ASICs, or application-specific integrated circuits, are a polarizing topic in the broader crypto industry. Some blockchain projects, namely Bitcoin and Litecoin, have embraced this form of network security, allowing this subset of mining machines to roam free. Yet other ventures, including Ethereum and Monero, are actively seeking to stifle ASICs.
While progress in this arena has been mostly laggard, Monero has become a pioneer in this controversial space. The developer team behind the privacy-centric project intends to cement this theme in the coming weeks, as it looks to put a vise around ASICs enabled on its CryptoNight-based consensus mechanism.
From Grassroots To ASIC-Infested
Monero, one of the earliest successful altcoins, has been a grassroots project since day one. The project, launched in the midst of 2014’s market lull, was focused on providing fungibility and decentralization to netizens that were privacy-conscious. While the project had a solid premise — one that decentralists could latch on to — early-stage adoption was limited.
Yet, ever since Monero’s fateful launch date in April of 2014, the project has swelled in popularity, with its supposedly anti-ASIC Proof of Work (PoW) protocol allowing for common Joes and Jills to start their mining careers on the right foot forward. Yet, this changed in late-2017/early-2018, when rumors began to arise that somewhere in the ether there were copious amounts of unreleased, ‘secret’ ASICs eating up much of the XMR mined.
After much deliberation and community outcry, the core Monero development team put their foot down, revealing that it would be imposing a ban of sorts on ASICs by changing PoW protocols multiple times a year. The first PoW shift, which came in the form of a network-wide hard fork, came in April 2018. This anti-ASIC fork came just in time, as cryptocurrency mining heavyweight Bitmain released its Monero-friendly X3 machine just weeks before. Monero’s hashrate fell from 1,000 megahashes to 150 megahashes in the days after the fork.
The second fork, which came alongside the activation of the scaling solution known as “Bulletproofs,” came in October. While it wasn’t as successful as the first, this change in the PoW guard cut the network’s mining activity in half, according to BitInfo.
Monero intends to replicate this success again with a recently-confirmed event of similar caliber.
The Planned March 9th Monero Hard Fork
According to a recent Reddit post from the self-proclaimed “ASIC Bricker,” Sech1, Monero’s developers have confirmed that the next move to hamper the propagation of ASICs will activate at block 1,788,000. In a group discussion, developer Moneromoo divulged that the fork will be activated on the project’s 0.13 branch, meaning that aside from the updated PoW system, no notable new features will see activation.
If history is any indicator, the fork, slated to occur on March 9th — a mere four weeks away — Monero’s hashrate will plummet, as tweaked ASICs running the blockchain’s most recent CryptoNight iteration will become redundant for the third time in one year.
The decision to go ahead with this hard fork comes as research from MoneroCrusher, a pseudonymous industry analyst, revealed that as it stands, over 85% of current mining activity could be backed by XMR ASICs. In an in-depth study published on Medium, the independent researcher claimed that after he analyzed nonces, a random number generated in the process of mining, a pattern arose.
After some further digging, MoneroCrusher determined that the nonce pattern shown in Monero blocks over recent months indicated that a substantial number of ASICs were hashing away, procuring XMR in the process. In fact, using data from another analyst, SChernykh, and the Noncesense Research Lab, MoneroCrusher concluded that approximately 5,400 pieces of specialized mining gear currently have a foothold on the chain. But get ready to watch this number drop on March 9th.