Exactly 4 years ago I got an offer to make Bitcoin miner using FPGA and just for fun I did it using Vampire 600 V1 card and Amiga 600 as a base, showing pictures that it can work. For some strange reasons I decided that complete Bitcoin story wasn't for me at least as a person who is not regular user but developer. Lack of time, because I was digging deep into my Amiga projects was one of them. I was never prepared to leave my Amiga dreams and search for something else. Soon I have realized that my Amiga projects have no future because constant lack of money for research. Despite donations from various sides it was never enough and after lot of thinking in 2014. I made crucial decision to continue my Amiga journey as a developer but support Bitcoin idea as a regular user. With money earned from selling several Vampire 600 V1 cards I have got 9 Sapphire 280X cards and started to mine. Plan was simple, make economy for my Amiga projects who will be independent from banks, loans or donations and with recent events about Bitcoin complete Vampire development, production or anything related is financed like that. In this moment when I m writing this article just one Bitcoin cost over 15 000USD. That statement bring us back to the beginning of this story and makes me wonder how much I could earn by participating into Bitcoin story as a developer...
What is Bitcoin exactly? I won't bother explaining much just simple facts we need right now. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency based on SHA-256 hashing algorithm. It is decentralized digital currency without bank to control it. That says that middle man(bank) don't exist anymore. To simplify things, without middle man world as we know it can't survive, without taxes there is no country who could see another day. Who could blame Bitcoin users, well people finally have opportunity to OWN their money.
Another aspect of this story is that every single Bitcoin user have encrypted data of any other user in peer-to-peer network like true decentralized system. Who could stop that?
Terminology to investigate before you continue to read: Blockchain, Bitcoin wallet, Miners, Blocks, Block reward, Difficulty adjustment, Proof-of-Work, Mining pools, Mining farms...
Yesterday I was interested to calculate how much money I could earn mining Bitcoins using one Vampire 500 V2 card so I have ported opensourced FPGA bitcoin mining core to it and started to investigate.
Final result was poor as expected. I could mine 0.00000577 Bitcoins per year or in today's value exactly 0.08552 USD, so not even 10 cents per year. In other words I would need 173 310 years to mine one Bitcoin. Let's get back once more, in 2013 with same equipment making 100MH/s I could mine 2.78 Bitcoins per year, or in today's value exactly 43,372.82 USD. Funny story says that in 2013. I had about 200 FPGA chips with working FPGA Bitcoin core, but let's not make further calculations it would force me to drink some funny pills to calm down. You get the picture. So what changed is that more miners with strongest hardware increased difficulty to mine. Right question now is who can mine Bitcoins now. Simple answer is no one. Without serious equipment, ASIC based miners, loads of them, you can't do anything. Bitcoin mining is now reserved only for mining farms who costs millions and millions of dollars. Back in 2014. I was unable to directly mine Bitcoins with my GPU equipment it was that hard. Where is the trick you may wonder.
Bitcoin isn't only cryptocurrency there is more than 10 000 of others and by mining them you can earn lot more. All of them have their own developers, supporters, communities, goals and usability and most important own economy. Some of them are used just for paying for games, others are created for renting cars, rooms, buying food... Mark my words, soon every single serious company will have their own cryptocurrency based on theirs name and used as a payment method for their products. Why, because there is no middle man, because it is secured, safe and damn fast! By speaking about other cryptocurrencys we can also say one important thing they are not based on same hashing algorithm as Bitcoin(SHA-256) there are the others like scrypt, blake, equihash, keccak and many many more. With this I m able to get Bitcoins not directly but by mining other coins because tiny portion of Bitcoins mined by mining farms is always invested in other coins who have promising future and innovative ideas. Economy of others is also ensured by direct investments in fiat money. Mining other coins is much easier because difficulty is much lower than on Bitcoin. That says that just by using one Vampire card for mining I can earn lot more by mining some other coin. Especially in the terms where only several people mine one coin. It can happen that in just one day with modest power you can do very good.
Ok so then why don't we make our own coin who will establish our own economy and who will be used for reviving Amiga.
In other words I could make my own coin and offer to sell Vampire cards only and only for that coin. Same time buying those coins on exchanges would ensure stable economy and bring investors from outside of Amiga land. Trick is in one thing called opensource.
Almost every crypto coin that exist is opensourced so everyone can see how is designed. This is very important because it gains trust in potential miners or investors. Opensourcing is good and bad thing. By presenting code to the masses they can understand hashing algorithm you used in your code and using high power devices like ASIC or GPU miners they can instantly destroy any potential value of the coin by creating many of them in short period of time and selling them over exchanges purely for instant profit. But again there is a trick, ASIC or GPU miners can't handle all algorithms yet so as long you use brand new algorithm or modified old one or even combination of several algorithms you are safe. By creating semi-opensource showing everything regarding coin parameters but hashing algorithm you can be protected. You can mine it with single CPU for years without much power.
MC68000 and crypto
As said not even modern processors can handle huge difficulty on Bitcoin and other popular coins. As tested on some retro hardware old processors don't stand a chance. But think it like this, coin who can be only mined with MC68X series of CPU. Again, power is not important because others can't enter. With minimum processor power you can mine blocks and get reward in coins who gain value because they are rare. They are rare because only people who owns retro hardware can join. They are the only ones who could participate and eventually create profit. Others will be forced to just buy those coins on the exchange. Yes, they could use emulators on their PC but that could be also limited with CPU detection routines. Limited but not removed as option because using emulators you will again gain interest for retro computers. Same time those who buy them are your investors. Why should anyone buy them? As my experience says, what is rare, new, innovative and with purpose is very interesting for investors in this crypto world. By creating new coin with new algorithm you are forcing mining farms out and that's exactly what new coin developers doing right now so why not do the same with MC68000. Bitcoin remains mainstream for big investors, we don't need to mess with it directly.
Just to mention there was something called Amigacoin but only connection with Amiga was in its name because it needed to be mine on X86 architecture. Imagine coin who could be mined only on Amiga.
Our position is much different, a lot better. In the situation where we can actually build specific instructions and create our own rules Apollo-core could be next best thing outperforming MC68K in our specific coin. Joining retro and crypto coins world could become reality with millions of potential users. Popularity of Amiga and everything that follows could rise because they are lot of newcomers who are always exploring. By creating specific coin for us we could ensure two way story, buying core from end user for personal profit. Right now we have more than 1000 users of Vampire accelerators and good starting point for this to happen. If we start talking about standalone system, Apollo-core based we could open new markets spreading power of Workbench towards mining community who is getting bigger and bigger each day.
In not so distant future everything that single person possess now regarding material stuff will worth 0.01 Bitcoins, those who have 0.10 will be rich. Other coins will eventually have same value Bitcoin have now so why not create our own and continue promoting Amiga in this new futuristic world.
Few days ago this website was under heavy hack attack, again.
Database is damaged now and content of published articles could be changed to mislead visitors. I will try to repair website when I found some free time.
Each Vampire card have its own Unique ID, serial number that is integrated inside chip. For better support and future core updates who will be UID dependent please register your card by filling the form provided HERE.
Thanks to IDVORSKY LABORATORIES from Belgrade, Serbia and our team member CRVENI we were able to enter one of the latest stages of this project. EMC testings on Vampire cards are done in 150 kHz - 30 MHz - 2.7 GHz range in this specialized laboratory funded by EU. Complete test records are available upon authority request.
More pictures in Read More, Pictures, Files... section of this article.
I have informed that there are several people on various places claiming that they will be official sales representatives of the Apollo-team. Yes, there was some discussion about that matter but so far no serious agreement with anyone. So please watch out if someone asks you for money, pre-orders or anything similar. Sales are handled by me and kipper2k and only from APOLLO-ACCELERATORS.COM
March 14, 2017.:::UPDATE: Recently I have send about 10 mails to the people from our list to pay to our manager Sandy and not directly to me and send transaction details with pictures to my mail. This is done to save time and to avoid paying PayPal fees two times. Sandy will handle parts for us and I m creating some kind of fund on hers account to speedup parts delivery.
As much I don't like to write about myself and publish any pictures this time I had to. To this day this video had more than 10K views on youtube so I think that is OK to post more information's now. Yeah, you may say 10K views is nothing, but this is different crowd so number is huge.
I went to Novi Sad, Serbia on September 10, 2016 to visit BalCCon2k16, Balkan Computer Congress organized by LUGoNS, oldest Hackers community in Serbia. I was invited by Once Upon a Byte and 8bitchip retro communities and this is the best way to thank them for invitation, nice pictures they took and awesome video they have done. In the video itself I m talking nonsense most of the time, living in a dream, or am I :)
Plan was to talk more about Apollo-team and Vampire 500 accelerator. You may ask why video isn't on English, because when I started to talk with some man from USA I just froze, couldn't say any single word on English. Why, I have no idea. That's the main reason why there are only few people in the room because most of the visitors were from English speaking territories and complete plan was that everyone who present something there should talk on English. Simply I couldn't. Anyway, people who invited me there were very friendly and we talked about lot of subjects. What I liked the most, hm don't get me wrong but girl at the bar was awesome, sorry I didn't took any pictures but she is still in my mind :P
More pictures in Read More, Pictures, Files... section of this article.
In the process of making Vampire 1200 I have found only one problem. Card edge connectors with 150 pins are extremely hard to find. Fujitsu made them and then discontinued in 2000. Now they don't have replacement part. Original part number is: FCN-225J150-G/A. Connector itself is right angled with 1.27mm pitch and two separated sides. One side consists of 2x25 pins and another from 2X50 pins. Even building footprint for it was challenging. As I see it here we have only two options either we search for NOS or we manufacture those connectors. So far I have sent anywhere between 200-300 mails and made lot of phone calls with every person who had in his hands connector at least similar to what we need here. Searched over old newsgroups, tracked down people who owned Amiga shops 20 years ago, talked with every card edge manufacturer or reseller in the World. Even talked to Fujitsu directly. Most challenging was to read Japanese and Chinese web pages to be able to search their NOS. So far result is like this. In the existence there are 174 NOS connectors with insane prices and tooling fees with Sullins and Taiwan companies are huge for Amiga hobby projects. What can we say about connector itself. It is not even standard connector as Fujitsu sees it, it is not even listed in their datasheet where all versions of FCN-225J were listed. This decision Commodore made created pure nightmare for any potential hardware developer. Even back then, when Amiga 1200 was designed official proposal was to use two connectors, one with 50 and one with 100 pins, but even that is not an option now because also those are hard to find at normal prices. I keep asking myself after one week of constant searching for those connectors why did they make decision like that when lot of those pins are unused and any card edge connector with 120 pins could be used. Those connectors was standard then and they are standard now and probably they will be standard type of connectors in next 30 years. Another question is why they didn't put just simple 2.54mm pitch male header. All of this only tells me that someone tried to play monopoly game on the market, to create distance from other projects but like history teach us in some areas this is not smart to do. In reality put whatever you want inside box but for talking to outside world use exactly what everyone else uses. Talking about that makes no sense now, what is done it's done. I don't want to use PCI connectors and cut them because that won't look professional and it is time consuming if you consider that we will probably need to make at least 1000 Vampire 1200 cards. It would be also too stupid to have DDR3 on board and in the same time connector who is butchered and then glued. I ll probably find a way how to solve this problem like I solved many others in past years but situation where you need to pay for a connector same price as you are paying FPGA is not an option for now simply because makes no sense. IMHO those connectors shouldn't cost more than 5USD. Quantity we have now is enough to do one small series of cards but what happens later? Some drawings done by kipper2k and actual connector picture, datashet can be found in in Read More, Pictures, Files... section of this article.
Next logical step was to send few cards to other developers inside Apollo development team. This will speed things up lot more because so far I was the only one in the team who had actual hardware. Working in the dark for other developers was nightmare and I was stuck with constant testings and bug hunting with the Apollo core itself. With my limited knowledge I was able to help to some point but I was frustrated because I didn't had much time left for other things, like finishing final version of the Vampire 600 V2 board. Now, when they received their packages team can work properly and I can focus on sending latest design into production. I have sent boards to BigGun, ceiach, ShK and cgugl. Just to mention that this board will never enter serial production. It will be used only for development purpose.
Board sent to cgugl.
Board sent to ShK.
But this article is really about something else :) Kipper2k man from cold, cold Canada done some amazing work with current design in just two days. After me sending him design files I was so surprised to see how fast he is in soldering and getting everything running. IMHO best soldering skills that I have ever seen. From now on he will be sending more Vampire boards to the other developers.
So question is why we will succeed where everyone else failed? Because we are united in one goal to present something new and innovative to Amiga community. We are all from different parts of the world working as a perfect team for more than 15 hours each day. The same time we are acting more like family sharing our everyday stories and our experiences in various projects that's why makes it so fun. All of that with perfect guidance of BigGun and ceiach, developers who are able to motivate rest of us to learn more and contribute properly to this project.
Few months ago I was informed that there is another way to solder PCB, much faster way. Before that I didn't know that there is difference between soldering paste and flux or that such things as a PCB stencils exists. To tell you the truth I was completely unaware that there are some other methods of soldering than regular one. On the video below is my first attempt to solder PCB using stencil done yesterday.
Tools & Parts used: PCB
Soldering paste (Sn63/Pb37)
Solder paste spreader
IRDA soldering station
Selecting stencil: After reading a lot about various stencils I have decided to order each and every version that's available, also considered doing homemade version but eventually that was removed as an option because PCB is way too complex. So basically you can order stainless steel or stencil based on polyimide films (mylar or kapton). In the table below you can see my impressions regarding each of them.
~100Eur, in some cases more
Medium, stencil is not so flexible
Medium, one stencil can be used for building about 200 PCB
My vote goes definitely for polyimide film based stencils. Not just because the price is lower but because it is really tricky to apply soldering paste on stainless steel stencil where FPGA should be placed. Because low flexibility you will end up with too much paste there once you remove stencil. With polyimide stencils that is not the case. They bend nicely under solder paste spreader so you will have proper quantity of paste placed on components pads each and every time.
Soldering: Only important thing here is temperature profile you must follow if you don't want to destroy components. Each manufacturer states maximum temperature values that we can't exceed. What we need is temperature values who will solder component and not overheat it and that's something done over defined period of time. Also In each component we can find moisture so if we heat component too much or too fast component will crack. This is temperature profile I m using.