10 Mar

Intel’s custom Bitcoin processor could lead to chips for a supercomputing edge

    Intel is setting up an internal group to develop a processor optimized for Bitcoin mining, but the group will also work on “other custom accelerated-supercomputing opportunities at the edge”.

    Here’s one none of us saw coming: Intel is planning to launch a chip specifically designed for blockchain acceleration, including the mining Bitcoins, and much more. Intel has also announced the formation of a new custom compute group within its graphics business unit to develop the chip.

    In the blog post, Raja Koduri, senior vice president and general manager of the Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics Group, announced the ASIC without using the Bonanza Mine name that would accelerate the algorithm specifically used in Bitcoin mining and blockchain in general.

    “We expect that our circuit innovations will deliver a blockchain accelerator that has over 1000x better performance per watt than mainstream GPUs for SHA-256 based mining,” Koduri wrote. “This architecture is implemented on a tiny piece of silicon so that it has minimal impact to the supply of current products,” he added, in a slight dig at the supply chain shortage playing the chip industry.

    The SHA-256 algorithm is a cryptographic hash function most often used to verify a file has not been altered, so it is very popular in all blockchain transactions, not just Bitcoin. SHA-256 has never been broken and is widely used for secure transactions for example, it’s also used on the web, to authenticate and establish secure connections via SSL.

    He also announced that it had created a new Custom Compute Group as part of Koduri’s Accelerated Computing and Graphics (AXG) business unit, to design and build its blockchain hardware. But the hardware is not limited to just blockchain and Bitcoin. The team will be working on custom silicon platforms optimized for workloads such as custom accelerated supercomputing at the edge.

    “The objective of this team is to build custom silicon platforms optimized for customers’ workloads, including blockchain and other custom accelerated-supercomputing opportunities at the edge,” Koduri wrote. “Blockchain is a technology that has the potential to enable everyone to own much of the digital content and services they create. Some even call it an inflection point in computing, fundamentally disrupting the way we store, process and transact our digital assets as we usher in the era of metaverse and Web 3.0.’

    Name dropping the metaverse and Web 3.0 would indicate Intel is looking far beyond just Bitcoin mining. Intel has already lined up a few customers for the new ASIC. They are BLOCK (formerly known as Square), Argo Blockchain, and GRIID Infrastructure.

    This development will undoubtedly be welcome news to gamers because Bitcoin mining has been primarily done using GPUs. Large–scale Bitcoin mining operations have completely drained the market of the limited GPU supply, resulting in virtually no cards, price gouging, grossly overpriced used cards on eBay, and a lot of very angry gamers.

    Intel will formally introduce the new processor at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) show, which starts on Sunday, February 20. The show will be held virtually, like all shows these days.

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