Category Archives: The Bestiary

Extreme heat

After their great success with the Chili, MrTeal and ChipGeek came back with a bigger, faster, hotter and generally more ambitious board, the Habanero.

Based on Hashfast’s Golden Nonce chip, this is the second time they’ve worked this excellent trick: take a chip from an existing manufacturer who has fallen out of favor for being unable to deliver hardware on time combined with terrible communication, then design and build in just a few weeks a faster and more reliable machine based on the same raw chips, maintain clear communication with your customers throughout the process and then deliver an excellent product exactly on time.

Behold, the Habanero!
Behold, the Habanero!

This is exactly what they did with the Chili at the end of 2013, producing a fast, reliable board based on Butterfly Lab’s 65nm chip. The boards pulled 20-30% more performance out of the chips, and unlike BFL’s own convoluted 4-fan, multi-piece tubular frame and multi-panel case construction, the Chili was dead simple, just a one-piece board for the user to apply whatever cooling solution they liked, add power and go.

When HashFast announced their 28nm Golden Nonce chip in July 2013, they promised 400GH/s per chip and delivery starting in October 2013. They even promised refunds in BTC if they failed to meet their goals, and a Miner Protection Program to automatically add hashrate to orders in the event of any delays. In an all too familiar story, though, they missed all their deadlines, shipping didn’t get underway until 2014 and even then only proceeded at an agonizingly slow trickle.  As mining difficulty skyrocketed and their customers were faced with the prospect of massive losses, refunds and protection plans were not honored and communication from the company evaporated . They were granted Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on June 7, 2014.

Habanero_chip_closeup

But the chip was brilliant. Why let it go to waste? Capable of being run far above the target speeds and still being in the neighborhood of 1W/GH/s, MrTeal, ChipGeek and Gateway rolled out a new website at PepperMining.com, announced their Golden Nonce-based project as the Habanero in March, opened orders at the beginning of May and shipped by the end of the month.

These beasts are spectacular.  Mine run reliably at 850MHz which produces 630-640GH/s each, but others have clocked them higher and achieved speeds of 700GH/s+.

Moving 500+ watts of heat off a single chip begs for liquid cooling, something I’d never ventured into before. Figuring I’d err on the side of caution, I opted for a triple-wide radiator which fits three 120mm fans along its length. So far, the stock fans seem to be doing fine, keeping the boards at 87-91° C and still being nearly silent.

Attaching a triple-wide radiator.
Attaching a triple-wide radiator.
It lives!
It lives!

The backs of the boards come braced with an aluminum heatsink with prethreaded mounting holes, so the board is protected from flex as you torque down the screws of whichever water block you chose.

Handy backplate.
Handy backplate.

Pepper Mining has released their own program, as well, in order to display the temperatures, voltage and frequency on each of the four dies individually in so as to facilitate fine-tuning.

That’s a key part of the fun with these: they’re not just designed to be fast, they’re designed for us to play with them, to push and tweak and customize them depending on our gear, our ambition and our particular comfort with risk.

And that is just about everything fun about mining, cooked with spice into one project.

Habanero_logo

Habanero finds a mate, and they enjoy a romantic moment together venting heat out the window.
Habanero finds a mate, and they enjoy a romantic moment together venting heat out the window.

A package from Mr. Gao

I received a sample set of Avalon generation-3 chips today, something which I felt both delighted and slightly guilty about. They were giving them away for free on the Avalon website, but obviously they were meant for developers. It’s hard to resist free, though.

They’re only 1/4-inch across,  20 tiny, feather-light chips in a little plastic box, bundled in bubble wrap, each one designated A3233-Q48 and capable of 7 GH/s each at 5.3 watts, according to the official specs.

But they needed a home, so I messaged marto74 of Technobit.eu to see how his new Avalon generation-3 board was coming along and if he’d take my chips. He said he hadn’t been able to test his design yet, as he hadn’t received his own sample chips yet, so my next stop was at the UPS store to arrange fast shipment to Bulgaria. Hopefully my chips will get there quickly and be of some use. I would be very glad to have helped in some small way with the development of a new mining board.

The A3233s, resting briefly in between Beijing and Sofia.
The A3233s, resting briefly in between Beijing and Sofia.

OneStringMagic

Amid the push for 3rd-generation ASIC bitcoin miners, intron and c-scape went back to BitFury’s gen-2 chips and designed a board that used those chips in a new configuration which is so energy efficient it might make them relevant even into gen-3.

The OneStringMiner boards use 15 BitFury chips to produce 30+ GH/s at right around 1W/GH/s. They run so cool that one doesn’t necessarily need a heatsink, although if you get the kit it includes both heatsink and fan.

Shipped from the Netherlands, the kit is delightful in its completeness and includes all the little things one needs such as standoffs, nuts, wires for powering multiple boards together, tiny zip ties and a USB cable.  Being spared the chore of hunting around for some trivial part is a welcome relief.

Excellent kit!
Excellent kit!

I don’t truly understand the voodoo by which gen-3 performance is casually produced from chips that came out last year, but according to a post by intron it’s made possible because BitFury built a “string” feature into the chips which allows them to be strung together in series which results in lower current usage. That’s fantastic, but it does make you wonder why no one took advantage of this before.

Mine runs smoothly on cgminer, red light blinking happily, and it’s as quiet as whatever airflow setup I choose.

OneStringMiner up and running.
OneStringMiner up and running.

From Shenzhen with love

The BTMiner is a rough machine, and it’s already had a rough life. Forged in the backrooms of Shenzhen and then slung around the world in 4 days to reach me, it arrived with three big, fat screws just rolling around loose in the box.

All the screws holding the blades in place had been working their way loose and the blades were barely attached, knocking against each other as they tried to break free.

When I started it up, it made a horrific sound, like a machine gunner being electrocuted, but it was just the end of a zip tie turturing one of the turbine-strength fans.

Screws tightened and zip tie trimmed,  it started right up and configured in seconds, and was soon hammering away somewhere around ~215Gh/s.

Shiny enough to see your reflection.
Shiny enough to see your reflection.
The most horrible sound in the world.
The most horrible sound in the world.
BTMiner_ui_cropped
Success!

BTMiner_endview_on

The interface is the same as a first generation 110nm Avalon, but with an “Avalon Chip” field under “Cgminer Configuration” preselected to the new 55nm size. The whole machine is  a direct descendent of a 110nm Avalon: a TP-Link running things with OpenWRT, horizontal blades with hefty heatsinks, fans pushing the air over them in a big aluminum box. This was made easier when Avalon designed their second generation chips to be essentially backwards-compatible, so the same designs could be used over.

After the delays with their later batches and subsequent outrage from those who ordered, it’s understandable why Avalon wanted to get out of the hardware business and hand the messy details of power supplies, cases, assembly and deliver off to others. The BTMiner suffers a bit in translation, though. The case is a thinner aluminum,  and the screws feel on the verge of stripping after taking the side off just once. The dual power supply design (one for each blade) is unusual and results in cords coming out both ends, but it’s handy for distributing the power across different household circuits if you find yourself tripping breakers. The whole thing feels hastily banged together,  but as long as it works, that’s just fine.

Roughly the size of a 4-blade Avalon, the design is closer to an Avalon Mini, two blades with heatsinks facing each other to make a sort of wind tunnel. There are just two fans, one at either end of the tunnel, pushing the air through with a  vengeance and a fierce whine.

BTMine took a few orders in December and once those were confirmed to have arrived in people’s hands, they took more orders. The units weren’t in-stock as they said, and mine took about a week to get manufactured and out the door, and in the process the design changed from what they had shipped in December,  getting a little more compact and growing longer, more aggressive heatsink fins.

BTMiner_vertical

Inside.
Inside.
Aggressive fins.
Aggressive fins.

Those are welcome changes, but it makes me wonder what it’s like over there in Shenzhen. I haven’t heard of this company before, and it’s clear they’re making this up on the fly, custom-manufacturing small runs of these units. It’s strange to think of companies popping up and assembling hardware which is probably only saleable for a very short time frame, measurable in weeks, mayflies of manufacturing.

Shenzhen seems like a magical place.

Inside BTMine: I grabbed this picture from a post on bitcointalk.org. Who are these guys? Whoever you are -- thanks! More manufacturing pictures here: http://imgur.com/a/vkEPu
Inside BTMine: I grabbed this picture from a post on bitcointalk.org. Who are these guys? Whoever you are — thanks! More manufacturing pictures here: http://imgur.com/a/vkEPu

The AntMiner cometh

Some great designs sneak up on you. At first glance, the Bitmain AntMiner S1 might seem unfinished, all rough and caseless with its insides on the outside.

But the AntMiner doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. It has no case, since it’s not a consumer product and it’s not meant for the general public. Since it needs to be attached to an external power supply, why pretend that it’s self contained?

Instead of being bolted to a case or frame and hoping they don’t break loose in shipping, the heavy heatsinks are the frame, and the blades and endpieces bolt to them instead. This simplicity earns the AntMiner a gold star for economy of parts: 2 heatsinks with blades bolted to them, 2 endpieces holding them together, 1 fan, 1 TP-Link TL-WR743N.  The result is sturdy and downright elegant.

What's in the box?
What’s in the box?
The heatsinks are part of the frame.
The heatsinks are part of the frame.

For comparison, a  Butterfly Labs Bitforce SC Single is roughly the same size but has 4 fans,  a 4-piece case, and an interior armature with a whole array of tubes and screws to hold the boards, case, heatsinks and fans all in place.  The airflow is byzantine, it sounds like a jet engine and it sill needs to be connected to another computer to run. The AntMiner is almost silent and, at 180GH/s, it’s also 3 times the speed.

It has its own version of OpenWRT with CGMiner built in, much like an Avalon, and connects right to the internet through an ethernet jack. It also has an attachment for a wifi antenna.

The lights are fantastic. On each side, facing outward, is one green LED which pulses at high speed, giving the whole thing the frantic energy of a firing laser cannon.

It makes a plaintive beeping when it can’t connect to the internet, which is a handy notification, but when it wakes me up in the middle of the night I feel like I’ve acquired another needy pet. Most of the time, though, it just purrs warmly.

AntMiner_side

AntMiner_top