Mining hardware manufacturer Bitmain has announced the release of its new Antminer Z9 mini, an ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) miner capable of mining any cryptocurrency running the Equihash proof-of-work (PoW) algorithm. This includes, most notably, Zcash.
The company made the announcement via its Twitter page:
“Pleased to announce the Antminer Z9 mini, an ASIC miner to mine #Equihash-based cryptocurrencies. To prevent hoarding and to let more individuals worldwide get one, we’ve set a limit of one miner per user. Order … now while stock lasts!”
Zcash (ZEC) is a decentralized and open-source cryptocurrency designed to offer users complete (but optional) privacy in transactions. In addition, Zcash has always used the Equihash PoW mining algorithm to prevent the progress of Zcash ASIC miners and has predominantly been mined by general-purpose GPU chips, which are popular amongst gamers.
ASICs have long been a subject of controversy. Their introduction has led to centralized mining for some larger operations, and many have argued that ASICs work against the decentralized intentions of various cryptocurrencies.
In addition, Bitmain in particular has been accused in the past of leveraging its influence as a dominant player in the mining industry. Critics have claimed that Bitmain does not have a sizable competitor and boasts an unfair advantage when trying to centralize hash power. As such, Zcash mining, too, could wind up in the hands of only a few major mining companies like Bitmain.
The development of ASIC hardware has already caused some cryptocurrencies to change their proof-of-work mining algorithm. Martin Kuvandzhiev, operations lead of Bitcoin Gold, which uses the same mining algorithm as Zcash, has stated that an upcoming hard fork has been scheduled to ensure that the currency manages to stand against ASIC mining. Monero, meanwhile, has recently altered its mining algorithm to counter ASIC hardware.
It is possible that Zcash will follow suit and change its PoW mining algorithm as well, but no decision has been made on this issue as of yet. Just hours before Bitmain’s announcement, Zcash co-founder and CEO Zooko Wilcox did write in a forum post that ASIC resistance “would probably become impossible long-term” but that he was struck by how essential GPU mining was to people in nations like Venezuela.
“If Venezuelans try to import ASIC miners (i.e. for Bitcoin, currently), then they risk having the miners stolen or extorted by the army which controls all imports,” he explained. “I’m basically still in the same place now that I was four years ago when we first decided to go for widespread-distribution-of-coins at the expense of sunk-cost-incentive-alignment. I still think that widespread-distribution-of-coins is more important (but I still think it can’t last forever …).”