Is First Ethereum ASIC Miner a Reason to Hardfork?
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4 April

So, it finally happened. Chinese mining hardware manufacturer Bitmain has announced Antminer E3 - the first ASIC miner capable of mining Ethereum (ETH/USD) and other currencies using the EtHash algorithm and it’s going to cost only $800.

According to the specifications it is going to have hashrate of 180MH/s with power consumption of 800W. Not very impressive if compared with some other miners.

It should be noted though that its hashrate is less than that of conventional GPU miners. However, some Ethereum users are afraid that the numbers are fabricated. Besides, the EtHash algorithm requires a lot of memory, and regardless of whether its mined on an ASIC or a GPU, both devices are necessarily encumbered by the storage requirements. It is not clear for now whether Antminer E3 ASIC has broken this fundamental aspect of EtHash.

The manufacturer will start shipping Antminer between 16-31 July 2018. The announcement states: “These are the conservative estimates. We expect the miners to deliver higher performance and efficiency when they are ready to ship.”

This news came as a shock to Ethereum's developers and users. Many started discussing how to fight back and protect its long-cherished ASIC resistance, however calls for immediate Ethereum hardfork were bound to arise. Infact they appeared even before the arrival of Bitmain’s ASIC miner.

“I believe it is the accepted wisdom that ASIC based mining leads to increases centralization when compared to GPU mining. This leads us to two questions: Should we hard fork to make ASIC mining harder and to demonstrate a willingness to hard fork any future ASIC based ethereum mining. What specifically changes do we make to implement this increased ASIC resistance,” one commentator at Github is reaching out to community seeking if there is a lot of support in this hardfork.

“I firmly believe that Ethereum is going to fork this ASIC off,” said video blogger VoskCoin. “I mean if you move away from PoW that’s one thing, it’s all different subject, but if you stay PoW and you boast ASIC resistance but then you don’t do anything when ASIC arrives… Shouldn’t you have an alternative algorithm in your back pocket for when this arises, I don’t know, we are going to find out it very shortly,” he added.

“If Ethereum forks, will the other coins follow suit? Does a coin like Ethereum Classic (ETC/USD) not fork and then gain momentum it may not have previously had? And vice versa — does Ethereum not fork and then everyone would want to champion Ethereum Classic because they do fork, staying true to the message that Ethereum has always been ASIC-resistant from the get-go,” VoskCoin asked.

A number of potential methods for blocking Bitmain's ASICs have surfaced, ones which in the coming days are likely to solidify into a formal strategy that could help keep Ethereum open to smaller miners and hobbyists.

Indeed, Ethereum developers have been quietly building defenses for this future, long promoting design choices intended to protect the blockchain against hardware meant to consolidate rewards in the hands of companies or individuals capable of operating at scale.

“Even if optimized hardware miners emerge, the community has the ability to work together to essentially change the mining algorithm by “poisoning” the transaction pool. Engineers can analyze existing ASICs, determine what their optimizations are, and dump transactions into the blockchain that such optimizations simply do not work with. If 5% of all transactions are effectively poisoned, then ASICs cannot possibly have a speedup of more than 20x. The nice thing is that there is a reason why people would pay the transaction fees to do this: each individual ASIC company has the incentive to poison the well for its competitors,” Vitalik Buterin, Ethereum's creator, wrote in his blog posts back in 2014.

By Anton Lysenkov

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