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Author Topic: I have leverage within ARM -> Could they change the entire game?  (Read 773 times)
dogie
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March 23, 2013, 05:01:23 AM
 #1

Hello all,

I know this would be better off in the hardware section but as a long time lurker but new poster I will respect the rules and leave it here. This could get pretty long so I'm going to summarise the 'story' and leave some questions.

Background
  • I've been watching the story of BFL and Avalon and am a bit dismayed. BFL is either a humongous scam, well intentioned scam [I can do this.... oh no wait I can't, fml], or just run by horrific people. Avalon appears to be legit, however with their price gouging in round 3 they just slowed down expansion of mainstream miners so much. Also being China based there will always be language, distribution and trust issues compared to a UK/US/EUR company.
  • I have top level contacts within a UK chip design company called ARM: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARM_Holdings. Historically they've been small, but have now just dominated the global smartphone business. They historically specialise in RISC rather than ASIC. They are fabless and license out almost everything. EDIT: Essentially what I am saying is I can either put something under their loses and they enter the market, or utilise them to create some kick ass chips.
  • Personally I have expertise in management, consulting, SME startups/expansion and project management. And a masters in engineering.

Now the questions:
  • ARM have the ability to design from scratch almost any chip in the world using cutting edge technology, and access to countless implementation companies and fabs. What are people's thoughts on a design by them totally changing the ASIC market - if they were interested.
  • Current chip tech is allowing for 45 and 32nm processing [and lower for ARM], so why are Avalon using 130 and BFL 65?
  • What is the difference in core architecture between ASIC for bitcoin and less specialised processing for massive super arrays - is the bitcoin ASIC highly specific to a certain mathematical operator or could it still be used generally. AKA is there a larger market for a semi specialised chip other than BCMing while still excelling at BCMing?
  • Its all about speed to market, I know that. BFL are 3-300000000000 months away, Avalon shipping in reasonable quantities. A totally bespoke design could be shipping in consumer products within 12 months.... but with the market filled with Avalon devices, what is the future like? [This is heavily tied in to the above question]
  • Avalon essentially has the whole market. Why don't they stop selling them and set up the next batch of 500 in a farm and take the entire bitcon market rather than selling upfront?

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March 23, 2013, 08:54:40 AM
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To answer one of your questions (maybe the most important, emphasis mine):

Quote
The way Bitcoin mining hardware works is to put a bunch of SHA hash units on a single chip so the miner can do parallel work. SHA hashes are designed to be computed quickly and with minimal resources, so they're naturally quite easy to run in parallel. So in other words the design of a Bitcoin ASIC miner isn't necessarily as expensive as other kinds of chips that you could make. The main problem I see is that the hardware is low-volume and thus expensive to make. Hardware is very much a volume business and Bitcoin hardware is extremely specific. Nobody else is going to want a chip that brute forces SHA-2.

Even if hardware costs for ASIC machines dropped, the hardware is still very much special-purpose. With CPU mining everybody with a computer could have a chance of mining some bitcoins. When GPU miners were released this got specialized down to computer with a decent graphics card. This later specialized down into having to have a computer with a very specific AMD card, then a computer with multiples of those, then having multiple computers altogether. Now, the average Bitcoin mining hardware resembles no computer one would actually build or want to use. So already mining has specialized to the point where it's a profession rather than a task everybody on the network carries out.

The problem isn't just the cost of obtaining ASIC hardware, it's the fact that it has to be obtained at all. Mining is a very computationally expensive operation with no other benefits than either going to a mining pool or solo-mining. Unless you have one of these mythical ASICs, or a very specific purpose-built GPU mining rig, you aren't going to make anything resembling a substantial amount of money. But you will be spending lots of electricity to do practically nothing.
So in all practicality, the more specialized the mining gets, the less people can actually start mining, which is contrary to Bitcoin's design.
Even if the ASICs get really cheap, Bitcoin will adjust difficulty to compensate, in a sense, and you'll have to buy a lot of them again.

-kmeisthax

60% down this page (at the time of this post anyway):

http://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/1ato45/because_rbitcoin_could_use_some_contrary_opinion/

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dogie
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March 23, 2013, 03:56:04 PM
 #3

To answer one of your questions (maybe the most important, emphasis mine):

Quote
So in all practicality, the more specialized the mining gets, the less people can actually start mining, which is contrary to Bitcoin's design.
Even if the ASICs get really cheap, Bitcoin will adjust difficulty to compensate, in a sense, and you'll have to buy a lot of them again.

-kmeisthax

60% down this page (at the time of this post anyway):

http://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/1ato45/because_rbitcoin_could_use_some_contrary_opinion/

That reduced quote was what I was interested to see if the trend could be reversed... a design that was so efficient and widely available it was still possible to mine for the masses (as all you could do is multiply at the same efficiencies).

I was unaware they were simply parallel operations rather than solving them quicker. Still, it would be interesting to see if you can solve that operation quicker, rather than in parallel.

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March 23, 2013, 05:29:53 PM
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Quote

Quote
So in all practicality, the more specialized the mining gets, the less people can actually start mining, which is contrary to Bitcoin's design.
Even if the ASICs get really cheap, Bitcoin will adjust difficulty to compensate, in a sense, and you'll have to buy a lot of them again.

-kmeisthax

That reduced quote was what I was interested to see if the trend could be reversed... a design that was so efficient and widely available it was still possible to mine for the masses (as all you could do is multiply at the same efficiencies).

I was unaware they were simply parallel operations rather than solving them quicker. Still, it would be interesting to see if you can solve that operation quicker, rather than in parallel.

The faster you do them serially, the more heat you produce. So a smaller manufacturing process would be necessary, at ridiculous clock rates. Liquid cooling from the get-go. You'd still need to do parallel; but there will always be room for faster and more efficient.

I've always wondered about this - why hasn't some small group within AMD or Intel or ARM gotten together and done something like this on the side? (If only I had gone into the EE track instead of web dev...  Grin) I think the process is just too complicated and expensive. Until an alternative use of SHA-2 256 hashes could be conjured up, it's a small market and the market cap of those companies is such that it really doesn't interest them. Maybe at BTC = $1000+?

The Avalon ASICs use a reference spec for their chips, BFLs are custom (correct me if I'm wrong), so there are a few ways of tackling the problem. Would be interested to know what your contacts at ARM say about it and what a 35nm process (or smaller?) would cost--still a "beyond seed funding" project. Maybe make a board/HDK that could be re-purposed for other things but also support a series of SHA-2 256 chips that could be put to mining use as well. FPGA-on-steroids. IANAEE

For some reason (and fortunately for FPGA and GPU miners) there seems to be gross mismanagement at BFL (and convicted felons under employ) and slow-but-steady progress at Avalon (graduate students in China doing the best they can without a solid biz plan).

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March 23, 2013, 05:36:49 PM
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Sadly ARM only design and license, no fabrication = no product.
Shame, because I'd have liked to see a British company compete.

casascius
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March 23, 2013, 05:39:33 PM
 #6

Welcome.

I don't know enough about manufacturing to be able to thoroughly understand how the process of going about any kind of large-scale ASIC production, but I wanted to throw out one thought that I had lingering that I feel would be very applicable to any ASIC endeavor undertaken by any large producer of silicon chips.  I think that by all accounts I understand Bitcoin fairly well.

If I were hypothetically a producer of silicon chip products and in charge of my company's game plan, and also had the benefit of the Bitcoin knowledge that I currently possess, this is what I would be inclined to do.

First, I would make the ASIC bitcoin mining chips as a proof-of-concept, just as you have described, to get my foot in the waters of bitcoin mining.

Then I would evolve my IC design so that it became a one-wire design.  By that, I mean that other than pins for power and ground, I would make it so that someone could derive all of the benefits from all the bitcoin mining core(s) on my chip through a single wire.  This wire would implement some kind of command set and offer bidirectional communication.

Finally, I would take that design, and throw it in unused silicon space of other IC products I was producing, that happened to have at least one N/C pin available to steal for this purpose.

Essentially, I would be including FREE bitcoin miners in every single product I made, on the condition that there was room on the chip and one spare pin to expose the functionality, isolated of the remainder of the IC (other than power robbing).  Whether any given buyer of that chip actually implemented the bitcoin miner would be completely up to them, and if the bitcoin mining pin were left unconnected, the mining function would just be dormant/disabled.  Of course, the capabilities of the free bitcoin miner would be appropriately adapted for the environment the chip was going to be placed in... if it was likely to be in a low-power or heat-sensitive location, the free bitcoin miner would be trivially configurable through its command set to not cause the device to overheat or drain power inappropriately.

The expectation is, of course, that those who bought the chip and made them into marketable devices would have the option to make their device also be a free bitcoin miner if their business needs, resource constraints, and ideology all aligned to permit it.

Voila, I would be contributing to the hash rate of Bitcoin with a truly minimal resource cost, as well as shipping silicon products that had a niche competitive edge over others on the market, but meanwhile without burdening implementers who bought my chip and had no interest in bitcoin mining.  I would feel like I was contributing to the stability of the world by making sure bitcoin mining chips covered the globe indiscriminately and weren't just being accumulated by the single largest bidder.

Companies claiming they got hacked and lost your coins sounds like fraud so perfect it could be called fashionable.  I never believe them.  If I ever experience the misfortune of a real intrusion, I declare I have been honest about the way I have managed the keys in Casascius Coins.  I maintain no ability to recover or reproduce the keys, not even under limitless duress or total intrusion.  Remember that trusting strangers with your coins without any recourse is, as a matter of principle, not a best practice.  Don't keep coins online. Use paper or hardware wallets instead.
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March 24, 2013, 07:59:04 AM
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The faster you do them serially, the more heat you produce. So a smaller manufacturing process would be necessary, at ridiculous clock rates. Liquid cooling from the get-go. You'd still need to do parallel; but there will always be room for faster and more efficient.

I've always wondered about this - why hasn't some small group within AMD or Intel or ARM gotten together and done something like this on the side? (If only I had gone into the EE track instead of web dev...  Grin) I think the process is just too complicated and expensive. Until an alternative use of SHA-2 256 hashes could be conjured up, it's a small market and the market cap of those companies is such that it really doesn't interest them. Maybe at BTC = $1000+?

The Avalon ASICs use a reference spec for their chips, BFLs are custom (correct me if I'm wrong), so there are a few ways of tackling the problem. Would be interested to know what your contacts at ARM say about it and what a 35nm process (or smaller?) would cost--still a "beyond seed funding" project. Maybe make a board/HDK that could be re-purposed for other things but also support a series of SHA-2 256 chips that could be put to mining use as well. FPGA-on-steroids. IANAEE

For some reason (and fortunately for FPGA and GPU miners) there seems to be gross mismanagement at BFL (and convicted felons under employ) and slow-but-steady progress at Avalon (graduate students in China doing the best they can without a solid biz plan).


ARM only takes $600m in revenue, and $150m in net, so if we hypothesise that Avalon are looking at close to $3m gross for ONE round then it would likely still interest them.

Because they've historically used the smallest processes possible and gained an advantage from it, while targeting lower power applications... I think if anyone could do it, it would be ARM.


Welcome.

I don't know enough about manufacturing to be able to thoroughly understand how the process of going about any kind of large-scale ASIC production, but I wanted to throw out one thought that I had lingering that I feel would be very applicable to any ASIC endeavor undertaken by any large producer of silicon chips.  I think that by all accounts I understand Bitcoin fairly well.

If I were hypothetically a producer of silicon chip products and in charge of my company's game plan, and also had the benefit of the Bitcoin knowledge that I currently possess, this is what I would be inclined to do.

First, I would make the ASIC bitcoin mining chips as a proof-of-concept, just as you have described, to get my foot in the waters of bitcoin mining.

Then I would evolve my IC design so that it became a one-wire design.  By that, I mean that other than pins for power and ground, I would make it so that someone could derive all of the benefits from all the bitcoin mining core(s) on my chip through a single wire.  This wire would implement some kind of command set and offer bidirectional communication.

Finally, I would take that design, and throw it in unused silicon space of other IC products I was producing, that happened to have at least one N/C pin available to steal for this purpose.

Essentially, I would be including FREE bitcoin miners in every single product I made, on the condition that there was room on the chip and one spare pin to expose the functionality, isolated of the remainder of the IC (other than power robbing).  Whether any given buyer of that chip actually implemented the bitcoin miner would be completely up to them, and if the bitcoin mining pin were left unconnected, the mining function would just be dormant/disabled.  Of course, the capabilities of the free bitcoin miner would be appropriately adapted for the environment the chip was going to be placed in... if it was likely to be in a low-power or heat-sensitive location, the free bitcoin miner would be trivially configurable through its command set to not cause the device to overheat or drain power inappropriately.

The expectation is, of course, that those who bought the chip and made them into marketable devices would have the option to make their device also be a free bitcoin miner if their business needs, resource constraints, and ideology all aligned to permit it.

Voila, I would be contributing to the hash rate of Bitcoin with a truly minimal resource cost, as well as shipping silicon products that had a niche competitive edge over others on the market, but meanwhile without burdening implementers who bought my chip and had no interest in bitcoin mining.  I would feel like I was contributing to the stability of the world by making sure bitcoin mining chips covered the globe indiscriminately and weren't just being accumulated by the single largest bidder.


I like this, but its a hippy ideology in the sense that it makes the world a better place, but not the business's pockets.

Sadly ARM only design and license, no fabrication = no product.
Shame, because I'd have liked to see a British company compete.


I think its actually an advantage. Sure they don't have anything in house, but im sure the (every) fab that manufactures their products would be happy to help with a small project like this. After all, you'd play golf with your boss even though you hate him and gold right?

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March 24, 2013, 09:18:08 AM
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> Current chip tech is allowing for 45 and 32nm processing [and lower for ARM], so why are Avalon using 130 and BFL 65?

NRE costs - 130 and 65 is older tech, lots of capacity, less pressure and cheaper tooling.
I'm sure your friends at ARM are intimately familiar with this.
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March 24, 2013, 12:13:47 PM
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Would ARM really be interested in serving such a small market?
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March 24, 2013, 06:10:38 PM
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> Current chip tech is allowing for 45 and 32nm processing [and lower for ARM], so why are Avalon using 130 and BFL 65?

NRE costs - 130 and 65 is older tech, lots of capacity, less pressure and cheaper tooling.
I'm sure your friends at ARM are intimately familiar with this.

Even 32nm is hardly new though, and 130nm processing is losing a lot of its capacity.

Would ARM really be interested in serving such a small market?

ARM are small enough that this is a big enough market. As I remarked above, Avalon looking at $3m net in ONE round of chips.

casascius
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March 24, 2013, 06:27:27 PM
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I like this, but its a hippy ideology in the sense that it makes the world a better place, but not the business's pockets.

You are 100% right.

Occasionally, the set of those individuals with such ideology and the set of those managing large organizations happen to intersect.  When the right person gets the right idea, they make a big difference.

Companies claiming they got hacked and lost your coins sounds like fraud so perfect it could be called fashionable.  I never believe them.  If I ever experience the misfortune of a real intrusion, I declare I have been honest about the way I have managed the keys in Casascius Coins.  I maintain no ability to recover or reproduce the keys, not even under limitless duress or total intrusion.  Remember that trusting strangers with your coins without any recourse is, as a matter of principle, not a best practice.  Don't keep coins online. Use paper or hardware wallets instead.
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March 24, 2013, 06:33:38 PM
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I like this, but its a hippy ideology in the sense that it makes the world a better place, but not the business's pockets.

You just described the motives behind the creation of Bitcoin.
dogie
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March 24, 2013, 07:59:21 PM
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I like this, but its a hippy ideology in the sense that it makes the world a better place, but not the business's pockets.

You just described the motives behind the creation of Bitcoin.

Possibly, but aligning the thinking of a large corporation might not be so easy without financial incentives.

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