Intel is exploring the creation of specialty hardware for mining the popular cryptocurrency Bitcoin, according to a U.S. patent application released Thursday.
The patent, filed on Sept. 23, 2016, describes a Bitcoin mining hardware accelerator that may include a processor core with a hardware accelerator coupled with it.
Bitcoin mining is the process of using powerful computer processors to record Bitcoin transactions on a public ledger, which is done by attempting to solve cryptographic puzzles. If the miner becomes the first to solve the puzzle and record the next transaction, it is rewarded with newly released Bitcoin.
The high energy and equipment costs associated with mining have brought into question whether the activity can be profitable, especially as the price of Bitcoin has nose-dived in the past few months, as noted by Forbes. But that hasn't stopped people from hoarding equipment — one report from Coherent Market Insights pegged the cryptocurrency mining market at $610 million in 2016 and expects it to grow to $38 billion by 2025. The current issues faced by miners also has propelled companies and individuals to find new technologies and methods for making mining more efficient.
That's where Intel comes in. According to its new patent, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company said it has devised a way to reduce "the space utilized and power consumed by Bitcoin mining hardware."
Intel did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Randy Copeland, president of Velocity Micro, a Richmond, Va.-based systems builder and Intel partner, told CRN that his company has built cryptocurrency mining rigs for universities, researchers and others interested in learning more about the space, but he doubts mining could be a sustainable business in the U.S. because of high energy costs.
"Once this new Intel technology comes to market, ultimately more people will mine again because it's profitable again, driving down the market value of the coins, and finding a new market balance that will again put locations with lower electricity costs back at the advantage," he said in an email.
On the other hand, Copeland said, he expects blockchain computing — which is the decentralized ledger technology Bitcoin relies on and can be used for high-security data transfers — would likely have more of a future with U.S. customers and hardware vendors.
At least one other solution provider has shown interest in selling cryptocurrency mining rigs.
Maingear, a Kenilworth, N.J.-based systems builder and Intel partner, said in January that the company is releasing a custom-built cryptocurrency mining rig later this year (the company is even accepting a digital currency called UnikoinGold as payment for all sales).
Wallace Santos, CEO of Maingear, did not respond to a request for comment.
For Intel, this isn't the first time the semiconductor company has shown interest in cryptocurrency and blockchain, as noted by CoinTelegraph. Last year, the company unveiled three partnerships in the space, including with Chinese firm Tencent for an Internet of Things blockchain solution.