Stretched PC Case Turned GPU Cryptominer

We don’t do financial planning here at Hackaday, so we won’t weigh in on the viability of making money mining cryptocurrency in such a volatile market. But we will say that if you’re going to build a machine to hammer away at generating Magical Internet Monies, you might as well make it cool. Even if you don’t turn a profit, at least you’ll have something interesting to look at while you weep over your electricity bill.

Sick of seeing the desktop machine he built a decade ago gathering dust, [plaggle24w5] decided to use it as the base for a cryptocurrency mining rig. Of course, none of the original internals would do him any good, but the case itself ended up being a useful base to expand on. With the addition of some 3D printed components, he stretched out the case and installed an array of video cards.

To start with, all the original plastic was ripped off, leaving just the bare steel case. He then jammed a second power supply into the original optical drive bays to provide the extra power those thirsty GPUs would soon be sucking down. He then designed some 3D printed arms which would push out the side panel of the case far enough that he could mount the video cards vertically alongside the case. Three case fans were then added to the bottom to blow air through the cards.

While [plaggle24w5] mentions this arrangement does work with the case standing up, there’s obviously not a lot of air getting to the fans on the bottom when they’re only an inch or so off the ground. Turning the case on its side, with the motherboard parallel to the floor, allows for much better airflow and results in a measurable dip in operating temperature. Just hope you never drop anything down onto the exposed motherboard…

Mining Bitcoin on desktop computers might be a distant memory, but the latest crop of cryptocurrencies are (for now) giving new players a chance to relive those heady early days.

Hackaday Links: February 11, 2018

Are you a student? Are you part of a hackerspace? We have a contest going on right now where you can win a fancy new Prusa i3 MK3. The Repairs You Can Print contest is a challenge to do something useful with that machine that spits out tugboats. We’re looking for functional repairs of items around your house, office, or garage. Did you repair something with a 3D printer? Then you too can get in on the action! Enter now! Check out the entries!

You may know Flite Test as the group who do everything surrounding remote control flight (mostly fixed wings, a nice counter to the quadification of the hobby over the last few years). Flite Test designs and sells airplanes made out of Dollar Tree foam board, they have yearly, bi-coastal meetups, and they’re all-around awesome dudes. Now, they want to build the Disneyland of RC flight. [Josh Bixler], the face of Flite Test and a guy who has a plane named after him, wants to buy a golf course and turn it into the world’s best RC flying park, with a ~2000 foot grass strip for general aviation. We’re looking at their crowdfunding campaign, and it looks promising it might be funded by the time this goes live.

A while ago, [Peter Jansen], the guy who built a tricorder and a laser-cut CT scanner, made a magnetic camera. This Hall Effect camera is a camera for magnetism instead of light. Now, this camera has been fully built and vastly improved. He’s capturing ‘frames’ of magnetism in a spinning fan at 2000 Hz (or FPS, terminology kind of breaks down here), and it’s beautiful.

Oh thank God we can finally buy GPUs again. Try buying them with Bitcoin.

In the last few years, CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, has expanded. Originally, this was one of the treaties that banned the import or export of rhino horn, but recently this expanded to the export of rosewood thanks to increased demand in China for rosewood furniture. The laws of unintended consequences kicked into effect, and importing anything made out of rosewood is now a mess of permits and inspections at the border, including musical instruments. Travelling orchestras, for example, are at risk of having their string section confiscated because of rosewood tuning pegs. Cooler minds may now be prevailing, and there’s some hope the regulations may be changed during the next meeting of the CITES convention next year.

As noted a few months ago, there was a possibility of Broadcom buying Qualcomm for one… hundred… Billion dollarsThis offer was rejected, with Qualcomm saying the offer wasn’t high enough. Broadcom fired back with an offer of $82 per share, or $121B. This offer was rejected this week.

Need some EMC testing? [Zach]’s got your back. He’s reserved some time in a 10m EMC chamber for testing NeuroBytes this week. If you have an Open Source project that needs a pre-test scan for unintentional radiator, you can get in on the action. This is just a pre-test, you’re not getting certification, and you’re not going to test anything with radios, and you need to ship [Zach] your stuff. But still, free test time. Woo.

Reverse Engineering A Bitcoin Miner

If you’re brave enough to have dipped your toes into the Wild West that is cryptocurrency, you probably know that people have long since abandoned trying to mine on their desktop computers. Farms of GPUs are all the rage now, but dedicated mining hardware has also enjoyed a following among those who are serious about their fictitious money. The state-of-the-art for such devices is moving just as rapidly as cryptocurrency itself is, which means older mining gear can now be picked up fairly cheap on the second-hand market. This is an excellent opportunity for those who want to experiment with this type of hardware and potentially utilize it for some other purpose, but first you’ve got to figure out how the thing works.

To that end, [Tomasz Wątorowski] wrote in to the tip line to tell us about the progress he’s made reverse engineering the control protocol for the Antminer S1. As is often the case, the documentation didn’t have all the details he needed, but it did have a schematic of the BM1380 chip at the heart of the device.

Performance of the Antminer S1 controlled via UART

The Antminer S1 contains 64 BM1380 chips on an internal UART bus. With the information from the schematic, [Tomasz] was able to tap into this UART bus with a USB adapter and start listening in on the conversation. He compiled a collection of commands and learned enough to be dangerous (which is always the goal here at Hackaday).

For example, he found that the could set the frequency of the BM1380 as high as he wished without any consideration for thermal overload. This could potentially allow somebody to run  the hardware to the point of destruction, à la Stuxnet.

Once he figured out how to give the hardware hashes to work on over the UART interface, he setup a little head-to-head competition between the software he wrote to command the Antminer S1 and the official control software. No drop in performance was found between his software and the real deal, which sounds like a win in our book.

Even if he can’t improve on the performance of this particular piece of outdated mining hardware, it still beats doing it by hand on a piece of paper.

The 348,296th Article About Cryptocurrency

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?

Continue reading “The 348,296th Article About Cryptocurrency”

Mine Bitcoin With An ESP8266

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.

Don’t Get Caught Up In Blockchain Hype

It’s the story of the moment, isn’t it. As the price of Bitcoin continues on its wild and crazy rollercoaster ride, everyone’s talking about cryptocurrencies, and in almost mystical terms, about blockchains. Perhaps to be a little more accurate, we should report that they are talking about The Blockchain, a single entity which it seems is now the answer to all ills.

Of course, there is no single blockchain, instead blockchain technologies form the underpinnings of the cryptocurrency boom. Since little dollar signs seem to be buzzing around in front of everyone talking about that subject, it has attracted the attention of hordes of people with little understanding of it. APNIC have a good article aimed at those people: Don’t Get Caught Up In Blockchain Hype, which is worth a read even if you do understand blockchain technologies.

It makes the point that many large enterprises are considering investments in blockchain technologies, and lists some of the potential pitfalls that they may encounter. There may be a slight element of schadenfreude for some of the technically literate in seeing this in action, but given that such things can have consequences for those among us it’s too important to ignore.

As an analogy of a relatively clueless executive jumping on a tech-driven bandwagon, a software company of our acquaintance had a boss who decided in the heady days before the dotcom crash that the organisation would fully embrace open-source. Something to be welcomed, you might think, but given that the software in question was a commercially sensitive asset upon which all company salaries depended, it was fortunate that he listened to his developers when they explained to him exactly what open source entails.

Whether you are a blockchain savant or an uninterested bystander, it’s worth a read as you may sometime need its arguments to save someone from their own folly. If you fancy a simple example to help understand something of how blockchains work, we’ve got that covered for you.

Bitcoin coins image: Mike Cauldwell [Public domain].

Reconstructing a Blurry QR Code

QR Codes are a two-dimensional type of matrix barcode that are used for a variety of uses. They’re one way of turning a long piece of string data into an easily machine-readable format. For this reason, they can be used to store private keys for encryption and crypto-currency purposes. [Roger Ver] attempted to use a QR code containing a private key to give away some cryptocurrency on TV, but the code was blurred out by the broadcaster. Not ones to give up easily, [Michael] and [Clément] decided to see if they could reconstruct it anyway. 

The work begins, as so many cryptographic exploits do, with the collection of as much of the plaintext key as possible. By stepping through the footage frame by frame, small pieces of the unobscured QR code were found, as well as some of the private key itself. By combining this with enhanced images of the blurred code, the team were able to put together less than one third of the QR code. The team had other tricks up their sleeve though – they knew the QR contained a private key of a particular format, and were able to figure out the QR code was 41×41 pixels.

By using this data along with a careful study of the QR code format, the team were able to put together some code in Python to brute force the key. After 838849 trials, the key was found, and the team were able to claim the prize. It’s a great example of cryptographic analysis – and so is this story on hacking your own password.

[Thanks to Esko for the tip!]