Skip to main content

The bleeding edge in Bitcoin-mining hardware comes to CES

The bleeding edge in Bitcoin-mining hardware comes to CES

Share this story

butterfly labs monarch
butterfly labs monarch

Bitcoin is intangible money, but that doesn't mean you won't see it at CES, the nation's premier electronics trade show. There's currently an arms race in Bitcoin mining, the intense computing required to generate new units of the increasingly popular virtual currency that approximates cash on the internet. And now the companies that produce high-end equipment for generating Bitcoin are here in Vegas, pitching their wares on the convention floor.

Perhaps the best-known source of high-end mining equipment is Butterfly Labs, which came out with some of the first chips that were custom-built for "mining" Bitcoin. The company has teamed up with BitPay, a payments processor, and BlockChain, which runs a Bitcoin wallet service, to set up a Bitcoin-themed booth in the South Hall of the convention. Butterfly Labs is presenting the prototype of the Monarch, its fastest and most efficient Bitcoin-mining card yet. The new cards will retail for $2,196.

A robust market has increased the interest in Bitcoin and Bitcoin mining

Bitcoin has been on a tear lately, with the price at $972.74 apiece as of this writing. That robust market has increased the interest in Bitcoin and Bitcoin mining. But because of the way Bitcoin was designed, mining produces diminishing returns as time goes on. The simple mining rig Butterfly Labs had set up at their booth, using a 250 gigahash per second miner, was producing just .02 Bitcoin per day, or $16.90.

"Mining is a treadmill," said Dave McClain, account manager at Butterfly Labs. "You've got to be reinvesting money into more hardware and the latest hardware. It's like the lottery; the more tickets you buy, the better your chances."

Bitcoin has spawned a secondary economy of goods, services, companies, financial infrastructure, and peer-to-peer transactions, along with the extensive efforts put into mining.

Butterfly Labs says it has shipped more than 45,000 miners, and it's just one of many companies now producing custom chips. KnCMiner, a competitor, is also at CES showing its latest hardware, and claims its customers generate 70 percent of new bitcoins. Another competitor, HashFast, claims to have started shipping its ultra-fast Baby Jet rigs in late December (although customers say the company is past due on its shipments).

The technology is now progressing by leaps and bounds, with second generation chips nearly doubling efficiency of the first generation. Since the chips can't be used for anything else, these advancements only apply to Bitcoin mining. That gives weight to critics who say Bitcoin wastes energy. But mining does more than produce new bitcoins — that computing power is also what's used to process Bitcoin transactions and record them in the public record. If Bitcoin sticks around the technology will continue to be useful. If the currency fails, this miniature industry that sprang up so fast will disappear with it.

Bitcoin may be a weird fit for CES, but it's yet another sign that the currency is moving into the mainstream. Over at the Bitcoin booth, CES visitors stopped by with tales of their own mining efforts, or the friend who bought 16 cards and started spinning them up in the basement. Most people, however, were intrigued but clueless. One man wandered up to squint at the display, and started to stumble through a question. "Don't ask me what Bitcoin is," one of the guys manning the booth joked. Then he paused. "Wait, was that actually your question?"

It was.

More from this stream CES 2014 in depth: The Verge reports

See all 41 stories

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 24 Not just you

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.

A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.

External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.

External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.