My host drives me through a gate, past a sleepy-looking security guard, and into an industrial yard that extends into the dry, barren countryside about as far as I can see.
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In front of me are nine warehouses with bright blue roofs, each emblazoned with the logo for Bitmain, a Chinese firm headquartered in Beijing that is arguably the most important company in the Bitcoin industry. It also uses its own rigs to stock facilities that it owns or co-owns and operates. Bitmain acquired this mining facility in Inner Mongolia a couple years ago and has turned it into one of the most powerful money factories on the Bitcoin network.
It quite literally metabolizes electricity into money. Like ton paperweights, these machines bear down on the globally distributed ledger of transactions that is Bitcoin, keeping its pages from ever turning backward. Here is where the supply of existing bitcoins is secured. And here is where the banquet of new bitcoins is served. Photo: Stefen Chow Speedy Bitcoin factory The faster the machines are plugged in, the sooner they can begin gulping down electricity and turning it into money.
The process of mining bitcoins works like a lottery. Bitcoin miners are competing to produce hashes—alphanumeric strings of a fixed length that are calculated from data of an arbitrary length. Each time miners perform the hash function on the block header with a new random number, they get a new result. To win the lottery, a miner must find a hash that begins with a certain number of zeroes. Just how many zeroes are required is a shifting parameter determined by how much computing power is attached to the Bitcoin network.
Every two weeks, on average, the mining bitcoin factory automatically readjusts the number of leading zeros needed—the difficulty bitcoin factory looking at how fast new blocks of Bitcoin transactions were added. The algorithm is aiming for a latency of 10 minutes between blocks. When miners boost the computing power on the network, they temporarily increase the rate of block creation.
The network senses the change and then ratchets up the difficulty level. Then two things happen. New transactions are added to the Bitcoin blockchain ledger, and the winning miner is rewarded with newly minted bitcoins. The miner also collects small fees that users voluntarily tack onto their transactions as a way of pushing them to the head of the line.
The probability of an individual miner winning the lottery depends entirely on the speed at which that miner can generate new hashes relative to the speed of all other miners combined.
In this way, the lottery is more like a raffle, where the more tickets you buy in comparison to everyone else makes it more likely that your name will be pulled out of the hat. Photo: Stefen Chow Haste Makes Money: A tangle of networking cables bitcoin factory evidence that the building was constructed and the equipment installed at breakneck speeds. These dynamics have resulted in a race among miners to amass the fastest, most energy-efficient chips.
And the demand for faster equipment has spawned a new industry devoted bitcoin factory to the computational needs of Bitcoin miners. Until lategeneric graphics cards and field-programmable gate arrays FPGAs were powerful enough to put you in the race. But that same year companies began to sell computer chips, called application-specific integrated circuits ASICswhich are specifically designed for the task of computing the Bitcoin hashing bitcoin factory. Today, ASICs are the standard technology found in every large-scale facility, including the mining farm in Ordos.
Bitmain gained an edge by supplying a superior product in large quantities, a feat that has eluded every other company in the industry.
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Although BitFury bitcoin factory to be producing chips whose performance is nearly identical to those used in the S9, the company has packaged them into a very different product. A control board on the bitcoin factory of the machine coordinates the work, downloading the block header to be hashed and distributing the problem to all the hashing engines, which then report back with solutions and the random numbers they used to get them.
The standard algorithm takes 64 steps to complete, but in Bitcoin it is run twice for each block header, meaning a full round requires steps that are heavy on integer addition. Despite bitcoin factory similar needs, there is a good deal of diversity in how chip designers build their hashing engines, says Hanke, who also served as the chief technology officer of a now-defunct bitcoin factory rig manufacturer called CoinTerra.
For example, Bitmain uses pipelining—a strategy that links the steps in a process into a chain in which the output of one step is the input of the next. Bitmain competitor BitFury has chosen not bitcoin factory use that technology. The most pressing problem in the mining chip design is power efficiency, because your return on investment is the difference between how much money you spend on electricity versus how many new bitcoins you can win.
A controller on top of the machine samples the ambient temperature and sets the fan speed and the voltage and clock speed of the machine accordingly.
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Photo: Stefen Bitcoin factory Breathe In: Each warehouse is swathed in netting to keep pollen and dust from getting inside.
A young man named Zhang brings me inside, shouting over a deafening whir. All along a wall of the warehouse, the windows have been removed from their frames and replaced with desert fans—panels of twisted, tightly packed metal strips that are being doused with water from a pipe above.
Zhang walks up to a door between two shelves full of mining rigs, and we step through. The exhaust fans from all the mining machines on the other side bitcoin factory poking out through little holes in a metal wall, blasting hot air into the space, where it gets purged to the outside by another wall full of giant metal fans.
Photo: Stefen Chow Drip Dry: Windows have been removed from one full side bitcoin factory the warehouse and replaced with desert fans—panels of twisted metal that get doused with water from a pipe running along the top. As air enters the warehouse through these desert fans, the water evaporates and cools the interior.
To save money on cooling, some mine operators have opted for cooler climates. BitFury also runs three large mining facilities, one of which is in Iceland to benefit from the cool weather.
According to Vavilov, the company has developed a two-phase immersion cooling technology with their subsidiary, Allied Control. The system bathes the mining machines in a dielectric heat-transfer liquid called Novec, which cools the computers as it evaporates.
The system is now deployed at the Georgia data centers. Photo: Stefen Chow Heat Pumps: On the hot bitcoin factory of the warehouse, industrial bitcoin factory blow air back out into the courtyard. The only other costs for the facility are the rigs themselves and the salary of the few dozen staff that keeps them operational. Zhang is part of that staff.
He recently graduated from college in Inner Mongolia and started working at the mine only a few months ago. He describes himself as a technician, then points to a man who is standing on a pneumatic lift pulling a mining rig out of the racks.
The controller on the S9 has a red light that goes off when it detects a malfunction.
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Technicians like Zhang are on hand to scan the racks for sick rigs. When they find one, they pull it out and send it to a house on bitcoin factory factory lot where other technicians diagnose the problem, fix it, and get the machine back on the line. Every moment the rigs spend unplugged, potential revenue slips away. And this is just one of the facilities that Bitmain runs. Photo: Stefen Chow Heat Shields: The layout of the mining racks is being reconfigured to maintain a cool side and a hot side.
The machines bitcoin factory set up on a single rack that traverses the entire length of the warehouse. The fans are aligned to shoot hot air out behind the machines into the hot side of the warehouse, and a barrier is set up to keep the air from circulating back. Within a week it was back up, and approaching an all-time high. Price fluctuations, which have been common in Bitcoin since the day it was created eight years ago, saddle miners with risk and uncertainty.
And that burden is shared by chip manufacturers, especially ones like Bitmain, which invest the time and money in a full custom design.
According to Nishant Sharma, the international marketing manager at Bitmain, when the price of bitcoin was breaking records this spring, sales of S9 rigs doubled. But again, that is not a trend the company can afford to bet on. And so, Bitmain has begun to diversify.
In addition to Bitcoin businesses, the company has also started to dabble in artificial intelligence and is developing facial-recognition hardware that it plans to sell to the Chinese government.
Among other things, BitFury is now bitcoin factory its immersion cooling technology to high-performance data centers that are not involved in Bitcoin. But if bitcoin prices remain high, that could change. Photo: Stefen Chow Home Sweet Repair Shop: One building on the grounds houses a lunchroom, operational center, repair shop, and dormitory.
A few dozen employees run the entire facility. Their jobs include scanning the racks for malfunctioning machines, cleaning the cooling fans, fixing broken rigs, and installing upgraded machines. Many of the employees are recent engineering graduates from the local university. What would it take for a competitor to nudge into the fray?
For starters, it has to be willing to put a lot of money on the line. Several million dollars can go into chip design before a single prototype is produced. The backdoor could have bitcoin factory used by the company to track the location of its machines and bitcoin factory them down remotely. Photo: Stefen Chow Fix It: In the repair shop, workers manually tend to broken rigs, fixing fans and replacing chips. At each workstation, scavenged jar caps are filled with new ASICs ready to be glued into place.
Workers remove heat sinks from circuit boards and replace any failed chips. The Bitcoin protocol was designed to encourage the distribution of hashing power among miners rather than its concentration.
The reason? Miners wield power not only over which transactions get added to the Bitcoin blockchain but over the evolution of the Bitcoin software itself. When updates are made to the protocol, it is the miners, largely, who enforce these changes. For instance, Bitmain could have flipped bitcoin factory switch and shut down the entire facility in Ordos if the company found itself in disagreement with the other shareholders.
UTC Updated Mar 5, at p. UTC Greenidge Generation's bitcoin mining facility.
Still, the discovery of it was a startling reminder of the need for diversity in the mining hardware industry. It might be Nvidia. It might be Intel.