The total power of the Bitcoin network has broken through 100 petahashes per second (PH/s) for the first time in the cryptocurrency’s five years of life. According to blockchain.info, the hash rate peaked at 103.4 PH/s on Wednesday before fluctuating back down to 85.3 PH/s on Thursday. It rose up on Friday to around 98 PH/s and will likely break 100 again over the weekend.
The Bitcoin hash rate is a measurement of the entire network’s computing power, generated by a vast system of miners who perform complex mathematical calculations in order to secure the blockchain — Bitcoin’s public ledger of all transactions that ever occurred.
The hash rate generally increases because Bitcoin mining gets more difficult and energy-intensive as time goes on and more people join the network. There’s only so much BTC to be made by securing the single blockchain, and miners are in an arms race of computational power to claim as many block rewards as possible.
Bitcoin Mining is Ridiculously Competitive
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This incentive to run increasingly robust machines on the network has resulted in an unprecedented rise of collective processing power. It took Bitcoin five whole years to reach 10 PH/s hashing power, and now it fluctuates that much on a daily basis. It’s a testament to the incredible energy invested in the infrastructure, as well as the steep barrier to entry for anyone who’s interested in Bitcoin mining.
The rapid rise in hashing power has been aided by ASICs, or application-specific integrated circuits, which are essentially computers that exist solely to mine Bitcoin. They are incredibly powerful — the top-of-the-line KnCMiner boasts a minimum 3000 GH/s hashing speed. However, that same rig costs nearly $6,000, and is only payable in bitcoin or a direct bank transfer. Needless to say, the barrier to entry in Bitcoin mining is very high.
Bitcoin’s Creeping Centralization
Breaking the arbitrary line of 100 PH/s has coincided with recent controversy over Bitcoin mining pool GHash.IO and its inordinate control over ~45% of the network. If any one entity gains 51% of the network, what’s known as a “51% attack” could potentially be launched against Bitcoin. This would enable the attacker to double-spend transactions and possibly even shut down the network. However, GHash.IO has denied having any intentions to launch such an attack, citing their own hefty investment in the Bitcoin ecosystem.
Bitcoin’s record-breaking hash rate is indicative of how much the mining network has grown in a few short years, from truly humble beginnings into a booming industry of powerful miners who secure the blockchain. Unfortunately, a big chunk of their effort — over 42 PH/s at the time of this writing — is channeled through the massive mining pool GHash.IO. It’s a sign that Bitcoin mining is growing more centralized, and it’s an issue that the community needs to face — one way or another.
Bitcoin as a Force of Nature
Regardless of the debate over mining pools, it’s fascinating to think about the sheer power that’s behind the Bitcoin network. The blockchain is the backbone to the world’s first decentralized digital currency, and it’s powered by over 100 PH/s of computational strength. That fact alone means that the Bitcoin network has incredible — indeed, record-breaking — power behind its very infrastructure. It’s just unfortunate that gaining 51% of mining power grants unfair abilities.
As Uncle Ben so eloquently said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”