How do you plan the best Bitcoin miner in the world? Custom silicon is the answer.

As many of you know Bitcoin prices have surged recently up to $40,000 USD per bitcoin as of February 2021. We are in the middle of a bit rush! People are noticing Bitcoin’s surge and wondering how they can profit from it. In this article we will explore how custom silicon is a vital part of a winning bitcoin mining strategy.

Some people wonder what it would take to make their own Bitcoin mining custom silicon in order to beat everyone else. My quick survey of the field indicates Bitmain Antminer S19 Pro is the state of the art bitcoin mining equipment as of February 2021. Just as many others such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Tesla, Google and more have realized that there is a clear competitive advantage to their businesses from custom silicon; Bitmain too decided to make their own custom silicon.

Using the latest silicon process node increases the power efficiency and the processing power of the bitcoin miner system. This is why bitcoin miner systems manufacturers continue to update their custom silicon mining chips.

Some things to consider to plan your next custom silicon mining chip:

  • Selecting a chip supplier to design your custom silicon (i.e. ASIC).

Finding a good chip supplier to design your ASIC is an art in and of itself. You want a reputable company with an excellent design team, but they also want a reputable system company as a customer. So if this is your first project making a bitcoin miner you will need to convince the chip supplier (among others) that you’re a serious customer. There are many chip design houses in the world, but many of them are not probably who you’d want to hire if you want to reduce your technical and schedule risks. A way to mitigate your risk of selecting the wrong supplier and also to present your RFQ professionally is by hiring a silicon manager to assist you in those interactions. As part of’s process we work through the Concept and Requirements phase with the chip supplier candidates, and end up selecting one candidate after the Si proposal review. I’d go for 4 chip supplier candidates at Concept, reduce that to 2 suppliers at Concept phase sign-off and then at Requirements phase sign off downselect to 1 chip supplier.

You want to buy RTL IP that is ready for use or hire a chip supplier that has it from past projects. There are some companies out there with previous experience designing custom ASICs for bitcoin mining. But you always need to thoroughly vet them before moving forward writing checks for NRE and masks.

  • Project cost.

There are some costs that are more predictable than others. A disclaimer: all prices below are my gut feeling/what I read/hear from others, from my experience, etc… But as you should know many prices are negotiable and these are influenced by your relationships, total volumes, cost of opportunity of the supplier, negotiating skills, etc…Here are some:

  1. Masks: To make a chip at the foundry you need to buy masks. ASICs today for bitcoin mining are in the 7 nm node already. So if you want to leapfrog the competition you need to shoot for 5 nm or 3 nm. 3nm is the highest risk since this process node is in development. In my opinion masks for a 5 nm or 3 nm process will be in the 10 to 14 million USD range, let’s call it 12 million USD for easy math. A project like this will probably take two full mask sets on a good case scenario. Selecting a good supplier, performing detailed reviews, using state of the art EDA tools, getting direct foundry support, and hiring a silicon manager are all good ways to mitigate the risk of needing to tape out more than two times.
  • Firmware: Here it’s important to decide who will write the firmware for the chip. This can actually be a significant cost comparable to chip designer time cost and sometimes exceeding it.

Summary of fixed costs: 24 Million USD (assuming two full mask sets) + 2 to 5 Million USD (NRE) = 26 to 29 Million USD

  • Project schedule.
  1. My gut feeling is that getting from Concept phase start to Requirements phase sign off is probably a 3 months endeavor.
  • Buying wafers from the foundry.

As you may have heard there is a shortage of silicon wafer foundry capacity. So you will need to make a compelling case to the foundry why they should work with you in their 5 nm or 3 nm process nodes. As you know money is a great facilitator. So it may be that you need to commit to buy wafers ahead of time with the foundry. If you commit to buy a lot of wafers ahead of time they need to provide you with direct support, preferential fabrication times (super hot lots, hot lots), etc…

Let’s say you plan on building 100,000 bitcoin miner systems. Each system containing 200 chips/ASICs inside. So that is 20,000,000 chips. In 300 mm wafers that is probably something like 5,000 wafers. The number of chips per wafer depend on your final die size, your fab yield, your package yield and your test yield. So here I assumed you get 4,000 good chips/dies per wafer. Of course these numbers could be different for your system, but I will assume these to illustrate what I think is the likely ball park. During the process phases all of these details are nailed down and adjusted as needed. The question then is what is the minimum amount of wafers the foundry would ask you to commit to buy upfront to get the kind of support and preferential access you need to get your bitcoin miners built faster.

I am going to guess a 3 nm wafer may end up costing $20,000 USD. So you see that if you end up buying 5,000 wafers that is a $100,000,000 USD purchase! Maybe you can commit to buying 10% of that upfront and get a direct deal with the foundry, maybe not, you need to negotiate.

There are also system level miner considerations.

These are outside of the scope of this article since they are not directly custom silicon items. But it’s worth briefly mentioning them since custom silicon is developed to directly support a custom system hardware project; in this case a bitcoin miner. Here are some things that will need to be planned:

  • Hiring a CM.

You need to build systems in mass production somewhere. This supplier needs to be able to source all components, assemble, test them and package them to be shipped for you. A lot of companies choose CMs in Asia (China, Taiwan, etc…). These guys will also develop some or all of your factory test infrastructure. You need to pick wisely. The same CM company has very different levels of quality and experienced personnel for different customers. If you’re a new or small customer you may not get a good team, so you need to shop around for the right CM partner.

  • Pre-silicon deliverables.
  1. FPGA board. Your firmware team needs a platform to start developing code on in preparation for the first build.
  • Designing the hard system level stuff.
  1. Firmware. You’ll need to write the firmware to control the PCBs with all the ASICs on them. So you need some firmware engineers with experience writing firmware for bitcoin miners.

In summary.

Likely time to first samples 14 months from kick off.

Likely time to final silicon samples 23 months from kick off.

Summary of fixed costs 26 to 29 million USD. This is for the chip only. There will be some additional costs to develop the bitcoin miner system as discussed in the system level miner considerations section.

The estimates above assume the project is run like a tight ship. This can be hard to do generally, and especially when there are a lot of people and companies working together for the first time. Without experienced people and a good process to follow the chances to execute in these timelines are greatly diminished. Managing cross functional, multi national and multi company teams is vital for this engagement.

As you can see this project is doable. It’s also a big investment with big risks that need to be mitigated. So the question is: what will be the price of bitcoin by the time you have your miners ready?

For more information contact us.

Disclaimers: All prices, schedules and details in this article are my best guesses, my opinions, and what I gather from multiple sources of information. I provide this for illustration and informational purposes only. Use at your own risk. As a project progresses through the phase sign offs all these details are committed/verified with suppliers.

About by Digital Papaya Inc. is the leading consulting firm in the custom silicon strategy and project management space for AR/VR, automotive, mobile, server, crypto, sensors, security, medical, space and more.

Raul has 20 years of combined experience in the system electronics and silicon industries. He is currently responsible for major system company’s custom silicon and sensor projects. Raul was the directly responsible silicon manager for 18 chips ramped to mass production at Apple for iPhone and iPad, and 23 total chips ramped to mass production counting projects where he was an expert reviewer. Raul was directly responsible for the development of mobile processor System PMICs for the iPad2, New iPad, iPad mini, iPad 4 and iPhone 5s. Other silicon included, backlight/display power for iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s, lightning connector silicon and video buffers. He managed supplier teams across the Globe.

Our network of experts provide our clients with an A+ silicon management team from day one.

Originally published at



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store