Review: Hash Altcoin Blackminer F1 FPGA Cryptocurrency Miner
The Hash Altcoin Blackminer F1 FPGA is an alternative to the old ASIC and GPU grind for those mining cryptocurrencies. There are many different FPGAs currently operating, yet only a few ever are sold to customers. Hash Altcoin is one of the manufacturers currently shipping FPGA miners and they get them right into your hands — or even hosted. The biggest selling point for buying an FPGA is its ability to be programmed to mine all sorts of algorithms and even perform other processes.
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Hash Altcoin’s Blackminer F1 is the first of several units we’ve been testing lately and will be reviewing. The main reason is the sheer amount of bitstreams they keep putting out, and development that is ongoing with very little delay.
Before we go further — from Wikipedia, here is the definition of FPGA for those not clear. A Field-Programmable Gate Array is an integrated circuit designed to be configured by a customer or a designer after manufacturing – hence the term “field-programmable”. As you can see, this ability in a powerful package allows for an FPGA to be more powerful in many cases than a GPU and adaptable to new algos — unlike an ASIC, which is usually designed to do specific sets of functions. So with this out of the way, let’s take a look at the specifications.
Specs: Blackminer F1
FPGA Chip: Xilinx 7K325T x12
Algorithm: lyra2z: 53.0 MH/s
skeincoin: 5.04 GH/s
xvg_lyra2rev2: 216.0 MH/s
phi1612: 314.0 MH/s
tribus: 2.8 GH/s
nexus: 2.45 GH/s
bcx: 16.56 GH/s
0xbtc: 21.12 GH/s
keccak: 21.12 GH/s
xdag: 14.7 GH/s
zp: 22.0 GH/s
verus: 64.8 GH/s
keccakc: 21.12 GH/s
keccakd: 21.12 GH/s
amoveo: 46.0 GH/s
veriblock: 11.5 GH/s
sha3d: 9.1 GH/s
verus2: 272.0 MH/s
bcd: 178.0 MH/s
lyra2rev3: 240.0 MH/s
Power on wall: 0.35 KW to 0.6 KW
Single Fan, Ethernet, PCIe power connections
Get a $100 coupon from Hash Altcoin when you use Bitsonline code: 0UMLTW
Good Range of Options
First we’ll start with the buying process which, unlike most manufacturers, is both the same and quite different. Hash Altcoin offers both shipped and hosted FPGAs for sale. This is a great choice for people who may not be ready to run them at home quite yet, or want to mine but without the hassle of operation and noise. One of the benefits of hosting with Hash Altcoin is that they have configurable pool and algorithm selections from your account panel. They have a large amount of detail and tested pools that work with the FPGAs. This is something which can be problematic at times with FPGA mining.
Now what also makes their buying process unique is that, if you choose to have your FPGA shipped to you, they automatically set up a hosted unit for you to operate while your machine in in transit. This way you don’t lose mining time in transit — you’re mining right as soon as your payment clears.
This is great since with shipping costs, mining gear expenses add up. I know not every manufacturer can do this but it’s a really nice touch, especially considering the costs of FPGAs are higher than most ASICs because they usually need much more attention as you also have to watch coin prices, algos, and bitstream developments carefully to always be mining the most profitable coin. More so than getting an ASIC that mines only the coins it is made for. Set it and forget it. Hash Altcoin has a nicely laid out profit calculator as well.
FPGAs are great as not only are bitstreams still being developed, but you can also work on developing new ones. Or further optimizing existing ones.
You can quickly set up in your account profile on a Blackminer F1 miner they assign to your account. You can pick your algo and pools, then enter your info as normal. This is very handy to let you get used to the quirks of FPGA mining if you’re new to it.
The coin we tested for this review is Tribus-based Denarius. For some pools, you will want to specify the difficulty to start the unit out at, e.g.: on Zergpool and Zpool the d=8 command. This keeps the unit running without massive dips in hash rate while operating. The benefits of being able to work with the settings and have a unit operating as mentioned above, while waiting for it to arrive, cannot be overstated enough. It is a big bonus. Since they actually use an F1 or F1+ depending on which one you purchase, you actually get the same performance or very similar depending on your cooling conditions.
Setting Up and Configuring
Hash Altcoin ships their units well packaged so they arrive with no surprises and without being broken to bits. Setup is just as simple for home hosting. Simply plug in, power up and head to its IP address. The login will be the familiar: root/root, and as we always remind people to do, please remember to change the admin password.
The F1 console was updated just several weeks ago from the older style you’re used to seeing on many ASIC manufacturers to a more open look with bigger fonts and a fresher layout.
The configuration tab is the first place you will want to go, to check which bitstreams are loaded. Currently you can only fit so many at a time on the unit. Hash Altcoin is working on a method to utilize the SD slot so all of them can be on the unit at the same time. As you can see from the list above, it is quite a long one and ever growing. Their team is active and always working on new bitstreams.
Once you have decided on an algo and coin (if it is in the list on the config page and it is the latest one) then enter your pool data and save. The Blackminer F1 will start mining. It is that simple — unlike with many other FPGAs that have several other steps.
Switching Coin Algos Is a Breeze
Now in the case that Tribus was not listed on this unit, we could have downloaded the bitstream from Hash Altcoin’s site and uploaded it through the Upgrade and Flash New Image choice. You choose the file you want to download and it will add it to the drop-down list of choices in your pool setup screen for algos.
This does not mean that, when storage is full, you cannot add new algos. There is an option to add new ones while removing an old algo to free up space. This is great given new ones are always being added. It’s a great way to extend the viability of your investment and profitability.
Another handy note we found is that the config of your previous algo is saved when you switch to a new one… provided you haven’t deliberately deleted it. So you don’t have to back up your config each time you add a new algo unless you have deleted one. So, back up first. While this may not seem like a big deal, it actually is if you are operating more than just a few, as switching many algos at once would be time consuming if you had to manually re-enter the info after each algo change.
This also comes in handy as Hash Altcoin has another useful utility that comes with its gear: a handy profitability calculator on their site. It has all the latest data on their different algos, along with the current price and profitability on average. This is a great tool for checking a couple times a day, or to make sure you’re mining the most profitable coin.
With FPGAs many algos you mine on may have small hash rates or be lesser known coins. The bottom may fall out of the market fast. Or an algo you can mine may all of a sudden spike, so you can quickly switch over to it after a quick spot check on the site.
In our tests on Tribus, the Blackminer F1 ran very stable, especially on Zpool with bsod and Zergpool coming in as close seconds in performance. 2.8 GH/s is what the F1 is rated at just over 600 watts. We got around 3.2 GH/s at 600 watts, with some fluctuations a bit higher during the evening when temps were cooler. Amoveo on Veopool ran about 45 to 46 GH/s 560 to 565 watts with no hiccups.
The ability to quickly click between algos on the fly was even easier than having a GPU rig, and more flexible than an ASIC. This way, you can maximize your profits if you pay attention to what is trending up or down for algos you can mine.
Great Miner for the FPGA-Curious
The Hash Altcoin F1 is a very good FPGA for those looking to get into FPGA mining but are not quite ready to jump into the full details of bitstream testing, jtag and client support, as well as all the other programming that can go into many of its competitors.
That does not mean the Blackminer F1 is a let-down though. They make up for being closed source by having a dedicated development team working on new algos, ease of use, an operational hosted miner while yours is being shipped, a real time profit calculator, invitation codes that give both the buyer and invitation code giver a $100 coupon, and quick access to live online support.
The Hash Altcoin series FPGAs are definitely robust and easy to use, regularly get updates, and help you get your foot in the door to start learning about FPGAs without being daunting. We recommend the Blackminer F1 if you want to try FPGAs, or already have them and want a solid entrant that is more streamlined from start to finish. Which is rare in most FPGAs.
Get a $100 coupon from Hash Altcoin when you use Bitsonline code: 0UMLTW
Disclosure: Bitsonline will receive a coupon under Hash Altcoins standard policy if you use our customer code. Bitsonline does not have special arrangements with Hash Altcoin and did not receive any payment for this review.
What are your thoughts on the Blackminer F1 and FPGA mining in general? Let us know in the comments section or on social media.
Images via Scott