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What Is ProgPoW?

Since the advent of ASIC, the cryptocurrency community has been divided between the supporters of organized mining and its opponents, who believe that the centrality of ASIC miners kills the sense of cryptocurrency. Blockchain networks test various ways to protect against an industrial miner, one of which is ProgPoW. What is it, how does it work, and who created it?

What is ProgPoW?

ProgPoW (programm PoW) is a modified version of the Ethash algorithm, with better adaptation for video cards and reduced efficiency of ASIC-miners. ProgPoW uses maximum technical capabilities of the video processors (primarily the rapid exchange of information through small-volume internal memory) by randomly changing the conditions of the computable task in a mining. 

ProgPoW emerged as a solution for the peaceful and “bloodless” neutralization of ASIC miners in the network and increasing the role of GPU-based farms. According to developers and parts of the community, this should strengthen the decentralization of the network and reduce the coordinated large miners influencing in Ethereum. 

What is the purpose of ProgPoW?

ProgPoW was introduced shortly after the release of Bitmain’s first Ethereum-miner – E3. The emergence of ASIC, which had already taken control of most of the Bitcoin network, alarmed the community and undermined the status of Etherium as an ASIC-resistance network. It stimulated the search for solutions to protect the network from industrial miners. 

The main purpose of ProgPoW algorithm is to reduce the gap between the performance of video processors and ASIC in the network and, as a consequence, stimulate miners to get out from more expensive ASIC. To achieve this, ProgPoW works in two directions:

  • Improves GPU efficiency – if Ethash uses 30% of its video card capacity on average, ProgPoW has been able to increase this to 70% by taking into account the technical features of the video processors;
  • get down the effectiveness of ASIC – ASIC are special devices, sharpened to solve a specific problem according to the standard algorithm. ProgPoW adds an element of randomness to the mining process, which reduces ASIC performance. 

As a result, ProgPoW must make the mining on the specialized miners less profitable and the mining on the GPU more profitable, which would have forced the departure from the ASIC network without the use of forks or unpopular economic solutions such as charging additional commissions from miners. 

Who, when and how did ProgPoW develop?

There are two key reasons for the start development of ProgPoW: first – the community’s common interest in finding effective protection against large miners (except forks), and second – mentioned release of the first ASIC miner for the Ethash algorithm. 

As a result, after voting to start research at GitHub, the ASIC-resistance algorithm project was introduced by the IfDefEls development team in early 2018. IfDefEls is an abbreviation from developer aliases:

  • Miss If.
  • Mr. Else.
  • Mr. Def.

The latter two are anonymous, while Miss If is quite a public and well-known developer. Under this name is Christy-Leigh Minegan, an american software developer and former employee of Genesis Mining. 

More importantly, however, Christy provided consultancy services to AMD – one of the leading GPU manufacturers. When discussions erupted around ProgPoW, developers and lobbyists of the algorithm were accused of dealing with video card manufacturers and protecting their interests. The members of ASIC-camp are sure that the whole ProgPoW project is only needed for the input of GPU into industrial mining. 

Technical features of ProgPoW

ProgPoW differs from Ethash and most other mining algorithms by adding an element of randomness. During the mining, ProgPoW generates random conditions using the number of the current block as a reference. New conditions are defined every 50 blocks (approximately 12 minutes). 

More precisely, conditions do not change in the entire algorithm, but only in the memory cycle – that is the features of ProgPoW. The memory cycle shall take into account the following technical parameters: 

  • ASIC – have a high bandwidth but relatively slow information exchange in internal memory.
  • GPU – can handle smaller amounts of information in internal memory, but can transmit data faster. 

Therefore, every time ProgPoW changes the terms, the video processors are adapted to search for blocks according to them faster than the ASIC, which practically equalizes the advantage in the specific hardware and software. 

The first checks of ProgPoW (the Ethereum Test Pool worked with this algorithm for some time) showed that the advantage of ASIC over video cards was only 50% compared to 200-400% on Ethash. This means that the payback period for ASIC is increasing significantly and miners are simply not interested in acquiring them. 

ProgPoW weakness and current status

The first proposal to replace Ethash with ProgPoW came in January 2019 as part of the EIP-1057 proposal. This improvement was one of the most controversial in the history of the Ethereum community. 

At February 2020, it was reported that the developers were preparing to add ProgPoW as part of the July fork, but in response to the publication, there was a petition to reject the introduction, which many Ethereum-based projects joined, including Uniswap, Aragon, DeFi Pulse and ConsenSys. They say the disadvantages of ProgPoW are: 

  • A possible fork of the community – although in the early 2019, 93% of nodes supported the introduction of ProgPoW as an argument against EIP-1057 was the possibility of a split society and the emergence of a new fork in the Ethereum network.
  • Lack of centralization problem – replacing ASIC with video processors does not guarantee protection from industrial mining. Although large miners use ASIC primarily, nothing would prevent them from migrating to GPU after the introduction of the new algorithm.
  • Reduced network performance – ASIC gives more hashrate than video cards and efficiently handles more transactions.Reduction in ASIC performance would result in a drop in hashrate and total Ethereum capacity – the network’s weakest point. 
  • Bugs in the code – although ProgPoW has passed several audits that have proven its security. In 2020, a Japanese developer – kikx, reported that he had identified a vulnerability that would allow ASIC to run the new algorithm with the same efficiency. There is no guarantee that similar vulnerabilities will not emerge in the future.

Vitalik Buterin also noted that the issue of ProgPoW implementation had been rapidly and unexpectedly transformed from a low-priority proposition to a high-priority EIP. It was the lack of consistency between developers and widespread user support that led to the abandonment of ProgPoW. 

Interestingly, ProgPoW is still used in one cryptocurrency – Bitcoin Interest (BCI). For the Ethereum network, however, this issue seems to have been left behind by the launch of Ethereum 2.0 and the development of both networks. 

Conclusions

The ProgPoW mining algorithm is an improved version of the Ethash, which is designed to ensure network resistance against ASIC miners and centralized mining. ProgPoW was introduced in 2018 as a solution to protect ASIC without forks and changing the economic model of the network. 

The main goal of ProgPoW is to reduce the performance gap between video cards and ASIC and to make the production of the latter unprofitable. In theory, this should drive out industrial miners and strengthen decentralization through the growth of “home” video card farms. The algorithm uses the technical features of ASIC and GPU to reduce this gap and allows the full potential of video cards to be realized for the mining

However, despite the good results of the pre-vote, the Ethereum community still did not vote in favour of the addition of ProgPoW – the risks of this innovation significantly outweigh the protection against the ASIC, provided by the algorithm. Moreover, the crowding out of ASIC does not guarantee the decentralizing of the network. 

The ProgPoW question for the Ethereum network is now irrelevant and since the beginning of the 2020 EIP with it has not been published. But one cryptocurrency – Bitcoin Interest, works on ProgPoW.

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