All About BTC, LTC, ETH mining as well as other alternative crypto currencies
We have been keeping track on the development of the new Innosilicon A4 Dominator Scrypt ASIC miners since the initial announcement back in November last year and it is time for another update. It seems that Innosilicon is starting to take pre-orders for the final ASIC miners with shipping expected to start in September and there is already a thread on Bitcointalk about a group pre-order that you might want to check out if interested. In the past we have tested the previous generation of Innosilicon A2 Scrypt ASIC miners in the form of the 86 MHS A2BOX Innosilicon A2 Scrypt ASIC Miner that was consuming about 1000 Watts of power, so we can see what the development is and how good actually the new generation is going to be. A solid first generation Scrypt ASIC miner that was built well and performed really good when it was released with the only drawback being the very high initial price of the device, so we were anticipating another good solid product with much better specs when the first A4 details surfaced.
The initial announcement from last year claimed that the A4 Dominator is so efficient that it should be able to deliver about 850 MHS for Scrypt mining with 1020W of power usage. This was really impressive number and really caught our attention, especially considering that the first generation A2 Terminator miners were able to achieve just about 1/10 of that hashrate with the same power usage. A little bit later, in March this year, there was an update on the power usage and efficiency of the new A4 ASIC chips that has significantly lowered the initial numbers – down to 400 MHS from 850 MHS per kilowatt of power. Although the expected performance was lowered more than half it was still a pretty impressive number, but unfortunately this was not the final change and now we have a new number available. Apparently the final product will only be capable of about 260 MHs per 1 KW of power and be available for about $1800 USD without shipping and with power supply not included in the price. While the final performance per KW of power usage is not that bad either, we are not as excited as we were with the initial announcement or the March update. At 260 MHS per 1000 Watts things aren’t that bad, but with these specs we are not going to be pre-ordering one of these miners for sure. Maybe we are going to try to get one unit to test when they come out if it is not a pain in the ass to secure a single unit order.
We have been playing around with a FutureBit MoonLander USB Scrypt ASIC Miner for a few days already and it is time to share our experience with the device. We should start by stating that the FutureBit MoonLander is a small and not very powerful in terms of performance USB miner that is more for fun than for profit. The device is intended for people that just want to play around and experiment with a small and not very powerful Scrypt ASIC that is available at a low price. The miner uses a special version of bfgminer 5.4 (source).
The MoonLander can run on a very wide range of speed and efficiency, allowing the user large headroom for tweaking and playing around. The device comes with a variable resistor on the PCB that allow the user to adjust the core voltage (0.7-1.1V) and a wide range of operating frequencies that can be set via the software (104 MHz to 400 MHz). Of course you need to be careful playing with these as increasing the operating voltage past the default level of about 0.75V and going past 264 MHz would require the usage of powered hub and active cooling for the miner based on our experience. The official information about the miner performance cites a value of 2.77 KHS per 1 MHz, so the lowest frequency should be able to provide about 288 KHS hashrate for mining Scrypt crypto currencies and the maximum of 400 MHz should result in around 1.1 MHs.
With a hashrate in the range 0.288-1.1 MHS for mining Scrypt-basec crypto currencies you will not be able to mine much and you will also have to look for mining pools that offer user adjustable difficulty level or support low fixed difficulty. If we get back a few years to the times of Litecoin mining with GPUs we can say that this miner gets you in between half to almost two high-end GPUs worth of Scrypt hashrate. Of course the power usage of this USB Scrypt ASIC is much lower than what a high-end video card consumes, but then again at these low hashrates you will need many months to even earn enough to cover the cost of the miner. Anyway, our goal was to see what you can get in terms of performance with the FutureBit MoonLander miner by powering the device with a regular USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports with their power limits that do not allow the miner to reach its maximum performance. You will need to use a powered USB hub in order to be able to overclock to the maximum the miner, a 2A powered hub should allow you to reach the 10W maximum power and you will also need to provide a serious active cooling to the device if you want to push for higher core voltage and the maximum supported frequency.
Out tests have shown that the default operating frequency of the device set at 144 MHz is what is possible with a USB 2.0 port capable of providing 0.5A at 5V or about 2.5W. With this operating frequency and using the stock core voltage of about 0.75V you can expect to get around 400 KHS worth of Scrypt mining power. On the thermal images above you can see the operating temperatures at these settings, the AlcheMiner ASIC chip does get hot with temperatures of around 55-56 degrees Celsius and the heatsink on the back is at about 44 degrees Celsius. These temperatures should not be a problem for operating the miner without any additional cooling on the long run, unless of course the ambient temperature is not very high.
Going for the higher power limit of USB 3.0 ports that are capable of 0.9A at 5V or about 4.5 Watts of power you can push the device to an operating frequency of 264 MHz. Any higher and the power provided by the USB 3.0 port will not be sufficient enough to keep the miner operating properly. The expected hashrate at these settings should be around 730 KHS, a result that is not bad but we were hoping for a bit more. Apparently achieving 1 MHS or more will be possible only with the use of a powered USB hub that can provide more power to the USB miner and 2A is needed for pushing things to the maximum along with cooling fans as already mentioned. It is important to note that the thermal camera photos show an increase of about 15 degrees for the ASIC chip and about 10 degrees for the cooling radiator when using USB 3.0 as compared to USB 2.0. Note that at this level adding some airflow around the miner is a good idea in order to keep it cooler as otherwise it may overheat after a while, so it will be a wise idea to monitor the operating temperatures.
All in all the FutureBit MoonLander USB Scrypt ASIC miner is a fun little gadget to play around with and that is what it is for – playing around with an affordable ASIC miner. It is not intended to be profitable or to make you a lot of money, it is for people that are curious like us and love to play around with tech. The next thing we are probably going to do with the device is to improve on cooling and try with powered USB hub and some overvolting and more serious overclocking of the device. Do note that increasing the operating voltage and trying to max out the operating frequency can decrease the live of the mining hardware and even damage it permanently if you are not careful what you are doing!
Last year there was some information about the upcoming next generation of Scrypt ASICs from Innosilicon as the company was looking for investors. Back then they already had apparently designed and taped-out the A4 Dominator chips and needed sufficient investment to start making the chips using 14nm production process. Now, about four and a half months later Innosilicon comes with an official announcement of the final specifications and additional details of the upcoming A4 Dominator Scrypt ASICs that are apparently now entering into production.
The next generation Innosilicon Scrypt miner using 14nm ASIC is code-named A4 Dominator as already expected. This is a full custom optimized LTC mining ASIC with a focus on efficiency and cost, that should be capable of delivering up to 4 MHS per chip with as low as 1.5W of power usage per MHS efficiency in a DCDC less daisy chain configuration. This should allow for next gen Scrypt miners to offer 400 MHS to 500 MHS hash power per box, with easily over 300% better power efficiency over the previous generations. Initial batch of A4 ASIC chips is expected to be available in May for miner developer to design PCB and software, mass produced A4 ASIC/Miners should be available in June/July 2016 based on pre-order sequence.
Innosilicon A4 Dominator ASIC and Miner Specifications:
– A4 Miner: 400 MHS per 1 KW power supply in one standard miner box
– A4 ASIC: 3.5 MHS per chip performance at 2.5 W/MHS nominal
– Extreme Low Power: ASIC with large memory running at single rail 0.6V
– One Start and New PCB: eliminate the need of DC-DC components and enable 14 to 20 A4 chips – running off the single 12V DC supply
– PSU Requirements: common PCI-E 8 Pins/6+2 Pins with 12V output
– Included: Raspberry Pi running the user friendly A2 Terminator software
– Server Grid Reliability: Built-in high-procession temperature sensor for automatic chip protection and variable frequency operation to maximize chip life time
There is no word about pricing at the moment, but it seems that Innosilicon is finally going to beat the KnC Titan Scrypt ASIC miners in terms of performance and power usage as the king in Scrypt mining efficiency at the moment. Unlike KnC however whose miners are no longer available and were problematic as hell and quite expensive when launched, based on our experience with previous A2 miners we know that we can expect a more affordable and reliable product from Innosilicon that should not give you a lot of headaches like many Titans did. There is no word on pricing yet, but a somewhat acceptable price would be in the 2K USD range, otherwise there might be not much demand for it with the current market conditions. With the high expectations we had and the total failure that SFARDS turned out to be in making available their products our hopes for Innosilicon finally starting to do something on the LTC and Scrypt crypto currency mining front are high, but let us see what will happen this summer…