In April 2022, Intel announced a new Blockscale series of application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) intended for “energy-efficient blockchain hashing”. In other words, chips designed for mining bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The company positioned its Blockscale 1000 series ASICs to reduce power consumption and help ease the ongoing shortage of GPUs.
“For proof-of-work algorithms compatible with ASIC-based systems and SHA-256 hashing, the Intel Blockscale ASIC will provide the energy efficiency and computing power needed to achieve scalability and sustainability,”[ads1]; an unsigned Intel blog post said. And given the nature of the silicon that powers this technology, Intel will be able to deliver it in volume without compromising access to new CPUs or GPUs.”
Today, Intel quietly discontinued its Blockscale 1000 chips, and the company told Tom’s Hardware that it has no immediate plans to introduce any upgrades or replacements. The company will “continue to support” companies that have already purchased Blockscale chips, but the project appears to be disappearing barely a year after its original announcement.
When it comes to blockchain hash operations like bitcoin mining, ASICs are better than GPUs, just like GPUs are better than CPUs. The hardware is more specialized, which makes it less flexible – I know mine or play a game with my GPU, whereas an ASIC is really only good for one thing. But in exchange, it can deliver faster hash rates with lower power consumption than a GPU.
The Blockscale project came from Intel’s “Custom Compute Group,” a specialized team within Intel’s Accelerated Computing Systems and Graphics Group (AXG), announced by AXG CEO Raja Koduri in February 2022. But by December, AXG had been split up and folded into Intel’s existing client computing and data center teams, and Koduri left the company at the end of March.
Intel introduced the Blockscale chips just as bitcoin’s value was cratering; the value of the currency fell from nearly $46,000 in April 2022 to less than $17,000 in December, and the less the currency is worth, the harder it is to justify the hardware investment and power usage required to run a mining operation. The currency has ticked back to just above $30,000 in 2023, although that is still significantly down from its peak of $64,000 in late 2021.
Intel told Tom’s Hardware that it was discontinuing Blockscale chips in part to focus on its nascent foundry business and “IDF 2.0” strategy, an effort to make more money by letting third parties use Intel’s fabs. Intel and Arm announced earlier this month that companies would be able to design and manufacture Arm chips using Intel’s upcoming 18A process.