The company argues that “this machine is not only our most efficient ever, using less than half the energy per gigahash of the S5, but it is also our most powerful miner to enter mass production.” It had released the S5+ in limited supply, which offers nearly 3,000 more GH/s than the announced S7.
“It’s true that the S5+ had a greater overall hashrate, but the S7 squeezes more juice from a smaller, more power efficient package,” said Jake Smith, Bitmain’s head of North America, in an interview with Bitcoin Magazine. “When comparing hashrate to weight, size, or power consumption, the S7 comes out ahead.”
The Antminer S7 is a denser mining rig than previous models. Whereas the S5 used 60 chips per miner, the Antminer S7 uses 162 of the BM1385 chips. Each S7 will be able to generate upwards of 4,850 GH/s while only needing approximately 0.25 J/GH of power.
Part of the reason the chip is so much stronger is because the company went away from using standard design flow methods. “From the BM1385 onwards, we’ll be using full-custom design flow,” Smith explained. While full-custom design flow is more work intensive and does have a greater margin of error, it results in greater efficiency, which is where profit can be found.
“It’s difficult to predict the how long our new chip will take to bring to market, but development on our next chip began almost as soon as this one was completed. Our next chip, the BM1387, will be our second full-custom chip, and our first chip built on a 16-nanometer process node,” Smith said.
With each new chip released miners have to weigh their options on whether to upgrade. Smith said that there has been considerable interest in the S7 by current Bitmain miners, in particular because older hardware may become obsolete. “The inevitable large deployment of S7s will cause network hashrate to rise and some older hardware to be forced offline. More recent hardware like the S5 will still be profitable, but to a lower degree than at present,” Smith said.
‘We’ll continue to make our machines available to Joe Miner …’
Bitmain has deployed a different strategy than other Bitcoin hardware companies has. Other companies have focused their development efforts on creating miners for internal use rather than widespread adoption. For example, Bitcoin Shop (BTCS) announced that it would be merging with Spondoolies-Tech, which would give BTCS access to Spondoolies’ latest miner to give it a competitive advantage. Bitmain, on the other hand, continues to sell its hardware to the general population.
“We’re very strong believers in keeping Bitcoin decentralized. Until recently, most mining was done by so-called average users and not by large mining operations,” Smith said. “It would be a real shame to see this dedicated group left without options for supporting the network in their own way, and perhaps even present a dangerous situation for the network to be secured only by large and well-capitalized firms.”
As mining does continue to get more expensive, only those companies that have the resources to create large operations will be able to survive. The fewer operations that are mining, the more likely it is that one, single source could take a majority of the hashrate, creating potential security problems.
“We will continue to make our machines available to Joe Miner for as long as we are making hardware,” Smith said. “It’s an unfortunate situation that we’re the only big ASIC manufacturer selling directly to consumers right now; we’d love to see more competition in this space and for the miners themselves to have more options available.”
Jacob Donnelly is a full-time product manager and journalist covering finance and bitcoin. He runs a weekly newsletter all about bitcoin and digital currency called Crypto Brief.