Emergentism, is the belief that complex systems can exhibit properties or behaviours that are not present in their individual components. Such is the case with a Bitcoin miner. In today’s Bitesize Bitcoin, we will review the components that comprise a common, air-cooled, single-phase powered, Bitcoin miner.
A mining rig is in many ways less complex than other electronic devices we use every day as it is designed to perform only one function. It is comprised of a case, a control board, hashboards, ASIC chips, a power supply, fans, and wiring connecting them all together.
The control board is the central hub of the machine. It is responsible for controlling the other components of the rig and communicating with the greater Bitcoin network. It serves as the central hub for all the machine’s hardware and software components. The control board contains a microcontroller, RAM, and other supporting chips and circuitry. It has connectors for various peripherals like temperature sensors, network connection, power supply, and fans and is responsible for controlling and monitoring the operation of the rig.
The control board…
- Controls the power supply to the miner, including the power draw of the ASIC chips, fans, and other components. It also monitors the power consumption of the machine to ensure that it is operating efficiently.
- It monitors the temperature of the ASICs and other components, and it adjusts the power and cooling accordingly.
- The control board monitors the operation of the miner and detects any hardware or software failures. It can also protect the miner from overloading or other potential damage by shutting it down in case of a fault. With firmware like Braiins or Vnish these shutdown parameters can be set by the user.
- It tracks the performance of the miner and provides real-time updates on mining statistics, such as hash rate, pool stats like accepted and rejected shares, temperature, fan speed, and power consumption. It also provides error logs and other diagnostic information to help miners troubleshoot.
- The control board includes a processor, ARM, FPGA, or a combination of both, to handle the calculations and communicate those tasks to the hashboards.
- It includes a small amount of RAM and storage, such as an SD card, to store software and data.
- Contains a variety of ports, such as USB and Ethernet, to connect to other hardware components and the network.
- It is also equipped with an LED display to indicate network connection status
- And contains reset and ip report buttons.
The fans blow air over the ASIC chips and other components to cool them down. Whatsminer and the Bitmain S9 use two 12V, 7-9amp fans. The S19’s use four smaller 2.7 amp 12V fans. Machines are designed to operate within a certain temperature range, the S9 and Whatsminer have an operating temperature range of 0-40°C, S19’s range is -5-45°C.
The case is the enclosure that holds all the components of the machine. The cases are aluminum, particularly stylish, and protect the internal components and provide a mounting point for various peripheries like fans and power supplies.
The power supply does what it says it does, supplies power to the machines. It does this through a transformer and voltage regulator to convert AC to the DC power required by the machine. Common power supplies are the Bitmain APW12 and APW3+. As well as the Whatsminer PD21/22.
Power supplies consist of several key components:
- Power conversion module, which converts AC to DC
- Power distribution board, which routes the DC power to the various components of the rig.
- Cooling system, yes power supplies have fans on them as well
- Connector pins: Single-phase power supplies have 3 pins, 2 hots and a ground, no neutral. Neutral is alternated between the two hots during their phases. Wall plugs and pdu’s need to be 3-prong outlets. The fact that there is not a dedicated neutral means proper grounding is of utmost importance.
- Bitmain has a c13 to c14 connector on the back of their power supplies. 1 on the s9 and two inputs for the S19. A C13 connector is a standard power connector that is commonly used on computers and other consumer electronics.
- Newer Whatsminers use a C19/C20 combination The C19/C20 connector is a heavy-duty power connector that is more commonly used in datacenters and other industrial settings. It is similar to a C13 connector, but it has a larger and more durable construction and is rated for higher levels of current and voltage.
- Bitmain continues to use the C13/C14 connector even though they are rated for less amperage. They achieve this by using two connectors on their power supply.
ASIC manufacturers are designing gear more and more to the specifications of larger mining operations. Both Bitmain and Whatsminer’s water cooled offerings, The Whatsminer M53 and the Antminer S19 XP hydro are 3-phase powered. Meaning smaller operations would have to either have 3-phase power or have a device that can convert single-phase to 3-phase.
Hashboard and ASIC Chips
The hashboard is a printed circuit board that contains the ASIC chips that do the actual mining calculations. The hashboard is a specialized circuit board that contains the ASIC chips and other components responsible for the ASICs. The hashboard also includes voltage regulators, power connectors, and other supporting circuitry.
The ASIC (as you probably know stands for application-specific integrated circuit) is the heart of the machine, not so much the brains but the brawn. It is a microprocessor that has been specifically designed to perform the hash function and is made of millions of transistors, which are tiny electronic switches that can be turned on or off to perform calculations. The chips are designed to perform our beloved SHA-256 hash function. Contrary to popular belief, miners aren’t performing complex mathematical calculations, the process of performing the SHA-256 hash function on an ASIC involves a lot of intricate, but low-level operations. The power of an ASIC mining rig is in its ability to do a lot of those operations quickly.
The constant switching on and off of these micro transistors creates a great deal of heat. Heat that is dissipated through convection, conduction, and radiation via fans or immersion fluid. Heatsinks are used to increase the surface area of the chip They are typically made of metal with a large surface and are attached to the chips through a thermal interface material or TIM. TIM, such as thermal grease, thermal paste, and indium foil, is used to transfer heat from the ASIC chips
Tie them together:
The communication between the control board and the hashboard and the control board and the greater Bitcoin network is the most important part of a Bitcoin mining server. All other elements of the machines are to support that protocol. The control board sends data to the hashboard to be hashed, and the hashboard sends the results back to the control board. The control board then sends the results to the network to be verified and added to the blockchain. The control board communicates with the network through a protocol called Stratum. Stratum is a networking protocol that is used as a relay between mining devices and mining pool servers. It is a simple text-based protocol that allows the miners to request work from the server and submit their results. Stratum V2 is an updated version of the protocol that adds additional features. See the #PlebMinerMonth interview with Jan Capek from Braiins to learn more about Stratum V2.
We colloquially call miners “ASICs”, but an ASIC is a type of chip, not the entire system. A play on Aristotle’s musings, “concerning a system which is comprised of several components; the whole should not be defined by an individual part.” Bob Burnett (@boomer_btc) CEO of Barefoot Mining often sounds the trumpet on this issue, the misuse of the term ASIC. Bob prefers mining server, mining system, or the more Plebby term, mining rig. Our vernacular is full of misnomers and the horse is out of the barn with the use of the term ASIC to describe a mining rig, but in respect to Bob Burnett, we will do our very best to only refer to ASICs as the chips on a hashboard.