Zero Limits, a new-technologies investment firm, has announced its intention to release new ASIC mining hardware for Litecoin and other scrypt-based cryptocurrencies in 2014. They claim that this is a landmark moment in the development of Litecoin as the second-most traded cryptocurrency and with this advance in ASIC hardware, is set to bring Litecoin more profitability.
The move by Zero Limits to focus on Litecoin mining rather than its better established big brother, was moativated by the how complex and intense the competition Bitcoin mining has become. Now that Litecoin’s total market cap is nearing 1 billion US dollars, research and development on more advanced FPGA and ASIC chips is becoming more profitable.
For those new to cryptocurrencies, Litecoin was created by Charles Lee to fix what he saw as some problems in the Bitcoin protocol. Litecoin has faster block times, meaning faster confirmations which is better for merchants, and a higher total number of coins. Also, Litecoin is based on the Scrypt cryptographic algorithm rather than SHA256. Using Scrypt for its proof-of-work means that it is not as suited to ASIC mining. The advantage is that it is still possible to mine Litecoin with CPUs and GPUs. But with the market cap rising, the demand for more powerful Litecoin mining equipment has been rising. Further, once available, Scrypt ASIC mining will also work for other altcoins like Feathercoin.
Although some in the Bitcoin community don’t favor altcoins, believing that they don’t have the network effect of Bitcoin, and will, at best, have their best features incorporated into the Bitcoin protocol before eventually fading away, others see altcoins as a viable complement to Bitcoin. Those currencies have slower increases in the difficulty rate, have good growth potential and thus a lot of speculative and investment interest, and have much faster transaction confirmation times.
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The main drawback with mining scrypt-based cryptocurrencies is the scrypt algorithm’s high resistance to parallel computations and the large number of read/write transactions between computing cores and external RAM that scrypt operations require.
To solve this problem, Zero Limits Corp’s engineers developed a test platform to optimize computing cores and their interaction with adjacent high-speed DDR3 RAM, as well as for testing synchronization between future mining boards. The company says it will use the results it obtains in further ASIC devices for mining scrypt-based currencies.
Zero Limits Corp’s R&D team comprises several top-level systems developers with over 20 years’ experience. Most were involved in the defense and space industries, as well as other projects in telecommunications and telemetry, control and automation, and data monitoring.
The initial devices are based on eight Altera CycloneV FPGA chips, each with its own pair of high speed DDR3 RAM to handle the memory load. Zero Limits Corp designs differ from those planned by other companies by using independent memory banks for each FPGA chip instead of common DDR memory shared between all FPGAs. It also claims the logic capacity of each CycloneV is almost twice as high as other options, allowing better mining performance.
More recent developments with FPGA and ASIC research mean the difficulty of Litecoin’s network is probably due for its own exponential boom. While Bitcoin’s current hashrate is around 6,270,000 GH/s, Litecoin remains at a far more reasonable 64,753 MH/s. Manufacturers of lower-powered scrypt-based mining equipment will also focus on power efficiency gains as well as raw speed.
As the value of Bitcoin increases, interest in Litecoin as the ‘silver’ to Bitcoin’s ‘gold,’ is certain to increase as well. Along with that increase is going to be greater numbers of serious players looking to try their hand at Litecoin mining.