What is ASICBOOST?

There has been quite a lot of controversy regarding Bitmain’s ASICBOOST technology over the past few days. This technology allows the company to use a flaw in the bitcoin mining protocol to gain a competitive advantage over their competitors. However, there are some some claims ASICBOOST only works with a specific type of scaling proposal. It is time we dive deeper into the mystery that is ASICBOOST.

Unveiling The Mystery That Is ASICBOOST

As most people are well aware of by now, Bitmain’s ASICBOOST technology provides them with additional mining power. To be more specific, the technology allows ASIC hardware to increase its mining efficiency by around 20%. This is achieved due to a reduction in the frequency of computing a part of the SHA-256 calculation. In a way, this is why Bitmain is “abusing” an “exploit” found in SHA-256 mining. A more technical explanation can be found here.

Moreover, it is also important to note ASICBOOST technology is not something that was only discovered a few days ago. The concept has been proposed quite some time ago, and Bitmain has been transparent about how they use a modified version of the technology. This whitepaper explains ASICBOOST dates back to March of 2016, and has been drafted by Dr. Timo Hanke. Speeding up an ASIC’s hashes by approximately 20% is quite a significant development, and can be applied to any type of mining device if needed.

Note from the Author: Bitmain does not own the AsicBoost technology, as the official patent for this technology is held by Timo Hanke and Sergio Lerner. 

The way ASICBOOST works is difficult to explain without getting too technical. It is safe to say the technology allows miners to reduce the number of potential hashes required to solve a network block, resulting in increased efficiency. This results in making mining more profitable for anyone who has access to this technology in the first place. Not only does ASICBOOST improve the dollar per second earnings, but it also reduces the energy consumption required to achieve the increased profitability. 

However, it is important to note Bitmain’s version of ASICBOOST is not necessarily the same concept as proposed in the whitepaper. Instead, the company’s mining hardware uses a different implementation where it scales to the hardware level. Considering how Bitmain is one of the world’s largest bitcoin mining hardware manufacturers in the world, the fact that it uses ASICBOOST means the new solution is an important technology.

This technology has gotten a lot of negative attention these past few days due to a post by Gregory Maxwell. He claims someone has successfully reverse engineered one of Bitmain’s ASIC miners. To be more precise, some people claim scaling solutions such as Segregated Witness will invalidate the use of ASICBOOST altogether. However, according to Sam Cole, owner of KnCMiner:

“It’s nearly impossible to reverse engineer any 16nm ASIC chip without a huge lab. In one of those chips there are billions of transistors 16nm in size. The microscope needed to even see that they exist isn’t exactly bought at Walmart. Without having access to the code of the chip it would be futile.” – Sam Cole

A discussion broke out on Reddit claiming how Bitmain uses their mining advantage as a way to justify blocking Segregated Witness. Moreover, there are some claims over how Bitmain has successfully generated millions of dollars in extra revenue because of their technology. The company quickly responded to these allegations and made it clear the company is not in fact using this technology on the bitcoin blockchain.

“Our ASIC chips, like those of some other manufacturers, have a circuit design that supports ASICBOOST. However, the ASICBOOST method has not been used by us on the mainnet.”- Bitmain

Furthermore, Bitmain went on to point out how they also hold a patent for ASICBOOST and that they can legally use it in their cloud mining platforms. However, they claim that they haven’t used the feature so far and are not planning to utilize it “for the greater good of Bitcoin”.

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