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Autotuning — The Best Thing For Bitcoin Miners Since AsicBoost

During bull markets, Bitcoin miners around the world happily watch their profit margins increasing faster than the difficulty can keep up. Of course, things aren’t always so nice.

Daniel Frumkin
Published on Apr 29, 2020
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Published on Mar 30, 2020
Published on Apr 29, 2020

When difficulty increases and price doesn’t, the competition to stay profitable really heats up.

Prior to 2018, there were two ways to gain an edge in Bitcoin mining:

  1. Find cheap electricity
  2. Buy more efficient hardware

Then, when we verified overt AsicBoost and published it, there was a new variable in mining profitability. Now miners were able to cut their costs by about 13% just by tweaking the firmware running on their ASIC devices. This was a game changer.

Autotuning is the new AsicBoost

As with any trend, the earliest adopters are the ones who benefit most. In the chart below, you can see the adoption of overt AsicBoost since 2018, with the fastest growth occurring in the months after we made our announcement and supported AsicBoost in Braiins OS.

Source: asicboost.dance

Nowadays, approximately 70% of all Bitcoin blocks being mined have overt AsicBoost enabled. That means that AsicBoost is not so much an advantage as it is a way to keep up with the majority of the competition.

However, there’s a newer advancement in the mining software and firmware business called autotuning that is providing an advantage even larger than AsicBoost, and only a few miners have started using it.

What is autotuning in cryptocurrency mining?

ASIC mining machines are composed of many small computing chips where the actual hashing is performed. These chips are made of silicon, the same element used extensively in semiconductors and other microelectronics. The key understanding here is that not all silicon chips are identical — each one can vary slightly in its electrical properties.

Hardware manufacturers know this, and they publish the performance specifications for their mining machines according to the lower end of their tolerances. In other words, the manufacturers know the frequency that works best for the average chips, and they use that frequency uniformly for all the chips in the machine. This puts an upper limit on the hash rate that a machine can have.

Autotuning is a process in which algorithms evaluate the optimal frequencies for hashing chip-by-chip, instead of treating the entire machine as one single unit. This means that a higher quality chip that can perform more hashes per second will get a higher frequency, and a lower quality chip that can perform relatively fewer will get a lower frequency.

Per-chip autotuning is essentially a way to optimize the performance of an ASIC through the software and firmware running on it. It uses the full capabilities of every mining chip in the devices instead of just settling for the uniform stock settings. The end result is higher hash rate per Watt of electricity, meaning larger profit margins for miners.

Why isn’t autotuning more popular?

You might be wondering why hardware manufacturers would sell their own products with sub-optimal performance specs. There are actually a couple of reasons that this is the case:

  • Per-machine variance isn’t good: customers want to know exactly what they’re getting, so it’s a bad idea for manufacturers to sell a product that doesn’t have consistent, predictable performance from one machine to the next.
  • Takes developer resources: auto-tuning is a complicated thing to develop, and manufacturers already spend a lot of resources developing their own firmwares.

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You can view the changelog also in our documentation.
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As for why more miners aren’t using autotuning? Well, the reality is that many miners still don’t know what autotuning is or how much it can improve their performance. It’s common to assume that manufacturers will automatically optimize their own products to be as competitive as possible, so the thought of significantly boosting performance through firmware upgrades doesn’t cross miner’s minds.

Another dilemma is that many hardware manufacturers don’t want their miners to use alternative firmware, so they discourage it by voiding the warranties on machines that no longer use the factory firmware.

Introducing our new autotuning firmware, Braiins OS+

This week, we are releasing a new variation of our Braiins OS firmware called Braiins OS+. It currently supports Antminer S9, S9i, and S9j machines, and we are working to add support for S17s in the near future.

In addition to improving ASIC performance by 20–30%, a huge benefit of Braiins OS+ is that it comes with 50% lower pool fees when mining on Slush Pool. While there are other autotuning firmwares out there, this is the first to come from a major mining pool and to have such a significant pool fee reduction. Beyond that, we’ve also included an implementation of our other big project, Stratum V2.

For those who haven’t read about it, Stratum V2 is a next generation mining protocol that solves the biggest problems with the outdated Stratum V1. It improves efficiency by reducing both the size and frequency of data transfers, which lowers the infrastructure costs for pools and makes it easier to run mining operations in remote locations where internet speeds are slow.

V2 also includes encryption to protect against man-in-the-middle attacks such as hashrate hijacking, as well as a new decentralization-boosting feature inspired by Matt Corallo’s BetterHash which gives miners the ability to choose their own work.

Extending the lifespan of Antminer S9s

With the halving nearly upon us, Antminer S9s are slowly but surely getting phased out of the market. With stock settings, S9s are about 50% as efficient as newer generation miners like the S17 and the Whatsminer M20S. However, this reality has made S9s extremely cheap to buy up front, often going for under $100 per machine.

With Braiins OS+, it’s possible to use Low Power Mode settings to get maximum efficiency out of the devices that reduces power consumption well below the factory specifications. In fact, Braiins OS+ can bring the S9’s consumption down from 85 J/TH to as low as 65 J/TH, making them far more competitive given Bitcoin’s current difficulty.

For miners with particularly cheap electricity, this presents a big opportunity to increase their operation’s hashrate with minimal upfront costs and remain competitive from an efficiency standpoint. And for those who already have some S9s, upgrading to autotuning is a no-brainer.

To learn more, visit braiins-os.com.

Thanks for your support! If you have any mining questions, you can always engage with us on Twitter @braiins_systems or @slush_pool.⛏📈️

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About Braiins

Operators of Slush Pool. Creators of Braiins OS+ autotuning firmware & a fully open-source mining stack: Braiins OS + BOSminer + Stratum V2.