Ethereum NewsApril 4, 2018 by David Nugent

Will Ethereum Become Centralized Due To Bitmain’s ASIC Miner?

Bitmain has officially announced the launch of EtHash ASIC miner (Antminer E3) for Ethereum (ETH) blockchain. The arrival of EtHash ASIC miner comes at a time when Ethereum developers are working round the clock to switch over to Proof-of-Stake (PoS) consensus protocol, from the current PoW (Proof-of-Work) protocol. The community, however, is concerned that the introduction of ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) will centralize the Ethereum network.

According to the Bitmain’s sales page, the Antminer E3, specifically built to mine Ethereum (ETH) will cost around $800 and will have a hash rate of 180 Megahash on the ETHash algorithm.

A similarly priced GPU, for example the Nvidia Geforce 1080 can process at 30 Megahashes on the Ethereum network. Bitmain’s ASIC E3 miner can run at 6x the speed of an ordinary GPU processor.

How Ethereum network works?

The rate at which a computer’s processor reads or stores data in a memory chip, referred to as memory bandwidth, has limited ASIC development on the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum was primarily created to be memory bound by design. This prevents the entry of ASICs, which enables cornering the mining market, thereby leading to increased centralization of the network as seen in Bitcoin. Mining Ethereum demands a lot of video memory and a high memory bandwidth. This makes graphics cards ideal.

Ethereum network’s algorithm, Ethash, relies on generating directed acyclic graph or DAG. The speed with which a computer chip can execute the Ethash algorithm depends on its ability to fetch the DAG from the computer’s memory. The size of the DAG increases with the increase in the length of Ethereum blockchain. For every 30,000 blocks or approximately every five days (based on the current block rate), the DAG size increases. The size of the DAG file is about 2.4 GB as of date.

It should be noted that Ethereum mining is limited by the DAG size. If a GPU’s memory is less than the size of the DAG file, then mining a cryptocurrency is impossible with that GPU. The limitation in memory size also constrains the scope of mining through ASICS. Technical limitations make it difficult to incorporate large memory into an ASIC miner. Additionally, limitations in the Ethash algorithm have till now made it difficult to develop a cost-effective ASIC miner. However, Nvidia and AMD has the technical expertise to develop such chips.

It seems Bitmain has successfully worked out a way to blow away the limitations to create a low-cost, efficient Ethereum ASIC miner with abundant memory. The E3 ASIC chips would feature 4 GB of DDR3 memory instead of the usual GDDR5 memory seen on GPU cards. DDR3 is slower, but cheaper when compared to GDDR5. Bitmain is rumored to have purchased a huge lot of DDR3 chips to bring down the price.

Ethereum community’s counter plan

Eventhough Bitmain has started accepting orders, shipment of mining rigs would begin sometime between July 16 and 31. By then, Ethereum community would have set up countermeasures to resist ASIC mining to ensure the Ethereum network stays decentralized. Switching over to PoS ecosystem will ensure that the network would be maintained by Ethers held in wallets of users. This would render ASICs useless. Last week, Ethereum’ lead developer Vlad Zamfir conducted a poll on Twitter, asking the community whether they would support a hard fork of the Ethereum block chain. One of Etheruem’s lead developers, Vlad Zamfir, issued a poll on Twitter asking the community whether they would support a hard fork of the Ethereum blockchain to delay ASIC development.

Ethereum founder Vitalik Butering himself has supported a hard fork that would prevent the arrival of E3 miner.

ASICs, in general, are perceived as a risk to the centralized nature of blockchain networks. The relatively large hash rate produced by ASIC hardware make a blockchain monopolized. Notably, Monero (XMR) and Siacoin (SC) are also planning to ensure that their network remains ASIC resistant.