Bitcoin Miner Argo Blockchain 'Leans Toward' Designing Custom Miners With Intel Chips

Custom bitcoin mining rigs will allow miners to design their own machines instead of having to settle for ready-made ones from a duopoly of manufacturers.

May 11, 2022 at 5:56 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2022 at 6:00 p.m. UTC

Eliza Gkritsi is CoinDesk's crypto mining reporter based in Asia.

Bitcoin (BTC) mining firm Argo Blockchain (ARBK) is “leaning toward” designing its own machines using Intel’s chips, and working with a third-party manufacturer to bring them to life, the firm’s CEO Peter Wall told CoinDesk in an interview.

The Intel chips are expected to break the duopoly of Bitmain and MicroBT, which are dominating the mining application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) market.

More than that, Wall’s interview with CoinDesk shows how they can give miners the opportunity to design their own machines, instead of having to settle for ready-made ones from manufacturers.

Argo is one of a handful of companies that will be buying Intel’s new bitcoin mining ASICs, the other three being Jack Dorsey’s Block (SQ), Hive Blockchain (HIVE) and Griid Infrastructure.

The firm had already said it would be deploying “custom-designed mining machines utilizing Intel's state-of-the-art ASIC Blockscale chips” in its annual earnings report for 2021, but hadn’t specified exactly how they would be designed and produced.

There are two options as to how bitcoin miners can operationalize Intel’s chips, Wall said. The first is to “get the chips” and then “work with your own third-party manufacturer to design and build a machine to your liking,” he said. The second is to work with manufacturers recommended by Intel to build the bitcoin mining rigs, he said.

Given Argo’s history, which shows that their “preference is always to have more control and more customization,” the company is leaning towards the first option, which is to “be able to build our own custom rigs,” Wall said.

Customizing bitcoin mining machines

Asked about specific aspects of customization, the CEO mentioned “form factors” and customizing bitcoin mining rigs for immersion versus air cooling. Immersion cooling is a technology in which machines are immersed in liquid that doesn’t conduct electricity, in order to be cooled down, as opposed to using tools like fans.

By customizing the mining machines, Argo can also control “a lot more of the software side of things” which is “a huge advantage ... particularly in the immersion environment,” Wall said.

The Argo CEO said that more details will come out in the next few weeks.

There are three “Ms” that matter in bitcoin mining: money, megawatts and machines, Wall said. Miners have been innovating with the first two, coming up with innovative financing solutions and working more closely with energy producers, so it only makes sense if eventually they start addressing the machines part of the equation, he said.

Over time “other miners are going to realize that this is the direction to go,” meaning customized machines, according to the CEO.

A key roadblock for customizing bitcoin mining rigs so far has been the chip manufacturers. Existing industry players like Bitmain and MicroBT tend to keep their designs and even supply chain under wraps. “You need a chip manufacturer that is willing to play ball, and that's what's cool with Intel is that they're really just interested in selling chips,” Wall said.

However, to pull off making customized bitcoin miners, firms need a lot of technical expertise, as well as experience in mining, chips and firmware, he said.

At the end of the day, “the proof is in the pudding,” Wall said. Just like Argo’s Helios mine, which finally started operating this week after more than nine months of construction, only when the results of their machine customization efforts are tangible will the firm be able to say, “it was hard, but we did it.”


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Eliza Gkritsi is CoinDesk's crypto mining reporter based in Asia.

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Eliza Gkritsi is CoinDesk's crypto mining reporter based in Asia.

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