After a nine-month delay and $3.8 million of investment, an upstart manufacturer is ready to produce its first batch of powerful new machines for mining cryptocurrencies ethereum and ethereum classic.
Linzhi, based in Shenzhen, China, said Wednesday it had ordered 37 wafers from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the main parts that will allow it to build about 200 application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) miners.
These sample units will test whether the machines can mine as efficiently as they are designed to do using ethash, the proof-of-work algorithm used on ethereum and ethereum classic.
The testing units, if successful, would mark a major step toward mass production as Linzhi sets out to compete with makers of general-purpose computing chips, such as NVIDIA, as well as mining gear specialists Bitmain and InnoSilicon, which both make ASIC miners for the ethash algorithm.
Roughly five million ether (ETH), the native cryptocurrency on the ethereum network, is being mined every year, which, at its current price, is worth more than $800 million. Even for ethereum classic, which maintains the original ethereum ledger from before a hard fork in 2016, about nine million native ETC gets mined every year, worth more than $60 million.
Linzhi was founded in February 2018 by Chen Min, a former chip design head at Canaan Creative, maker of the Avalon bitcoin miner. Chen told CoinDesk the new company was completely self-funded with about $4 million as starting capital.
It announced the plan to produce ethash ASIC miners in September 2018 with an ambition to beat the efficiency of most existing equipment. Chen’s target specification for Linzhi’s ethash ASIC miner is set at 1400 mega hashes per second (MH/s) with an electricity consumption level of one kilowatt-hour.
To put those figures in perspective, NVIDIA’s GTX TitanV 8 card is now one of the most profitable piece of equipment on the ethash algorithm, able to compute 656 MH/s at an energy consumption level of 2.1 kWh, according to mining pool f2pool’s miner profitability index,
With ETH’s current price ($180) and network difficulty, as well as an electricity cost of $0.04 per kWh, each GTX TitanV 8 would bring home a daily profit of $7.35. Similarly, if one uses the same GTX TitanV 8 card to mine ETC, which has both a lower price and a lower mining difficulty than ETH, the daily profit would still be around $6.70.
The total computing power racing on ethereum and ethereum classic to compete for block rewards and to secure the two networks is around 160 and 13 tera hashes per second (TH/s), respectively.
Since the announcement of its plan, Linzhi has spent almost all of its initial capital on research and development of the chip design, the operations of its dozen-person team, and the order of the first batch of wafers, to bet the sample testing units will deliver the intended mining power.
Linzhi previously said it was aiming to order the first batch of wafers around December in order to have samples ready in April and mass production in June.
Speaking of the delay, the company said:
“We underestimated the complexity of the chip and how long it would take to grow the team and make the company functional. We are cautiously optimistic that we can just move forward the rest of the schedule, which would mean 12/2019 for sample machines and 02/2020 for mass production.”
One possible risk for the business is that the ethereum community has previously voted to activate the so-called ProgPow algorithm in order to remove the edge maintained by large miners that can afford expensive, specialized chips, although the timing for that switch is not yet decided. (Eventually, ethereum developers want to transition from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake, which would eliminate mining altogether.)
When asked if Linzhi has any Plan B if the switch happens, Chen said the company is, in fact, more active in the ETC community, adding:
“Our plan A is to focus on ETC mining. So if ETH will still be an option, that’s something good to have. In the ethereum community, the ProgPow plan still has some uncertainty. For the time being, we don’t see it as a market that we will obtain, so I don’t really care that much.”
In an arguably counterintuitive move, Chen said the company plans to adopt what it calls a “reverse discount” strategy when it starts to take in pre-orders if sample units prove to be successful. That would mean the more you buy, the more you are likely going to pay.
The reason is to discourage any single entity from buying too many machines and thus concentrating power over the network.
While Linzhi has not yet decided on final pricing for each unit to be sold at pre-orders, it says the goal is to achieve a payback period of four months for individual miners with a relatively small number of orders.
“This is our efforts and contribution to the idea of decentralization,” Chen said, concluding:
“Our sales will go to developers and community first, with a focus on geographical distribution, and potentially with a malus [reverse discount] for large orders. This means that small orders by individuals would be priced to hit the 4 month [return of investment] and larger orders would pay more.”
Mining equipment image via CoinDesk archive