Tech wizards like Ken Shirriff are repurposing old electronics into bitcoin mining rigs.
Bitcoin is the most valuable cryptocurrency in the world and mining is one of the means by which bitcoin can be acquired. It involves using computers to solve complex mathematical problems with a fixed number of bitcoins given to the mining node that arrives at the solution first. These days, bitcoin mining is a huge commercial activity with bitcoin mining complexes in countries like China, Iceland, and the United States.
Companies like Bitmain produce application-specific integrated circuit mining (ASIC) rigs that are a complex array of processors capable of performing trillions of hashes per second. These units are quite expensive and might be out of reach of the recreational bitcoin hobbyist. For these crypto enthusiasts on a budget, following Ken Shirriff’s lead might be a good way to go.
Shirriff has made a name for himself in the bitcoin community by converting old computers and retro gaming hardware into mining rigs. Shirriff who is reputed as being able to code SHA-256 algorithms using pencil and paper has been able to create a few bitcoin mining rigs from old electronics.
In 2017, he converted a 1973 Xerox Alto into a mining rig using the obsolete BCPL language to code the hash algorithm. He also repurposed a 1959 IBM 1401 mainframe and a 1985 Nintendo gaming console into cryptocurrency mining rigs. What is even more laudable about the latter is that the operating system for old Nintendo gaming consoles ran on 8-bit encryption whereas SHA-256, the bitcoin mining algorithm uses 32-bit encryption.
Mining Capabilities of Upcycled Bitcoin Mining Rigs
The big question is can these repurposed mining rigs compete with their commercial counterparts? Well, the answer, for now, is no. Shirriff’s creations by his own admission can only reach about 1.5 hashes per second which is less than a drop in the ocean compared to the trillions of hashes that ASIC mining rigs can accomplish. For now, these repurposed rigs are useful as a hobby for those who might be fascinated in retrofitting old electronics.
Bitcoin Mining on Xerox Alto. Source: Ken Sheriff’s Blog
Shirriff’s work even proves that Moore’s Law is a considerable understatement since the improvement in the complexity of computers seems to be more than doubling every year.
Samsung, as part of its upcycling initiative, made a bitcoin mining rig out of 40 old Galaxy S5 smartphones. The project was carried out by the company’s C-Lab, a team of engineers that handle the more creative projects in the Samsung product catalog. The mining rig was premiered at a 2017 developers conference in San Francisco where it also showcased other upcycle devices. Upcycling of old electronic devices can be a useful way to keep old devices working and reduce the pollution brought about by discarded electronics.