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View Diary: The Daily Show/Colbert Report Gathering of Like Minds 04.17.13 (72 comments)

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  •  bitcoin mining (6+ / 0-)
    An average CPU can run four instructions per clock cycle, and offer a few thousand to a few million hashes per second. This was never exactly great, but a few years ago it was enough for a low-rent mining operation. But then miners discovered that they could use their GPU instead, which can 3,200 instructions per cycle. The indispensable Bitcoin Wiki describes the shift like this:

        One way to visualize it is a CPU works like a small group of very smart people who can quickly do any task given to them. A GPU is a large group of relatively dumb people who aren't individually very fast or smart, but who can be trained to do repetitive tasks, and collectively can be more productive just due to the sheer number of people.

    And because mining is a repetitive task better suited to muscle than smarts, miners suddenly found themselves with an 800-fold increase in hashing power on their hands. Before long, the number of GPU mining rigs—combined with Bitcoin's regulatory difficulties—made massive amounts of power not just an advantage, but table stakes.

    So where do you turn when everyone's competing with the same horsepower? Volume.

    Two GPUs are better than one, and two dozen are better than two. But when miners started building up to such a macro scale, other concerns started to creep in. Finding space. Keeping systems cool. But the thing that really stood to cut into Bitcoin profits was—and still is—the cost of electricity. And this concern turned miners' affections to yet another, different tool of the trade called FPGAs.

    While CPUs and GPUs had been co-opted and tweaked for mining, Field-Programmable Gate Arrays were the first devices with Bitcoin in mind down to the circuitry. FPGAs are chips have the ability to be re-designed on the spot, down to their very connections, so they can be good at just about anything with the proper guidance. This isn't consumer tech. Instead, it's generally used in supercomputers, data centers, MRI machines, PET scanners, and the like. But the sort of flexible savant-level specialization is also great for mining Bitcoins, once you can teach the chip how to do it.

    You should check out the photos of the rigs that people have built to mine bitcoin in  the article

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