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Crypto-mining slows search for aliens

February 14, 2018 | By Tom Hart | 0

Crypto mining is making life difficult for scientists who aren’t able to get hold of the latest GPUs (graphics cards) they need for listening out for extra-terrestrial life, the BBC reports.

SETI (Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence) scientists who use high-tech equipment to listen out for alien life aren’t able to obtain the computer chips they need to continue their efforts. They say they like to use the latest graphics cards in their ‘arrays’ which are able to detect even the very faintest of radio signals and sounds.

SETI is a collective term for those who dedicate their time to listening out for transmissions from other planets.

Unfortunately, to mine coins like Bitcoin and Ethereum, crypto enthusiasts also require these same graphics cards. Crypto miners assemble mining rigs consisting of a variety of components, including GPUs, to ‘mine’ their coin of choice.

Crypto-mania

When crypto-mania swept the globe in 2017, manufacturers like NVidia and AMD suddenly found themselves inundated with orders for GPUs and have struggled to supply the growing demand since.

Orders can often take weeks or even months to be filled. Some suppliers are even asking customers to prove that their GPU order is for personal use to make sure loyal customers (mostly gamers) don’t lose out to miners.

What is mining?

Mining cryptocurrencies involves using computers to connect to a big network (or ‘blockchain) to solve puzzles. Part of this process is what processes transactions so for carrying out this essential work, miners are rewarded with fractions of cryptos. The more you mine, the more you can (potentially) earn, hence the big setups (see below).

Cryptocurrency mining rig
Cryptocurrency mining rig

Although Bitcoin miners have largely switched to specialised ‘ASIC’ chips, Ethereum, along with other coins such as Litecoin and Monero, can still be lucrative to mine using standard graphics cards.

NVidia “working really hard” to catch up

NVidia said its team is “working really hard” to catch up with supply. AMD made similar remarks but many are still unable to obtain their GPU of choice thanks to overzealous miners.

Cryptocurrency miners are not very popular with gamers for this reason. The process is also unpopular with environmentalists because of the vast amounts of electricity needed to power these elaborate mining rigs.

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