We have all seen the hype about Bitcoin which has been dominating the news over the past 12 months and even though there have been various peaks and troughs in the main currencies the interest form experts and members of the public alike, remains strong. This continued fascination has lead to the emergence of companies who are specializing more accessible, cost effective crypto mining machines which for their size and relative cost are highly efficient and functional. These have replaced the humble laptop or home computer as the main tool of the trade.

China remains a centre-point for this surge in what is effectively “Hobby Mining” due in part to the availability of cheap electricity in the country. Participants use specialist software to solve complicated mathematical problems in order to process the crypto currency transactions. They are then rewarded for carrying out this complex process with a percentage of the currency whether it be Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum or another of the most popular virtual currencies. Everyday new miners are joining this growing scene to try and claim their share.

There is also of course the more controlled, professional mining operations which are using powerful, temperature controlled, enclosed datacentres, found in similar regions with low electricity costs. As you may have seen there is also some research going on into installing datacentres on the ocean floor in giant watertight metal tubes to aid cooling. The main challenge at any scale is temperature.

Mining any type of crypto-currency is highly intensive in terms of CPU activity and requires ever increasing levels of computing power. This increased power consumption requires more electricity and this leads to much higher levels of heat generation. All this energy consumption equates to the costs of successfully mining crypto currency easily becoming prohibitive.

Based on current consumption figures related to mining it is thought that the average power requirement per Bitcoin transaction is over 200 kilowatt-hours (KWh). This is amount of power is enough to power an average size kitchen appliance for a whole year.

As the CPU temperatures rise the power consumption of mining machine ASIC drastically increases, therefore real time temperature monitoring systems are necessary to allow for power optimization. In-chip embedded temperature sensors help extend device lifetimes and provide protection through the enablement of shutdown schemes, the latter being as a result of rising temperatures from sudden increases in dynamic CPU load profiles.

According to one article a crypto currency mining router got hot enough to fry and egg! This other article explores what a “safe temperature” for mining actually is.

These new mining products however are able to deal with the increased level of heat by employing such embedded temperature sensors in areas with known hot spots on the die. A miner generally consists of an ASIC chip, power source, fan, and mining software. These machines are typically used in multiples in a rack layout.

Although thermal issues are a big problem for crypto mining ASICs, and embedded temperature sensors can go a long way to address this, we can also look at methods of increasing general device reliability and enhanced performance optimization within the chip itself. With high levels of processors, memory, disk and operating systems high performance computers suffer from issues related to power consumption and temperature which subsequently affects their performance. By employing embedded in-chip monitors for not only temperature but also process and voltage, crypto-currency integrated circuit designers can address these challenges and optimise the performance of the design.

So far, chip monitoring solutions from Moortec have targeted applications areas such as Consumer, Automotive, AI, Mobile and Telecommunications, which utilise advanced node CMOS technologies. However, in the past 12 months we have seen a growing number of enquires from mining companies springing up to take advantage of the continuing interest in this very modern trend for virtual currency.

Any form of crypto-currency mining is pretty intensive in terms of CPU activity and requires ever increasing levels of computing power as the network continues to grow. When they first came on the scene crypto-currency mining machines would typically rely on the processing power of personal computers to solve the mathematical problems, however as the performance and power requirements grew and time it taken to mine got longer the use of specially designed mining machines increased. The issue with all this computing power is that it typically requires more electricity and this leads to far higher levels of heat generation. All this energy consumption equates to the costs of successfully mining crypto currency easily becoming prohibitive.

Other companies who specifically cater to crypto mining have started to dedicate server space in datacentres equipped with specialised cooling hardware. However, the datacentre demands for a bitcoin mining enterprise are a little different, requiring extreme power densities and tight deployment deadlines instead of a reliable infrastructure and minimum downtime.

As crypto-currency mining continues to grow there is also huge opportunity for datacentre providers, however because of the specialist requirements in terms of the conditions and power required only a handful can really take advantage. There has been huge investment in the Bitcoin mining infrastructure and the value of crypto currency is still predicted to rise steadily over the next few years despite its recent erratic behaviour. Datacentres will no doubt evolve to cope with the requirements as investment continues to pour into Bitcoin and other crypto-currency start-ups.

To summarise, the requirement for embedded in chip monitors on advanced nodes continues to grow in a multitude of emerging high-tech industries, as in this example of crypto-currency mining where keeping a tight control on ASIC conditions including temperature is paramount. 

About Moortec

Established in 2005, Moortec provides compelling embedded subsystem IP solutions for Process, Voltage & Temperature (PVT) monitoring, targeting advanced node CMOS technologies from 40nm down to 7nm. Moortec’s in-chip sensing solutions support the semiconductor design community’s demands for increased device reliability and enhanced performance optimisation, enabling schemes such as DVFS, AVS and power management control systems. Moortec provides excellent support for IP application, integration and device test during production. Moortec’s high-performance analog and mixed-signal IP designs are delivered to ASIC and System on Chip (SoC) technologies within the consumer, mobile, automotive, high performance computing and telecommunications sectors. For more information, please visit www.moortec.com, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn

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