bitcoin's dramatic rise in value has been that every man and his cyber-dog wants to mine for this form of gold and that has created a huge demand for these high-end graphics cards.

Video gamers are not best-pleased with this.

While GPUs are a great way to mine Bitcoin (or any other crypto-currency), there are actually better hardware options and small numbers of ASIC-based and FPGA-based mining rigs have been built and sold. However, they do tend to be very expensive.

Samsung have announced that they are going to make an ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) designed specifically for crypto-currency mining and this could dramatically reduce the reliance on GPUs within the mining community.

What's so special about an ASIC and why might it be better than a graphics card?

Well GPUs are basically just like CPUs except they're more designed to perform specific types of math and matrix operations than a more generic processor.

ASICs are bits of silicon that are custom-designed to perform just one task and because of this focused operation, they can outperform CPUs and GPUs by a significant margin.

Of course designing and making complex, large-scale integration ASICs is not a cheap nor trivial task, which explains why they haven't been a major force in currency mining to date. Samsung's decision to invest in such a device (or devices) could help bring crypto-currency into the mainstream and may be instrumental in establishing a level of credibility that has been missing to date. Such an ASIC could become a key component of the Bitcoin processing infrastructure in a fairly short space of time.

Will this be a profitable move by Samsung?

It's hard to say and it probably depends on the price of the device, its actual performance (relative to CPUs and GPUs) and whether currencies like BitCoin remain high enough in value to justify the expense of mining.

I'm not going to try and predict the outcome and I suspect that anyone who comes up with a yes/no answer at this stage has done so by simply tossing a (bit)coin.

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