Bitmain has released firmware for the Antminer s9 which enables it to use ‘overt AsicBoost’ functionality. The new update will also be rolled out across of its BM1387-based ASICS in the coming week, including the Antminer R4, S9i, S9j, T9 and T9+.
The announcement comes just days after it was ‘revealed’ by Slush Pool’s software operators, that the s9 was already capable of supporting AsicBoost, but that the technology had been disabled by the manufacturer.
Bitmain has been plagued by accusations that it covertly uses the technology on the Bitmain network. However the company, which is a paragon of propriety and virtue within the crypto mining sector, wasted no time in explaining its reluctance to activate the technology:
‘We decided against activating this mathematical function…because of the legal uncertainty surrounding the use of AsicBoost. As an organization, we didn’t want to violate patent laws or act in any way that was untoward’
Bitmain stated in a company blog post back in April 2017 that although its BM1387 chips supported ‘overt ASICBoost’ functionality, it had never been ‘covertly’ implemented by the company. It went on:
“The mining equipment produced by Bitmain for its own use is in no way intended to be technically superior or more power-efficient than the equipment it sells to the public. The ASICBOOST method has not been employed by Bitmain to increase the power-efficiency of the miners in its own mining farms.”
WTF is AsicBoost?
AsicBoost allows Bitcoin crypto miners to save energy by taking a block validation ‘shortcut’ that results in an estimated 20% boost in efficiency. The technology was invented by Timo Hanke and Sergio Lerner and exploits a vulnerability which allows for the mining of blocks at a faster rate.
So what’s the Problem?
Well, there are two forms of AsicBoost: overt and covert. The covert AsicBoost method manipulates the Merkle tree (hash data structure) and is easier to perform. However, if offers lower transaction rates which results in smaller or empty blocks. This in turn has the potential to interfere with the structural integrity of the Bitcoin network – something that blockchain fundamentalists aren’t all that keen on.
It’s also been strongly alleged that certain manufacturers of crypto mining equipment have used the covert method to evade detection by the AsicBoost patent holders, (see above) thereby gaining an unfair advantage over others. Bitmain is considered by many, to be the main offender.
The issue is further complicated (yes it is possible) because Bitmain holds the ASICBoost patent in China. So, in theory it could use the technology on its own crypto mining farms while selling the technology to third-parties.
Nevertheless, in the afore-mentioned blog post of April 2017, Bitmain breathlessly rejected any notion of using such heinous tactics, because of its unflinching concern for ‘the greater good of Bitcoin.’ In light of such a claim, this article makes for rather interesting reading.
A Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma
But the drama doesn’t stop there. In addition to the patent crowd and the Bitmain deniers and the blockchain protectionists, you’ve got the Bitcoin hardliners (the type of people who grow their hair long and shave one side of their head) who see both patents and Bitmain as major threats to the continued decentralisation of their precious crypto-currency.
All in all, it’s a something of a hot mess and a shining example of handbags at twelve paces. Our advice to you? Don’t worry about it.