Asus has announced its entry into the cryptocurrency mining market, launching a pair of graphics cards designed specifically for accelerating hash calculation for Litecoin and similar cryptocurrencies - but is keeping the most impressive model exclusive to China and Eastern Europe.
Cryptocurrencies are, as the name suggests, currencies based on cryptographic principles. The most well-known, Bitcoin, uses SHA256 hashing to validate transactions and rewards volunteers who provide the computational power to drive the network with 'mined' Bitcoins which started life worth fractions of a fractions of a pence and now hover around the £1,500-£2,000 mark - a wide bracket necessitated by the volatile nature of the cryptocurrency market.
Where once upon a time you could 'mine' a reward of 50 Bitcoins simply by running the software on your PC's CPU, an accelerating arms race soon saw the 'volunteer' power replaced with centralised mining hardware: First came implementations which used the highly parallel nature of graphics processors to speed up the hashing making CPU mining obsolete, then came custom-designed circuits implemented in field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) which left the GPUs in the dust, and today Bitcoin mining is dominated by giant data centres filled with application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) - processors built exclusively to perform SHA256 hashing.
Though Bitcoin has long since become unprofitable for GPU mining, other cryptocurrencies have been designed to be resistant to ASIC implementation. Litecoin, as an example, is heavily centred around GPU mining - it was originally developed as something your GPU could be doing while your CPU was mining Bitcoin - and can be traded for Bitcoin once mined. It's a market which is causing a shortage of top-end graphics cards, which are purchased at retail and run for a year or two until the increasing difficulty of the calculations means it costs more in electricity than it earns in coins. Such graphics cards are rarely, if ever, actually used for graphics processing - and now Asus, among others, is looking to capitalise on the market with mining-specific GPUs.
Announced in Taipei late last night, Asus' Mining RX 470 And Mining P106 are designed purely for mining cryptocurrencies still profitable via GPU. The former, as the name suggests, is based on an AMD Radeon graphics processor, while the latter is Nvidia GeForce powered - though, oddly, is only being made available by Asus in China and Eastern Europe, a shame given the promise of a 36 percent boost in hash rate over general-purpose GPUs based on the same silicon.
The main features of both cards, though, centre on improving longevity. Asus claims to have tweaked the design of both cards for continuous use - a load scenario gaming cards rarely, if ever, experience - with new reduced-friction fans boasting twice the usual life span and IPX5X dust resistance. The Mining RX 470 comes with, Asus has confirmed, a 926MHz base and 1,206MHz boost clock, 4GB of GDDR5 on a 256-bit interface running at 7GHz effective, and a single DVI-D video connector. The Mining P106, meanwhile, runs at 1,506MHz base and 1,708MHz boost, has 6GB of GDDR5 on a 192-bit memory interface running at 8GHz effective and no video output at all.
Both cards will be available in July, Asus has confirmed, where they will compete with mining cards from Sapphire and other manufacturers.