UPDATED 15:00 EST / FEBRUARY 11 2022


Intel details plan to launch blockchain accelerator chip

Intel Corp. today announced plans to launch a blockchain accelerator chip later this year that will be capable of running an algorithm commonly used for bitcoin mining. 

The chip was created by a business unit known as the Custom Compute Group. Intel formed the unit to “develop custom silicon platforms optimized for customers’ workloads,” stated Raja Koduri, senior vice president and general manager of the chipmaker’s Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics division, of which the new business unit is part.

The Custom Compute Group will also develop products for other markets besides the blockchain segment, Koduri said.

Intel’s new blockchain accelerator is optimized to run the SHA-256 algorithm, which is commonly used for bitcoin mining. According to the company, the chip can run SHA-256 with more than 1,000 times higher performance per watt than commercial graphics processing units.

A number of customers have already signed up to use Intel’s blockchain accelerator. Among them are Block Inc., previously known as Stripe Inc., Argo Blockchain PLC and Griid Infrastructure LLC, which is currently in the process of going public at a $3.3 billion valuation.

Intel didn’t provide detailed technical information about the design of the chip in today’s announcement. But according to a report from Tom’s Hardware, Griid Infrastructure detailed in a regulatory filing that the chips it’s purchasing from Intel are application-specific integrated circuits, or ASICs. An ASIC is a specialized processor designed to perform one specific set of tasks, in this case running blockchain-related calculations.

Griid’s agreement with Intel will reportedly enable the company to purchase at least 25% of “all qualified Intel-designed ASICs” through May 2025 if certain conditions are met. On orders placed by Griid before May 2023, Intel will provide fixed pricing. 

Intel plans to share more details about its blockchain initiative later this month at the International Solid State Circuit Conference, a chip industry event. The company told Tom’s Hardware that it will demonstrate ASIC technology developed as part of a “first-generation product exploration” initiative in 2018 at the event. The ASICs sold to GRIID are based on a second-generation design, a spokesperson for the company added.

Earlier, AnandTech reported in January that Intel’s first-generation blockchain accelerator may be based on a seven-nanometer manufacturing process. The chip is reportedly compact enough that up to 4,000 units can be produced from a single wafer. Little information is available about Intel’s second-generation chip. 

Intel today confirmed the compact footprint of its blockchain accelerator technology. “This architecture is implemented on a tiny piece of silicon so that it has minimal impact to the supply of current products,” Koduri said. 

“We are mindful that some blockchains require an enormous amount of computing power, which unfortunately translates to an immense amount of energy,” Koduri added. “Our customers are asking for scalable and sustainable solutions, which is why we are focusing our efforts on realizing the full potential of blockchain by developing the most energy-efficient computing technologies at scale.”

The chip will enable Intel to address more directly the significant market for cryptocurrency mining processors, giving the company access to new revenue growth opportunities. Intel rival Nvidia Corp. competes in this segment as well. Last February, Nvidia debuted a series of graphics processing units designed for cryptocurrency mining.

Intel is also working to expand its presence in other parts of the semiconductor market as part of its effort to boost revenue growth. The company is expected to release soon a line of GPUs for personal computers that will compete with Nvidia’s market-leading graphics cards. In the enterprise, Intel plans to challenge Nvidia with Ponte Vecchio, a recently detailed system-on-chip optimized to run artificial intelligence workloads that features 100 billion transistors. 

Image: Intel

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