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Intel Making Bitcoin-Mining Chip to Save GPUs for Gamers

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Photo: Alexander Koerner / Stringer (Getty Images)

Crypto mining is loathed by gamers and anyone who cares about the environment, but that isn’t stopping Intel from getting into the bitcoin-harvesting business.

While the chipmaker hasn’t said anything publicly just yet, eagle-eyed reporters at Tom’s Hardware noticed that Team Blue is set to give a presentation about a new “Bonanza Mine” processor at the 2022 International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), which kicks off on Feb. 20. The chip is described as an “ultra-low-voltage energy-efficient bitcoin-mining ASIC,” where the acronym stands for an application-specific integrated circuit—a chip made for one specific purpose.

Intel had, in a way, already teased this chip last year when GPU chief Raja Koduri stated in a live stream that the company was working on specialized crypto-mining hardware. And as Tom’s Hardware points out, Intel had previously filed a patent for a processing system using SHA-256, a cryptographic hash function used by several cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, for verifying transactions.

If Intel does indeed release its own crypto-mining chip, it will be in direct competition with Bitmain, a Chinese company that specializes in making ASICs for mining bitcoin. But Intel isn’t starting from scratch—its SHA-256 Extensions are supported on Ice Lake processors and later, and as we all know, the company has extensive experience optimizing silicon.

This is obviously good news for bitcoin miners, but what about gamers? If we dig into Koduri’s comments a bit deeper, he suggests that discrete graphics for gaming should be separate from processing chips made exclusively for crypto mining.

“I think blockchain is a transaction thing that is run much more efficiently than the current burning of hardware cycles. It’s something we are working on.” Koduri said. “And that’s not a GPU thing, so don’t try to confuse it as a GPU thing. No, no, no—GPUs will do graphics, gaming, and all those wonderful things.”

He continued, “But being able to do much more efficient blockchain validation at a much lower cost, much lower power, is a pretty solvable problem. And we are working on that, and at some point in time, hopefully not too far into the future, we will kind of share some interesting hardware for that.”

While that might sound encouraging at face value, Intel hasn’t sufficiently reassured gamers that it’ll proactively discourage people from using its upcoming Arc Alchemist GPU for mining. Sure, the chipmaker says it prefers to welcome gamers over crypto-miners, but unless it implements a hash rate limiter, as Nvidia and AMD have done, nothing will prevent miners from snatching up these chips en masse until they join every other “out of stock” GPU.

We expect to hear more about Intel Arc, the company’s first discrete GPU in decades, in the coming weeks. As for Bonanza Mine, we can only assume the chipmaker will showcase the ASIC at ISSCC on Feb. 23 at 10 a.m. ET.

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