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Bitcoin Mining Technology Approaching the Quantum Tunneling Limit

Bitcoin Mining Technology Approaching The Quantum Tunneling Limit

Bitcoin Mining Hash Rate Has Seen Nearly Exponential Growth Long Term

The Bitcoin mining hash rate has seen an explosive and nearly exponential increase long term, rising through 1 GH/s in July 2010, 1 TH/s in 2011, 10 TH/s in 2012, 1 PH/s in 2013, 100 PH/s in 2014, 1 EH/s in 2016, 10 PH/s in 2017, and as high as 80 PH/s in July 2019, equivalent to 80 million TH/s and 80 billion GH/s. This rapid rise in mining hash rate has been partially fueled by the price of Bitcoin increasing from USD 0.01 in 2010 to over USD 10,000 currently, causing people around the world to compete to get a share of the lucrative Bitcoin mining block reward, which amounts to over USD 100,000 every 10 minutes currently. The other reason that Bitcoin’s hash rate has been rising so rapidly is that the demand for mining technology has caused manufacturers to develop mining rigs with the newest, most powerful, and most efficient technology.

For example, 7 nm chips, meaning the transistors on the chip are 7 nm in size, are the most powerful chips used commercially today. By November 2018, Bitmain had already released mining rigs which utilize 7 nm chips. This was a major jump for the company, since previously 16 nm chips were the best that Bitmain offered. Currently, the most powerful mining rig that Bitmain produces is the Antminer S17 which has a hash rate of 53 TH/s, and this far exceeds the Antminer S1 which had a hash rate of only 0.18 TH/s.

We are officially announcing the release of our new 7nm miners which possess industry-leading hash rates designed to mine with the SHA256 algorithm. Two models will be offered, the Antminer S15 and T15. Available for purchase on 11/8. pic.twitter.com/m6HbWGZS1O

— BITMAIN [Not giving away ETH] (@BITMAINtech) November 6, 2018

Chips with Smaller Transistors Fueling Hash Rate Growth

This massive increase in hash rate is due to mining rigs using chips with smaller and smaller transistor sizes, up to the present-day, cutting-edge 7 nm chips. A very important aspect of decreasing the transistor size is that exponentially more transistors can be fitted onto a single chip, which increases the energy efficiency of mining rigs. For example, the Antminer S1 has an energy efficiency of 0.0005 TH/J, while the Antminer S17 has an energy efficiency of 42 TH/J. This represents an 8.4 million percent increase in energy efficiency from the Antminer S1 to the Antminer S17.

The increase in energy efficiency that results from mining rigs using chips with smaller and smaller transistors is what has paved the way for the explosive rise in Bitcoin mining hash rate. This is because the profitability of Bitcoin mining is primarily determined by the electricity cost, so if energy efficiency had not drastically increased from smaller transistors, then the profitability per hash rate would be much lower. Thus, the total Bitcoin mining network hash rate would be much lower in the absence of transistor size decreases.

Quantum Tunneling Suppressing the Evolution of Transistor Technology

Transistors will have to become smaller and smaller on chips in order to sustain the nearly exponential long term increase in Bitcoin mining hash rate. However, quantum tunneling is a problem for chips with transistors smaller than 7 nm.

Quantum tunneling can be explained by the concept of wave-particle duality. Essentially an electron, which is the fundamental building block of all computer systems, is both a particle and a wave simultaneously. For transistors of 7 nm and bigger an electron stays in its appropriate channels, and the computer functions properly. However, for transistors smaller than 7 nm, the wave nature of an electron can cause it to literally pass through barriers in a transistor, causing leakage of electrons.

In simple terms, if a transistor is small enough, then an electron can teleport through the physical barriers in a transistor. This results in the computer not functioning properly.

The immediate effect already being felt due to quantum tunneling is that Moore’s Law is breaking down. Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every two years, leading to an exponential long term increase in computer processing power. However, as transistor sizes decrease below 7 nm it is taking longer and longer to research, develop, and mass produce the evolved next generation of transistors.

For example, transistors from 22 nm to 7 nm use fin field-effect transistor technology (FinFET), but 5 nm transistors required a completely new technology called multi-gate field-effect transistors (MuGFET). The most cutting-edge 3 nm transistors, which are still in the research and development stage, have required yet another breakthrough called gate-all around field-effect transistors (GAAFET). Samsung aims to manufacture 3 nm transistors by 2021, although this is just a projection since it takes years to perfect new transistor paradigms.

Notably, 3 nm transistors are only expected to bring a 20% increase in power and performance, versus the 30% to 40% increase seen during previous transistor evolutions.

Essentially, scientists are developing completely new technologies in order to combat quantum tunneling and to try to stay on pace with Moore’s Law, but the time it takes to develop smaller transistors is increasing, and most importantly, these next generations of transistors are bringing lesser improvements in energy efficiency and processing power.

The Exponential Increase in Bitcoin Mining Hash Rate May Slow down Due to Quantum Tunneling

Therefore, Bitcoin mining technology appears to be approaching an imminent roadblock due to quantum tunneling, and this could slow down the rise in Bitcoin mining hash rate. That being said, Bitcoin mining hash rate also depends on Bitcoin’s price, so if Bitcoin’s price manages to rise strongly long term, then the hash rate could still increase nearly exponentially. On the other hand, if Bitcoin’s price increases slowly over the long term, then the hash rate would essentially plateau.

Also, it is possible that scientists could perfect quantum computing, which would allow Moore’s law to continue. That being said, quantum computing is still in its embryonic stages, and major technology companies are generally focused on making smaller classical transistors in order to increase the power and performance of computers, at least for now.

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Bitmain to Launch 7 nm Antminers, Possibly the Most Efficient Mining Rigs Produced so Far

The CEO of Bitmain, Jihan Wu, has announced that Bitmain has fully developed a 7 nm chip for Bitcoin mining, and is planning on releasing a new series of Antminers that use these new chips. 7 nm transistors are the smallest known transistors to have been used for Bitcoin mining so far and have already been integrated into rigs by the Japanese companies GMO Internet and Triple-1. The launch of 7 nm Bitcoin mining rigs by Bitmain is major news, however, since Bitmain is the largest crypto mining rig manufacturer, this will make 7 nm mining chips mainstream.

The 7 nm Bitcoin mining chips are possibly the most efficient Bitcoin mining chips ever produced, they use 0.042 W/GH, which is 16% less energy consumption than the 7 nm chips produced by Triple-1 which consume 0.05 W/GH. Bitmain says they achieved this efficiency via a unique circuit structure and low power technology.

This will be a drastic improvement for Antminers, since currently, Antminers use 16 nm chips at 0.1 W/GH. Therefore the old 16 nm Antminers use 138% more electricity than the new 7 nm Antminers. The 16 nm Antminers are the most dominant mining rig in the world, so the 7 nm Antminers will solidify Bitmain’s dominance in the mining industry.

The announcement from Bitmain comes only a day after Bitfury announced the release of their new 14 nm mining chip which consumes 0.055 W/GH. This efficiency is quite impressive for a 14 nm chip and was apparently achieved via optimal power distribution, cooling designs, and optimal silicon packaging. However, Bitfury’s new 14 nm chip uses 31% more energy than Bitmain’s new 7 nm chips. This shows that transistor size is a dominant factor in mining chip efficiency, but also suggests that eventually 7 nm chips could be optimized further as Bitfury did with their 14 nm chip, and perhaps electricity consumption far lower than 0.042 W/GH could be achieved with 7 nm chips.

At the current Bitcoin mining difficulty of 7 trillion, Bitmain’s 7 nm chips would still be profitable even at a Bitcoin price of USD 2,900, far below the USD 5,800 support level. At the Bitcoin price support level of USD 5,800, the mining difficulty could be as high as 15 trillion, corresponding to an increase in the hash rate of over 100%, and these new 7 nm chips from Bitmain would continue to be profitable.

Since Bitmain will be mass producing 7 nm Antminers, the 16 nm Antminers will soon become completely obsolete. The new 7 nm Antminers will likely lead to a continued acceleration of the Bitcoin hash rate.

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7 nm Chips Next Evolution for Crypto Mining Tech

In June 2018, chips with 7 nm transistors, simply called 7 nm chips, began mass production. These chips still haven’t reached the consumer market but two crypto mining companies from Japan, GMO Internet and Triple-1, have developed crypto mining rigs which use 7 nm chips. These rigs are expected to be released by the end of 2018, and will fundamentally be the next evolution of crypto mining tech.

Currently, the conventional standard in crypto mining is 16 nm chips. Triple-1’s mining rigs created with 7 nm chips consume energy at 0.5 W/GH, 50% less than a 16 nm rig. Also, each chip has 300 GH/s, 5.2X more than a standard 16 nm chip of the same size. This is due to the fundamental nature of transistors and Moore’s law, the more transistors you can pack onto a chip the more processing power it has.

The CEO of Triple-1, Takuya Yamaguchi, sums up the power and efficiency of these new 7 nm chips nicely: “Although mining capacity is more than four times that of conventional products, power consumption is expected to be halved at maximum.”

Clearly, 7 nm chips will change the mining game, making rigs more powerful than ever before while consuming far less electricity. This should help continue the exponential increase of Bitcoin’s hash rate, and will eventually make mining rigs with 16 nm chips or greater obsolete.

As of now, 7 nm chips are the smallest transistors in mass production. 5 nm chips have been produced in laboratories and are scheduled for mass production around 2020. Transistors smaller than 5 nm might be possible, but quantum tunneling is starting to become a serious issue.

Quantum tunneling is when a transistor is so small that electrons can go through the physical barriers in the transistor. This is because electrons are both a wave and a particle, and an electron’s wave is dampened at a physical barrier but it take some distance into the barrier to stop completely. If a transistor is so small and an electron’s wave function extends to the other side of the barrier, then electrons will teleport through the transistor’s physical make-up.

If a transistor is so small that quantum tunneling is occurring, then the transistor becomes useless. Transistors have to properly channel electrons 100% of the time for a computer to work. Therefore, this will put an end to Moore’s law, which says the number of transistors on a chip of the same size doubles with a set frequency over time.

This means that after 7 nm mining rigs there will probably be 5 nm mining rigs, and perhaps as low as 3-4 nm rigs since those chips have also successfully been created in labs. However, chips and mining rigs will hit the quantum tunneling limit after that and get no more efficient. Fortunately, there are still several years until the limit and rigs will continue to periodically get much stronger as chips with smaller transistors are unleashed. This will keep the mining industry healthy. Each new wave of rigs with smaller transistors will be an opportunity for crypto miners.

 

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