ASRock has announced the world's first motherboard designed specifically for mining the crypto-currency Bitcoin - at a time when the peak benefit of GPU-based mining has long since passed.
Proposed by the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto back in 2008, Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer network-based currency which uses a one-way hashing function to validate transactions. Payment processing is carried out by volunteer systems, which expend computational power to create and validate the hashes that power the system - and, in doing so, unlock new Bitcoins, earning money and keeping the currency growing.
That growth has, in recent months, exploded. When first introduced, entrepreneurs soon saw a money-making opportunity in selling the generated Bitcoins for real-world currency - giving those whose computers aren't fast enough to unlock Bitcoins themselves the opportunity to give the system a try. While Bitcoins originally sold at around $0.02 each, today's exchange rate sees a single Bitcoin sit an at average of around $545 - down from its peak yesterday at $618.
While it's still possible for users to generate Bitcoins themselves by generating and validating the hashes, a process known as mining, it's not easy: as the computational power of the Bitcoin network increases, the difficulty of validating a block and receiving a Bitcoin reward also increases. Currently, that difficulty sits at a value of 609 million - meaning the days of individuals mining Bitcoins alone have long since vanished, with teams partnering up in mining pools and sharing the resultant payouts accordingly.
The growing increase in difficulty has another knock-on effect: the amount of computational power required to make any real money at Bitcoin mining is increasing exponentially. In its early days, the first Bitcoins miners used their computers processors to generate a few hundred thousand hashes a second. This was followed by GPU-based mining, giving access to performance of up to a few hundred million hashes; now, the profits go to designers of application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) designed purely for Bitcoin mining, which can generate hundreds of billions of hashes every second at a fraction of the power draw required by a GPU.
It's in this market that ASRock has decided to launch a pair of motherboards designed specifically for GPU-based Bitcoin mining. Dubbed the H61 Pro BTC and H81 Pro BTC respectively, the two boards feature six PCI Express slots - one x16 and five x1 - and additional four-pin power connectors on the board to support up to six high-performance graphics cards.
On the surface, it's a smart move: Bitcoin's value has never been higher, despite its links to shady underground trading such as drugs-and-weapons den Silk Road, and the currency is gaining mainstream interest and even payment support from big-name brands. With ASICs offering a far higher performance at a far lower power draw, however, the days of GPU mining making a profit are long gone - with ASRock potentially missing the boat by around a year.
Details of the boards can be found on the H61 Pro BTC
and H81 Pro BTC
pages of ASRock's website. Pricing and availability have yet to be confirmed.