‘Bad batch’ or flawed design? Compass Mining signals problems with new ASIC miners

Bitcoin mining company Compass Mining claims to have found “three problems” in the ASIC design of the two new Antminer S19 miners, units primarily used to mine Bitcoin (BTC).

These problems can cause the machines to overheat and in some cases break down completely.

The company’s mining team warned in its March 6 post that “miners need to be ready,” particularly those who purchased the S19 90T and S19 XP Antminers produced from 2022 onwards.

While the company stated that “other versions may also be affected,” the three shortcomings the company identified stemmed from a lack of a peripheral interface controller (PIC) on units, the implementation of aluminum plates instead of laminate material, and the bundling of components on only one side of the board.

According to Compass Mining, peripheral interface controllers, or PICs, are used to control and monitor a range of devices and systems in all kinds of electronics. In ASICs, they are used to communicate with hashboards individually, rather than addressing them as one.

However, this has been removed in the most recent draft, the company said.

“In ASICs, a PIC resides at the top of a hashboard and each hashboard can be addressed individually. Without that you have to address the unit as one unit, instead of three hashboards.”

Compass Mining explained that this lack of PIC means that if one hashboard fails, the entire unit “fails completely”.

“Instead, a miner completely fails. We’ve found this to be the case with our S19 XP 141 TH units, which have completely failed if only one board has issues.

The red dot in the center represents the PIC, which was present on older model S19 Antminers. Source: Compass mining.

The mining company also said that by implementing aluminum plates on the hashboard, it could overheat and therefore lead to a higher “failure rate” than that found on printed circuit boards (PCBs) – on which the old S19s were built.

This would lead to “higher maintenance needs,” the company said.

Meanwhile, the company has also expressed concern about the mining unit’s transition to aluminum, referring to it as “just negative”.

“We view the design decision to move to aluminum plates on hashboards as a net negative — one that will increase ASIC failures and underhashing, while increasing service and maintenance costs,” it wrote.

The company also explained that the presence of aluminum would make it more difficult to replace faulty chips:

“The lack of a PIC is compounded by the abrupt transition to aluminum plates on all hashboards. If a board overheats due to the heat dissipating properties of aluminum, the whole unit will break down instead of just one board.”

Compass Mining said they first realized the performance drop when they commissioned the S19 XP at its partner facility in Texas – which may have been affected by humidity and heat.

As for the third issue, the company noted that implementing the aluminum plating without changing the chassis — the base frame of the ASIC — would also contribute to the higher failure rates.

Because aluminum gives off a lot of heat, the metal causes “convective heating” in the chassis, the company explained, before proposing some solutions:

“A solution to this in an air-cooled environment would be to increase the mass airflow enough to dissipate the heat stored in the miner — a different design or more powerful fans.”

Related: Bitcoin ASIC miner prices are fluctuating at lows not seen in years

Other possible solutions proposed by the company include finding third-party firmware that allows the frequency and voltage of the machine to maintain a reasonable temperature and humidity to get longer life from the mining machines.

Some of the latest S19s don’t have a PIC on any ASIC hashboard. Source: Compass mining.

However, the company acknowledged that they may have just gotten a “bad batch” from Bitmain, noting that it is “common knowledge” in Bitcoin mining not to buy the first batch of Bitcoin ASICs.

“Unknown bugs are often only revealed over time, so it’s best to let others discover them first,” it said.

Cointelegraph reached out to Bitmain for comment, but did not receive a response at time of publication.

Bitmain Antminers have been used to mine proof-of-work cryptocurrencies such as BTC, Dogecoin (DOGE), and Litecoin (LTC).