The public has latched onto the recent market events with an intense curiosity brought about by a greed for instant riches. In the last year alone, the value of Bitcoin has risen by 1,731%. We’re talking gold rush V2.0, baby. Money talks, and with a resounding $615 billion held up in cryptocurrencies, it is clear why this is assuredly not the first cryptocurrency article you have read — maybe even today. An unfortunate side effect of mass interest in a subject is the wildfire-like spread of misinformation. So, what exactly is a blockchain, and what can you still do now that everyone has finally jumped on the cryptocurrency bandwagon?
With all the hype surrounding cryptocurrencies and the current
high not quite so high but still pretty eye-watering price of Bitcoin, there are some things which might once have been pure folly that could now be deemed worthy of pursuit. There is an excavation mission being considered to unearth a hard drive containing an early Bitcoin wallet in a Welsh landfill, for instance. But a more approachable task for you may be the possibility of mining using minimal hardware.
Take [Merlot Machina]’s project for example, implementing a Bitcoin miner on an ESP8266. Part of this is the timeless pursuit of answering the joke question: “Will it mine Bitcoin”, and the other part is looking at this like a lottery ticket. Is it a worthwhile punt at a prize for a minimal investment?
He gives us a rundown of some of the statistics involved, and comes away with the conclusion that it is something like a not-very-good lottery ticket. The ESP performs 1200 hashes per second while the entire Bitcoin community manages about 1.2 exahashes per second. This he calculates gives him a 1 in 1016 chance of mining a block every ten minutes, which for the tiny cost of an ESP and its relatively frugal power budget is a chance he sees as worth taking.
So far he has implemented the hashing algorithm and verified it against a known hash on an already-mined block. At this point though he’s hit a roadblock in the need to run Bitcoin core on a server to keep the ESP supplied with new block headers, so the ESP miner remains a proof of concept. The write-up is still an interesting read though, and given that many readers will have a few spare ESP boards it’s possible that one of you may take it to the next level and Win It Big. If that’s you, you’ll be able to sit on your private island sipping a cool drink, and laugh at the commenters who said it would never happen. Meanwhile here at Hackaday we’ll stick to tried-and-trusted revenue generation strategies, such as bringing you the latest hardware hacks.
This might seem a peculiarly slow miner, but it’s not the slowest we’ve seen by any means. The ever-prolific [Ken Shirriff] has tried it on an IBM 1401 mainframe and a Xerox Alto, and you can of course do it the old-fashioned way.
In days of yore, one could mine Bitcoin without much more than an AMD graphics card. Now, without specialized hardware it’s unlikely that you’ll make any appreciable headway in the bitcoin world. This latest project, however, goes completely in the other direction: [Ken] programmed a 55-year-old IBM mainframe to mine Bitcoin. Note that this is technically the most powerful rig ever made… if you consider the power usage per hash.
Engineering wordplay aside, the project is really quite fascinating. [Ken] goes into great detail about how Bitcoin mining actually works, how to program an assembly program for an IBM 1401 via punch cards, and even a section about networking a computer from this era. (Bonus points if he can get retro.hackaday.com to load!) The IBM boasts some impressive stats for the era as well: It can store up to 16,000 characters in memory and uses binary-coded decimal. All great things if you are running financial software in the early ’60s or demonstrating Bitcoin in the mid-2010s!
If it wasn’t immediately obvious, this rig will probably never mine a block. At 80 seconds per hash, it would take longer than the lifetime of the universe to do, but it is quite a feat of computer science to demonstrate that it is technically possible. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen one of [Ken]’s mainframe projects, and hopefully there are more gems to come!
The DEFCON badge this year was an impressive piece of hardware, complete with mind-bending puzzles, cap sense buttons, LEDs, and of course a Parallax Propeller. [mike] thought a chip as cool as the Propeller should be put to better use than just sitting around until next year so he turned it into a Bitcoin miner, netting him an astonishing 40 hashes per second.
Mining Bitcoins on hardware that doesn’t have much processing power to begin with (at least compared to the FPGAs and ASIC miners commonly used) meant [mike] would have to find some interesting ways to compute the SHA256 hashes that mining requires. He turned to RetroMiner, the Bitcoin miner made for an original Nintendo. Like the NES miner, [mike] is offloading the communication with the Bitcoin network to a host computer, but all of the actual math is handled by a single core on the Propeller.
Saving one core for communication with the host computer, a DEFCON badge could conceivably manage 280 hashes/second, meaning the processing power of all the badges made for DEFCON is about equal to a seven-year-old graphics card.
After hearing about cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Dogecoin, [Eric] decided he would have a go at designing his own mining rig. The goals of the project were to have a self-contained and stackable mining rig that had all the parts easily accessible. The result is this awesome computer enclosure, where GPU mining and traditional woodworking collide.
For mining all those coins, [Eric] is using five R9 280x GPUs. That’s an impressive amount of processing power that ended up being too much for the 1500W power supply he initially planned to use. With a few tweaks, though, he’s managing about 2.8 Mh/s out of his rig, earning him enough dogecoins to take him to the moon.
In the video below, you can see [Eric] building his rig out of 4×8 framing lumber. This isn’t a slipshod enclosure; [Eric] built this thing correctly by running the boards through a jointer, doing proper box joints with this screw and gear-based jig, and other proper woodworking techniques we don’t usually see.
[Adrian] came across a treasure trove of 507 mechanical device designs. It didn’t seem quite right for a Retrotechtacular post, but we wanted to share it as it’s a great place to come up with ideas for your next Rube Goldberg machine.
Biking with headphones is dangerous. That’s why [J.R.] built a handlebar enclosure for his Jambox Bluetooth speaker.
While dumpster diving [Mike] found a Macbook pro. It was missing a few things, like a keyboard, touchpad, battery, ram, and storage. He borrowed a power supply to test it out but without the keyboard there’s no power button. He figured out the traces on the motherboard which turn it on when shorted.
[Mateusz] want to let us know about the Hercules LaunchPad. Like the other TI Launchpad offerings it’s an all-in-one dev board. The Hercules line features a couple of flavors of dual-core ARM chips. Can you believe the dev boards you can get for under $20 these days?
And finally, here’s a way to display your Bitcoin mining rig for all to see. This system was laid out in an antique frame and hung on the wall.
The name of the game in mining Bitcoins isn’t CPUs, GPUs, or even FPGAs. Now, hardcore miners are moving on to custom ASIC chips like the Block Erupter, For around $100 USD, you too can mine Bitcoins at 300 MH/s with 2.5 Watts of power and a single USB port. This speed isn’t enough for some people, like [Jeremy] who overclocked his Block Erupter to nearly twice the speed.
[Jeremy] begins his tutorial with a teardown of the Block Erupter hardware. Inside, he found a custom ASIC chip, an ATTIny2313, a USB UART converter, and a voltage regulator for the ASIC. By changing out the 12 MHz crystal connected to the ASIC and fiddling with the voltage with a trim pot, [Jeremy] was able to overclock the ASIC core from 336 MHz to 560 MHz. Effectively, he’s running two Block Eruptors for the price of one with the potential to actually make back the purchase price of his hardware.
It must be noted the 560 MHz figure comes from replacing the 12 MHz crystal with a 20 MHz one, and this mod only lasted about 20 minutes on [Jeremy]’s bench until the magic blue smoke was released. He recommends a 14 or 16 MHz crystal, netting a new speed of either 392 MHz or 448 MHz for a stable mod.