Intel Tries Cashing In on Cryptocurrency Mining Despite Environmental Problems

 The chipmaker emphasizes better efficiency, but don't expect digital currency mining to suddenly be environmentally friendly.

Intel later this year will begin selling a chip customized to mine bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, the company said Friday.

 Initial customers include payment processor Block (formerly Square) and two mining companies, Argo Blockchain and Griid Infrastructure.

It's a major bet for the company on a technology that could change finance and, with a cryptocurrency-related idea called NFTs, alter how we own digital assets. 

and NFTs are plagued by fraud and theft problems, but Intel hopes to address another major drawback, their extraordinarily large energy consumption.

With cryptocurrencies, mining is a computationally taxing process that records transactions onto a widely shared database called the blockchain.

 The first miner to solve a complex computing problem is rewarded with newly minted cryptocurrency. That means there's a strong incentive to have the most powerful machines -- and also the most efficient, since electrical power costs are heavy.

One of Intel's top rivals, graphics-chip maker Nvidia, has profited handsomely from cryptocurrency mining. Indeed, miners' appetite for its graphics processing units (GPUs) has made it hard for gamers to find graphics cards.

 But major suppliers of cryptocurrency mining hardware, like Goldshell, MicroBT and Bitmain, use processors called application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) customized for mining.

Cryptocurrency mining uses gargantuan quantities of power, with a current estimated rate of 125 terawatt hours per year, according to an estimate by Cambridge University's Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index. 

For comparison, that's as much as the 2020 electricity consumption of Norway, a nation with 5.5 million people, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

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