Supercomputers are way superior to regular computers. They have massive computing power. Supercompompuers have thousands of connected processes. But, can all these processes efficiently allocated for mining Bitcoin? We will answer that question in this article.
You can mine bitcoin with a supercomputer profitably if you have no or low electricity cost. An ASIC is way more efficient than a supercomputer when mining bitcoin.
Furthermore, supercomputers need to be kept cool. This bears an additional cost. Supercomputers aren’t designed to mine bitcoin. Mining bitcoin with a supercomputer is a big waste of time and money. It is worthwhile to allocate this computational power to solve other problems like weather forecasting, understanding earthquakes, testing nuclear weapons, etc.
Currently, the world’s fastest supercomputer is the Sunway TaihuLight. The processing speed of this supercomputer is 93 Petaflops. A petaflop is one quadrillion or one thousand trillion floating operations per second. So, the Sunway TaihuLight can process one quadrillion floating operations per second. This is extremely powerful compared to a regular PC. But is it powerful enough to mine?
Currently, the bitcoin network is hashing at 47, 403, 940 TH/s. That is equivalent to 47 403 940 000 000 000 000 hashes per second. These are integer operations. A petaflop is calculated in floating operations. So, you cannot convert petaflop to hashes. But we can estimate. Currently, the bitcoin network is estimated to be 80704290.84 Petaflops. The Sunway TaihuLight processes at 93 Petaflops. It doesn’t even come close to the power of the bitcoin network. Using a supercomputer to mine bitcoin is inefficient especially when it consumes so money for electricity and cooling.
Mining bitcoin using an ASIC is very efficient than a supercomputer. ASICs are made specifically to calculate hashes. It is built in their hardware. That is why ASICs are efficient at calculating hashes and useless at anything else. A supercomputer, on the other hand, is programmable to do anything. Not optimized for calculating hashes. This makes a supercomputer inefficient for mining bitcoin.
Imagine a hypothetical scenario, where a supercomputer is built that is far more powerful than the bitcoin network. This supercomputer will still not be able to mine all the blocks in the network due to how mining works. This is because the bitcoin network self-adjust to always mine a block in 10 minutes. Having a supercomputer of such power, you can dominate the bitcoin network but in terms of profit, this is a big waste of money, especially when you take into account electricity and cooling. This is an insane idea. You’d rather build a powerful ASIC instead of a supercomputer if your plan is to mine bitcoin. Besides, having so much hash power, you can execute the 51% attack. Why bother mining when you can double spend?
Also, a supercomputer of such power is far more worthwhile at solving other problems like DNA sequencing or testing nuclear weapons.
Mining Profitably with a Supercomputer
Now, mining bitcoin can be profitable with a supercomputer if you have the means of getting cheap electricity or no electricity cost at all. But, usually, when you get free electricity, you are stealing from someone else. Because someone is always paying for that electricity. You will eventually be caught and end up losing more money.
In February 2014, a news article was published about a Harvard student who used a 14,000-core supercomputer to mine Dogecoin. He was eventually caught and after factoring the cost of electricity, he failed to make a profit. You can read more about it here.
Mining can be very profitable if you obtain free electricity, legally.
Attacking the Bitcoin Network with a Supercomputer
Now you know that supercomputers are ineffective at mining bitcoin. An interesting question is “Can you attack the bitcoin network with a supercomputer?.” Think of a hypothetical scenario: Imagine a very powerful supercomputer. This supercomputer is waiting to mine bitcoin as soon after bitcoin network difficulty is self-adjusted. The difficulty of the bitcoin network is adjusted every 2016 blocks if the hashrate is stable. When this supercomputer starts mining, the network will see an enormous increase in hash power. Bitcoin protocol works in a way that it always takes approximately 10 minutes to mine a block. A supercomputer with such hash power is able to mine blocks faster than 10 minutes. To counterbalance this sudden increase of hash power, the bitcoin network will rapidly up its difficulty to make it hard enough so that a new block is mined every 10 minutes. This is where the attack lies. When bitcoin difficulty is adjusted, the supercomputer stops mining. The difficulty will be so high that no computer will be able to mine a block successfully.
Yes. This attack can be successful. If the difficulty of the network is so high that no computer can mine, the network will stall. Fortunately, no supercomputer to this date is capable of doing that. As mentioned in this article, supercomputers are very inefficient at calculating hashes. Besides, the most powerful supercomputers built from scratch, specifically to mine bitcoin is already mining bitcoin. But, yes! It is theoretically possible!
Hacking Bitcoin Network with a Quantum Computer
If you own a quantum computer, it is theoretically possible to change a transaction before it is processed or guess the private key of a wallet. Quantum computing is still in its infancy. Decades away from quantum computers becoming widely used.
Quantum computers can be used to hack bitcoin; but at the same time, a quantum computer can be used to prevent hacks. That is what this startup, Hcash is working towards. You can read more about it here.
When quantum computers become widely used, there will also be quantum resistant cryptocurrency. IOTA is a cryptocurrency that claims to be quantum resistant. IOTA still has to pass the test against a quantum computer.
To answer the question “Can You Mine Bitcoins With a Supercomputer?”, Yes, of course! But, if your intent is to gain an advantage on the bitcoin network, you will be disappointed. ASICs are vastly superior compared to supercomputers when mining. However, if you have very cheap electricity or free electricity, it is very profitable.