Samsung confirms it’s building ASIC chips to mine cryptocurrency

1 Feb 2018

A bitcoin ‘farm’ where processors mine for the cryptocurrency. Image: Media Whalestock/Shutterstock

Samsung is keen to capitalise on the cryptocurrency boom.

Samsung recently surged ahead of Intel as the world’s largest chipmaker by revenue, despite the latter’s record revenue posting for 2017. Samsung reported chip sales of €69bn, easily outstripping Intel’s $63bn, according to a Bloomberg report.

As well as an overall boost to its chipmaking reputation, it now appears Samsung is diversifying its options by manufacturing application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chips used to mine cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, Ether and Ripple.

TechCrunch reported that Samsung had made the move along with an unnamed distribution partner based in China.

At present, the ASIC market is dominated by Bitmain and Canaan Creative, with both firms working out of China and in collaboration with Taiwanese firm TSMC.

A spokesperson for Samsung told Korean paper The Bell that the project is “in the beginning stage, so the proportion of profits from the overall foundry business is small yet”.

As well as becoming the world’s most prolific chip manufacturer, Samsung is forecasting high demand for its upcoming Galaxy S9 flagship smartphone, due to be unveiled at the end of February.

What are ASIC chips?

ASIC chips are processors that have been manufactured with the completion of a specific task in mind, compared to the multitasking processors used in computers, smartphones and tablets.

Until a few short years ago, ASIC chips were more commonly used in the television industry. In 2013, the first ASICs specifically for cryptocurrency mining were released.

Cryptocurrency miners have placed serious demands on the hardware market, moving from normal integrated graphics cards, to gaming GPUs and now ASIC chips.

Crypto-mania has caused shortages of graphics cards from manufacturers AMD and Nvidia, with AMD CEO Lisa Su confirming that the mining frenzy is “consuming a lot of GPUs”.

TSMC reported revenues driven by demand from cryptocurrency miners in the fourth quarter of 2017, according to Quartz. CFO Lorna Ho described the demand as continuous, with co-CEO Mark Liu telling investors in the third quarter of 2017 that the firm received between $350m to $400m in revenue from this particular market segment.

Whether people view it as a flash in the pan or a new technological wave, it’s clear that cryptocurrency is making chipmakers stand up and take notice.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects