Intel has been awarded patent #10,142,098 , which pertains to a system they’ve designed which improves the energy efficiency of Bitcoin miners.
While it takes a hardware engineer to fully understand what’s going on in their patent, relevant to the discussion is the following quote:
[…] certain portions of the input message, state data, and input values to multi-stage SHA-256 engines 110, 112, 114 may be fixed to constant data values during SHA-256 hashes or during certain rounds of computation in the SHA-256 hash. Rather than providing these constants using registers, embodiments of the present disclosure hardwire these constant data values to the circuits performing SHA-256 hash, thus reducing the energy consumption compared to providing these constants using registers that may be enabled by clock signals.
Intel researchers seem to have determined that there are no optimizations that can be made at “stage 0” of SHA-256 calculations, but that the other two stages, as they call them, have ample opportunity to be optimized.
Since stage-0 SHA-256 hash involves only part of the header information but not the nonce itself, the calculation of stage-0 SHA-256 does not present an opportunity for Bitcoin specific optimization. By comparison, both stage-1 and stage-2 SHA-256 hash calculations receive input messages relating to the nonce 212 and hence present opportunities for Bitcoin mining optimizations.
The gist of it is that certain constants in the Bitcoin mining process can be embedded into the hardware itself, so there is no software or computing necessary to get the same information repeatedly. Intel claims this will reduce the amount of electricity required to mine Bitcoin blocks.
The patented architecture design “may be implemented in many different system types” and is not specific to systems which use Intel chips. The images included with the 29-page patent filing are all diagrams. It is unclear whether Intel intends to go after companies which have similar designs in production or if they are merely looking to protect future developments of this type. They mention that the type of processor being used is irrelevant to the patent’s embodiments, and they are specifically gunning for ASIC development.
Does this raise the prospect of Intel getting into the Bitcoin mining hardware business? It’s entirely possible that the company, which has been a major player in computer processing for decades, wants a piece of the action.
If they actually develop hardware that uses less energy than hardware developed by firms like Bitmain, there seems to be a good chance they will succeed in their efforts, the cost of energy being a primary barrier to reaching return-on-investment for Bitcoin miners.