- Supercomputers use a big array of CPUs dedicated to processing large data units, but they lack in GPU power.
- They are much slower than ASICs in terms of processing hashes.
- The electricity cost of running a supercomputer would be more than the value of mined Bitcoins.
- Bitcoin mining with current desktop processing power is indeed possible but pointless.
Bitcoin is one of the hottest topic these days, and why not, it grew more than 2000% in one year only. The price of cryptocurrency is so volatile – according to the expert investors, the riskiest thing you can do with your money is, invest it in Bitcoins. The price of one Bitcoin can go astonishingly high or come down to zero, at the same day.
However, if you are new to the cryptocurrency and thinking of mining bitcoins on your computer, then go ahead, there is no risk in that. The more computational power is, the more bitcoins you can mine.
But exactly how much bitcoins you earn by mining it on your desktop or laptop? Or what if someone uses a world’s fastest supercomputer to mine all of the remaining bitcoins? For instance, if NSA, NASA or DoE decided to redirect all their computational resources towards mining cryptocurrency, would they be able to mine all bitcoins in just few days? Let’s find out.
The Key Factors
Considering you are already aware of what exactly mining is, the first things you should know is Bitcoin mining is attached with a Difficulty factor that measures how difficult is to find a hash below a given target.
The network has a global block difficulty, and all valid blocks have a hash below this target. The network difficulty changes every 2016 blocks.
Of course, the mining Bitcoin requires significant computational powers to encrypt hash. Many dedicated mining rigs have been built out of GPUs, FPGAs (Field programmable gate array) and ASICs (application-specific integrated circuit). And you can bet that some supercomputers are spending time on mining Bitcoins.
Supercomputers use a big array of CPUs dedicated to processing large data units (known as vector processing), but they lack in GPU power. It’s much slower than mining with modern GPUs and ASICs that are Integrated Circuits specially designed for specific use, rather than intended for general-purpose use.
The fastest supercomputer in the world, Sunway TaihuLight has processing power of 93.01 petaFLOPS. Whereas, the Bitcoin hashrate is 80704290.84 petaFLOPS at the moment.
Even if China decides to use this system for mining Bitcoins, it won’t be beneficial. They would be spending much more cost on electricity bill (to run processors and cooling components) than the value of bitcoins mined. Running at full efficiently, Sunway TaihuLight consumes more than 15,300 kW of power.
AISCs, like AntMiner S9, on the other hand, are small devices that can process up to 13.5 trillion hashes per second (Th/s) consuming 0.098 W of energy for every billion hash. The device uses a Xilinx Zynq-7000 series FPGA with a dual ARM Cortex A9 microprocessor. With this much processing power, one can earn approximately 0.36 bitcoins per month.
Bitcoin mining with current desktop (CPU or GPU) processing power is indeed possible but pointless.
Nowadays, Bitcoins mining is mostly done with ASICs chips. They are highly optimized for sole purpose of solving calculations required in mining. The lack of flexibility enables to immensely increase their efficiency over general purpose devices. This has caused Bitcoin hashrate network to grow about 20,000 times more since the first Bitcoin ASICs have shipped. General purpose integrated chips are several magnitudes less efficient when it comes to mining, and therefore do not stand a change at competing.
This Doesn’t Stop People From Trying
In 2014, a Harvard student was caught mining cryptocurrency, Dogecoin on 14,000-core supercomputer. It turns out, the computer could mine at the maximum rate of 20 million hashes per seconds. This is still a lot, but not insanely fast. A similar case happened when a professor was banned by the United States government for mining Bitcoin on a supercomputer.
In the same year, an ex-German military cryptographer Mark Welle along with his brother Maik started offering a mining service on their “Two Brother” machine. They operated for nearly 2 years in stealth mode.
In 2013, Forbes reported that global Bitcoin computing power is 256 times faster than top 500 supercomputers, combined.
The future of Bitcoin is threatened by quantum computers. A paper published in arxiv.org shows how quantum computer could undermine and exploit Bitcoin’s security protocol. The elliptic curve signature scheme used by Bitcoin is at risk, and could be broken by quantum machine as early as 2027, by the most optimistic estimates.
For now, Bitcoin does not have any plan to upgrade its current security protocol, but with usable quantum machines nearly a decade away, cryptocurrency platforms have a plenty of time to reconsider their encryption techniques.