Bitcoin Network Speed 8 Times Faster than Top 500 Supercomputers Combined

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The bitcoin network hashrate estimate on bitcoinwatch.com passed 1 exaFLOPS (1,000 petaFLOPS) this week – over 8 times the combined speed of the top 500 supercomputers. Experts will be quick to point out that this estimate is flawed, since no FLOPS are actually used in bitcoin mining. FLOPS stands for FLoating-point Operations Per Second, and is frequently used as a standard to measure computer speed. Bitcoin mining uses an integer calculation and almost no floating-point operations, so converting bitcoin network speed to this standard is somewhat clumsy.

The FLOPS estimate is based on the opportunity cost of computers using their hardware for mining instead of other applications. Miners are using their graphics cards to perform hashes instead of other FLOPS-based distributed computing. Therefore, a conversion rate of 1 hash = 12.7K FLOP is used to estimate what this hardware could be doing.

The estimate was created in 2011, before the production of ASIC hardware that now dominates the network. ASICS are custom designed chips that can only perform bitcoin mining calculations. The exaFLOPS estimate breaks down with ASICs, because they are not capable of floating-point operations, and therefore there is no opportunity cost associated with their use.

Interestingly, the estimate may still be useful for estimating how well other supercomputers and distributed networking projects would be able to mine bitcoins. Their speed is measured in FLOPS, but they also have the capability of performing the integer operations used in hashing. What would happen if the top 10 supercomputers all switched to bitcoin mining? How much would that affect the network? Lets reverse the equation, and say that they would receive 1 hash for every 12.7k FLOP.

super_computersTop500.org maintins a list of the top 500 super computers, and use LINPACK scores to estimate the peak speed for each. The top 10 fastest are:

super_comp_list

The fastest computer, Sequoia, would measure at about 1.6% of the bitcoin network. Their combined speed is 48 petaFLOPS, roughly equivalent to 5% of the bitcoin network. In fact, the top 500 supercomputers have a combined speed of 12% of the bitcoin network.

To actually use these computers for mining, It would take more than just installing standard mining software. But lets be honest, these computers have better things to work on like curing cancer, solving global warming, and monitoring banking transactions.

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About the author  ⁄ Phillip Archer

69 Comments

  • Reply
    Eric
    May 12, 2013

    “better things to work on” “monitoring banking transactions”

    Um…. seems kina like what it does.

  • Reply
    Hurr
    May 12, 2013

    Too bad the Bitcoin network does 0 flops…

  • Reply
    May 13, 2013

    Phil: I get 162 PetaFLOPS for all supercomputers combined, based on summing the Rmax values shown in the spreadsheet at http://top500.org/lists/2012/11/ (those values are in megaFLOPS, so multiply by 10^9). Could you check this? If that’s true, the Bitcom network is actually 6 times faster, rather than 8. Note that the Titan (now the fastest supercomputer) on add 17 PetaFLOPs, so that’s not what’s causing the difference.

    • Reply
      May 13, 2013

      Since it’s an estimate anyway calling it “6-8 times faster” is probably close enough.

  • Reply
    May 13, 2013

    Correction: should read: “Note that the Titan only adds 17 PetaFLOPs, so that’s not what’s causing the difference.”

  • Reply
    May 13, 2013

    Phil, sorry, it should read:

    I get 162 PetaFLOPS for all supercomputers combined, based on summing the Rmax values shown in the spreadsheet at http://top500.org/lists/2012/11/ (those values are in megaFLOPS, so multiply by 10^9). Could someone check my calculation? Apparently, because of supercomputers added in 2012, the Bitcom network is now actually 6 times faster, rather than 8.

  • Reply
    Ron
    May 13, 2013

    Most of the top 10 also have GPU hardware. Both Titan and Blue Waters have a majority of their nodes as NVidia GPUs, which aren’t reflected on the top500 numbers – as traditionally everything is done with CPUs. There isn’t a standard testing suite for GPU calculations. The GPU hardware if reflected on the top500 lists would at least double their performance.

  • Reply
    Random
    May 13, 2013

    Well, they work on something important too… Imagine the day US Dollar, Japanese Yen and Euro all collapse because of astronomical debt governments created. You know what will *actually* save the world? BITCOIN…

  • Reply
    Emilio
    May 28, 2013

    I think is not accurate compare the BTC network speed whit the TOP 500. That could be OK, before ASIC’s appear.The ASIC’s only have a reduced set of OP’s and one purpose, its not possible change the behaver of the ASIC.

  • Reply
    Yannick
    June 10, 2013

    Supercomputers aren’t only focused on raw computing power, where they get beaten by large-scale networks such as the bitcoin community and the folding@home -like projects. They are also focused on networking where latency between any computing node must be minimal in order to solve heavily communication dependent parallel algorithms, common in research. The bitcoin network would choke on such problems or would only be able to fill a tiny fraction of its processing resources.

    The bitcoin networks performs well on computing bitcoins because the computation of the different hashes (based on logical operations instead of floating-point operations) can be considered an embarrassingly parallel problem, requiring minimum communication and synchronization between nodes while needing much raw arithmetic power.

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    July 15, 2013

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