There is a question that has been central to many of the miners that power the second largest crypto network in the world today: when mining Ether won’t pay for the power you spend anymore, what will you do? This question has been creating some anxiety for Ethereum miners for quite some time now and it is emblematic of some of the major problems that the network faces.
Some people are starting to be concerned about what will happen if everybody simply decides to quit mining Ethereum. With the emergence of Ethereum ASIC mining and other type of specialized hardware, there are clear intentions from many miners to simply “move on” when mining Ether is no longer profitable.
If this actually happens and they all stop mining it, what will happen with the value of ETH? This is a troublesome question and it looks like it may get even more complicated as a new change in the ETH algorithm, named as Constantinople, is scheduled via a hard fork to reduce the coins that miners receive per block from 3 ETH to 2 ETH.
While this will not necessarily break the miners, the changes can add up quickly if ASIC miners actually get more popular than they currently are. About 6,000 blocks are mined daily and hobbyist miners may be pushed out of the game if ASIC miners dominate it. The change in the algorithm, however, may drive ASIC miners away from the platform.
Some people argue that some companies will start to use ASIC miners in places where energy is cheap, which could further the problem and their dominance over the network. As small miners are faced with a difficult choice of selling their equipment might be more profitable than to keep mining, it looks like there may be some trouble ahead.
There are users even advocating to block ASIC miners completely from the platform and only allow GPUs as decentralization is important for the platform. Without decentralization, a lot would simply die from the original goal of Ethereum.
Kristy Leigh Minehan, a hardware supplier and leading developer behind the ETH code change has affirmed that a GPU card is good for decentralization because everybody has access to one, which does not seem to be true when you think about ASIC rigs.
The Battle For Ether
Minehan is preparing Constantinople for October and moving people from their work to block ASIC miners. She cites Monero as a similar case of people joining to be against ASIC miners.
People can trace this new ASIC mining trend back to Bitmain, which introduced new miners in an effort to get more profits for companies. Minehan believes in the importance of helping the GPU miners as they need more performance gains to compete.
Constantinople’s code, which is built upon an algorithm named ProgPoW, was designed to maximize the GPU mining process and will use more graphics over computing power. Because of this, an ASIC miner for ProgPoW would just look like a GPU. The algorithms, according to her, would be a lot like Ethash, the current mining algorithm, though.
The main difference will be that it will use new barriers against ASIC mining as it looks like manufacturers were able to overcome the current ones. ProgPoW will also change the algorithm itself from time to time, which can be very interesting to disallow fixed function hardware.
Two Types Of Hardware
Minehan was adamant about the importance of using common hardware for mining. According to her, the devs simply do not understand very well how screwed they will be when ASIC miners for ETH are popular. Decentralization needs protection or it will be crushed with efficient ASIC miners that will let only a handful of people be able to profit from mining.
ASIC miners, she also affirms, are locked into a code and can only be used for it. Because of this, they lock miners on a single protocol. This causes a lot of competitive behavior, which can be very dangerous with time.
As there is the gaming market for GPUs but no other market for ASIC miners, manufacturers and miners are directly incentivized to protect their investments and interfere with the network. As Ethereum wants to change to proof of stake and do away with mining entirely, the network will be very vulnerable if only ASIC miners are out there because they will protect their investments.
This would probably mean a hard fork and a lot of issues that are simply not needed. Because of this, she is making this effort in the name of decentralization.
The Ethereum Foundation is already looking into the new protocol to understand its implementation as it is understood as a “reasonable compromise” with the GPU miners. However, it is still not 100% clear whether there is enough support to implement the change or if it will be rejected.
Some people, for instance, argue that the increased hashrate from the ASIC miners is positive for the security and that the new protocol may have unexpected impacts on the network like damaging the investment of GPU miners. Others are adamant that ProgPoW should not be used in Constantinople.
If the change is delayed too much, however, there is a chance that GPU miners will simply give up and move elsewhere because of the ASIC miners. Minehan and her team are still optimistic, though. She believes that she will do her part and finish the code. If the code is rejected, then it is, but she has done her part to secure the future of Ethereum.