Finally, after more than a year of waiting, those who preordered the 5GH/s Jalapeno ASIC Bitcoin miner from Butterfly Labs should start receiving their orders. Butterfly Labs announced today that nearly every Jalapeno order through July 3rd 2012 has been shipped out. They have promised that every backlogged order will be shipped within the next 90 days and this morning they posted a picture up of over 100 units that were on their way out the door.
Butterfly Labs has been the source of much excitement and almost equal scorn since they started taking orders for their much anticipated ASIC miners last year. Initially they told people that their orders would start shipping in a matter of three months, and preorders flooded in. Over a year later almost no one had received anything. To make matters worse, Butterfly Labs (BFL) seemed to continually make shallow excuses as to why they weren't able to ship, that is if they were responding to customers at all.
Many of Butterfly Labs' customers who ordered this year have been asking for clarification on when their ASICs may come in. In classic style, they haven't received a response, which leaves the community up to murmuring speculation, the general consensus being that if it took BFL this long to ship the orders from last year, that those who ordered this year won't receive anything until 2014. Of course, with limited information, it's difficult to say if this is true, but we do know that barely anybody that has ordered thus far this year has actually received their miner, despite the website still stating that most shipments will arrive within three months.
They are shipping though, so it's better late than never, right? The problem is that people who put in orders for ASIC miners last year – specifically the Jalapeno – did so under certain conditions within the Bitcoin economy. Remember this was before Bitcoin was all over the news, before it was even above $30 in value, and before everybody and their Aunt wanted a piece of the action. Imagine how painful it was for those who ordered all the way back in March 2012 to see the news in April 2013 of $250 BTC prices. Ouch.
Since those orders were put in, the amount of people who have joined the Bitcoin network as miners has jumped exponentially. Not only that, but Avalon – another ASIC developer – has actually managed to ship several batches of their miners on time. This means that those little 5GH/s Jalapenos that were ordered over a year ago are not going to be pulling in anywhere near the amount of BTC now that it would have this time last year. You would be lucky to be pulling in 1.5 Bitcoins a week under current difficulty with a single Jalapeno.
This raises a question – if mining with a single 5GH/s Jalapeno only brings in about 1.5 BTC each week under current difficulty, what the heck is going to happen when all of these orders are delivered, and those units join the network in the next 90 days? The difficulty is going to sky rocket and fast, which means the poor souls who spent their money this year – especially in just the last couple of months – and who may realistically not receive their orders until 2014 are going to be dealing with the reality that their state-of-the-art Butterfly Labs ASIC is now a dinky little thing of the past compared to what it was during the time of the actual order.
Are ASICs bad? Not at all, but they definitely change things. Before ASICs people typically designed their own mining rigs using GPUs and FPGA technology, which took a certain amount of know-how, startup costs, and space to house the bitcoin miners, not to mention a high electric bill. Now, as long as you can shell out a few hundred dollars, you can start mining on the Bitcoin network with about as much wattage as it takes to power a light bulb. This means that GPU mining will most likely die, and people will be racing to buy their own ASIC chips to build super ASICs that can compete with consumer-grade ASICs for the hobbyist wanting to delve into mining.
It will be interesting to see what kind of impact these new shipments have on the mining difficulty of Bitcoin. Let's hope Butterfly Labs will get their act together for the people who purchased this year, or else a return on investment, or even breaking-even is going to take a lot longer than their customers had originally anticipated.
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is a media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. CoinDesk is an independent operating subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which invests in cryptocurrencies and blockchain startups.