Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Friday, June 9, 2023

Intel Kills ‘Blockscale’ Bitcoin Chip 

An interview with Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger from just last year already hasn't aged well. In the interview, Gelsinger decries the energy consumption of Bitcoin mining ("a climate crisis") moments before announcing Intel's own Bitcoin mining product, Blockscale 1000, which Gelsinger claims is "dramatically better" than other power-guzzling chips that take over energy grids. Now, Blockscale is no more, with Gelsinger chopping off the product as part of its cost-cutting efforts to save $10 billion by 2025. The news was originally reported by Tom's Hardware.

“As we prioritize our investments in IDM 2.0, we have end-of-lifed the Intel Blockscale 1000 Series ASIC while we continue to support our Blockscale customers,” Intel told HPCwire in an email.

The Blockscale chip was released last year with expectations that it would serve the fast-growing mining and digital transactions market. Intel sold its chips to infrastructure companies like Argo Blockchain, GRIID Infrastructure and Block.The blockchain chip received support from Raja Koduri, who formerly led Intel's accelerated computing division, but resigned late last year.

Intel has now posted a document notifying customers of Blockscale’s cancellation.

The last orders for the product will be taken in October this year, with the last shipments going out in April next year. The document also revealed that Intel had three versions of the Blockscale chip.

Cryptocurrencies like Ethereum have converted to a proof-of-stake model, which reduces the strain on GPUs to mine cryptocurrencies. It was a shift from the older proof-of-work model, which awarded coins to the most powerful miners throwing the most hardware resources to solve complex math. That resulted in the buildup of GPU factories to mine cryptocurrency. The proof-of-stake model and its lower reliance on hardware led many miners to repurpose existing GPUs for the purposes of cloud and acceleration of applications.

In a way, Gelsinger has righted the ship by cutting the Bitcoin chip, which stood out like a sore thumb in Intel’s chip lineup. It was introduced almost as an afterthought to serve a highly volatile market, and it went against Gelsinger’s resolve to focus on engineering and a renewed focus on highly targeted markets.

Hive Blockchain, a company that mines bitcoins, in a March filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said it expected to receive 645 mining devices called BuzzMiners, and also mentioned the devices were powered by the Intel Blockscale ASIC. It said the number of BuzzMiners in its arsenal would total 6,300 in the coming months. This week, a filing from Hive said the company had received 5,600 BuzzMiners, but made no mention of Intel Blockscale. It also did not mention the number of chips it expected to receive.

Hive also uses GPUs for Bitcoin mining, but given the energy prices and difficulty mining Bitcoin, Hive is trying to broaden its GPUs in data centers to run cloud and accelerated computing applications. The company is running a GPU high-performance computing pilot that is "generating approximately $1,800/MWh of revenue."

"These advancements and agility allow us to generate positive gross mining margin during a crypto mining bear market," Hive wrote in the April filing.

The market volatility also affected Nvidia and AMD, which could not forecast GPU revenue because of the boom-and-bust nature of the crypto market. During the GPU shortage and Bitcoin boom, miners scalped up most of the available GPUs, which caused prices to skyrocket. Nvidia and AMD were trying to target GPUs at gamers and business users, and ultimately locked out the mining features from its GPUs.