Dedicated Sia ASICs
In 2017, Sia developers have announced that they will start manufacturing their own Siacoin ASIC hardware. The word ASIC is an abbreviation for Application Specific Integration Circuit. Simply speaking, these words mean that ASIC can perform a specialized task, but do it really well compared to other hardware that can potentially perform other tasks, too. This specialized task is mining cryptocurrencies. The ASICs are different for different blockchain networks because the networks have different hashing cryptography algorithms.
In a way, an ASIC is similar to a sports car. Sports cars are very expensive, not built for the regular roads, not practical at all, and created to excel only in certain competitions. For example, both NASCAR and Formula 1 cars are sports cars, yet the cars are very different from each other because they are being built for different competitions that have different rules. It works the same way with ASIC hardware. One ASIC could be extremely effective for mining cryptocurrencies on one blockchain network and completely useless on a different network just like a Porsche would be not a great car for a NASCAR race.
Why do ASIC cards exist?
ASIC cards exist because many of the blockchain networks, including Bitcoin and Sia, have a difficulty parameter. One of the goals of modern public blockchain networks such as Bitcoin and Sia is to create blocks of the blockchain with regular intervals. For instance, the Bitcoin network aims to create a block of the blockchain every ten minutes.
Because the network is decentralized, there is no central authority with servers or some other hardware that would be accomplishing the goal of creating the blocks with somewhat constant speed. Anyone on the network could become a miner and start compiling transactions on the network into blocks of data that later become a part of the Bitcoin blockchain. This is what mining on all blockchain networks is about – compiling data into chunks, or pages of a digital ledger, or blocks of blockchain and sealing them according to the rules of the network so that the data becomes immutable. Typically, miners on blockchain networks get incentives for adding blocks to the blockchains in the form of cryptocurrency.
On the Bitcoin blockchain, the reward was 50 bitcoins per block for the first 210,000 blocks of the Bitcoin blockchain, 25 bitcoins for the next 210,000 blocks and so on. You can see the current reward, the time of the next division, the total number of coins in circulation on the Bitcoin network by visiting http://www.bitcoinblockhalf.com/
As blockchain networks are becoming more popular, they are getting more users participating in transactions and more people interested in becoming miners and obtaining cryptocurrencies as rewards for mining blocks of blockchains. Blockchain networks are about freedom and transparency, which is why nobody can force anybody to become a miner or to keep mining blocks of a blockchain. This means that numbers of miners can fluctuate. When the price of a cryptocurrency goes up, there would be more people interested in obtaining the cryptocurrency, when the price goes down, the interest would fade, too. When it comes to mining, there are also other parameters in play, such as costs of electricity. If electricity in a country or area is very cheap, there would be more people interested in becoming miners.
The parameter of difficulty exists to balance the fluctuating number of miners due to various factors explained above with the goal of a blockchain network to be creating blocks with constant speed. When the number of miners increases, miners can create blocks of blockchain faster simply because there are more of them, even when they are using hardware that does offer the best computing performance. When the number decreases, a network potentially may have an insufficient number of miners compiling transactions and the transactions would start getting stuck and not going through because there is no one to process them.
On the Bitcoin network, the parameter of difficulty changes every 2016 blocks. The Bitcoin network aims to create a block of the Bitcoin blockchain every ten minutes, which means that in the ideal world the creation of 2016 blocks would take exactly two weeks, which, in turn, would mean that the parameter of difficulty in the ideal world would be getting adjusted once in exactly two weeks. Because the world we live in is not ideal, the times of block creation may vary.