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Ethereum

Ethereum Core Devs greenlight ASIC-resistant update, but launch timeline still uncertain

Quick Take

  • The Ethereum Core Development meeting pushed forward an ASIC-resistant Ethereum proposal, “ProgPoW,” on Friday
  • ProgPoW aims to curb the commercial ASIC chip arms race by minimizing the marginal benefit of mining with ASICs vs GPUs
  • According to ProgPoW contributer, new Ethereum-focused ASIC chips set to launch this year could widen reward benefit to ~2x that of GPU devices; ProgPoW reduces that benefit to 1.1 – 1.2x
  • The timeline for ProgPoW implementation is uncertain, with client teams set to explore realistic implementation schedules for the next development call 

Friday’s Ethereum Core Dev Meeting agenda discussed the approval of a proposal to update the current Ethereum hashing algorithm. The proposal, referred to as ProgPoW, aims to reduce the incentive to mine ETH with ASICs — a specialized mining chip — by optimizing GPU efficiency and minimizing the gap between ASICs. Leading the call, Hudson Jameson stated that developers are “going ahead with it unless major problems [are] found with it when testing on testnet.”

ASIC chips designed specially for Ethereum are a relatively new trend, with Bitmain’s latest offering, the Antminer E3, launching only about 6 months ago. This prompted community desire to explore ASIC-resistant Ethereum Improvement Proposals (EIP) to combat ASIC mining. Recently, a former head chip maker at Canann Creative announced a new chip project called Linzhi which aims to develop significantly more efficient Ethereum-focused ASIC chips than Bitmain’s Antminer E3. The company claimed that the power consumption was one eighth the amount of Bitmain’s Antminer.

The motivation behind ProgPoW is to address the chip manufacturer arms race to launch Ethereum specific ASIC devices by greatly reducing the marginal benefit of ASICs over GPUs until the shift to Proof of Stake occurs. Supporters of ProgPoW claim that if implemented, the proposal would essentially slow down the chip arms race, allowing more even distribution of blocks and improving security leading up to PoS.

When asked about the current divide on the call between ASIC and GPU reward distribution, ProgPoW contributor, Mr. Else, said: “ETHhash ASICs on market can be about 2x better… the ones on the market right now that use DDR4 are [marginally better].. the DDR6 base ETHhash set to launch will be ~2x better than any [chips] existing…but ProgPoW takes that 2x down to 1.1x – 1.2x.”

The proposal saw little pushback from developers on the call (outside of ensuring the proposal doesn’t take meaningful bandwidth away from scheduled hard forks and the switch to PoS), however has garnered confusion more broadly in the community as a distraction leading into scheduled hardforks, and an unnecessary non-zero chance of a chain split given the risk/reward of who benefits from the proposal.

 

The timeline for implementation is still uncertain but call participants noted that 95% of the work is done with next steps set for client teams to do “their homework” on expected timelines for implementation. Martin Holst Swende, the Security Lead for the Ethereum Foundation, called to move swiftly on the measure, stating that “implement[ation] could postpone ASICs for at least a year… [we should] switch as soon as possible, to give us more time to switch to Proof of Stake (PoS).”