Thursday, January 31, 2013

Avalon ASIC miner review

Here is a review of the Avalon ASIC miner.

Photos and video

Prior posts included photos.  No video was taken.  And the machine is performing its intended function -- receiving bitcoins to validate data -- so it will not be ripped apart for further pictures (however I want to see that, just as much as you). It is expected that upcoming press events and other third parties will provide this.

Shipping and packaging

The unit was packed very tightly and securely, with multiple layers of packaging, bubble wrap and Styrofoam.   No instructions or wifi antenna were included, and the included power cord was for a Chinese outlet.  These seem like excusable oversights, given the special shipping procedures and rush to get out The First Package.  Yifu notes here that US customers will receive a US power cord and other accessories.

Grade: A


No precise measurements were taken, but the unit is as heavy as a desktop tower machine. The metal case is very solid, with precise CNC/mill cuts.  A modular, six-piece design that is easily assembled or disassembled.  No logos or other decorations.  The outer shell was enclosed in protective clear plastic, similar to how display screens are shipped.  Air flow is unobstructed, flowing from rear intake to front exhaust.

The only negative was the small bolts securing the side to the case.  When not tightened, the bolts rest loosely on the lower casing via a small slot.  These bolts are an interesting design, but made re-securing the case-side difficult.

Grade: B. People looking for something super-stylish with dragons on the side would give it a C, due to boring exterior appearance.


Very clean.  Cables neatly tie-wrapped.  The three (3) ASIC modules are mounted securely.  Plenty of room to add a 4th ASIC module.  Avalon describes their design as highly modular, and it is.  All components appear easy to upgrade, and Yifu has indicated that many improvements are planned.

Because much importance is placed on using this unit, very little poking and prodding was done under the cable bundle.  The PSU displays an Antec logo.  One board was labelled "PDU v1.2 by ngzhang" and a normally-external USB cable was observed inside the case, connecting the wifi antenna block at the rear to a controller board inside.  A bit ad hoc, but the cable was glued to the controller's USB port, as an added precaution against movement during shipment or use.

Grade: A.  Great modularity; obviously built to be upgraded over time.

User Interface

The software is a modified version of cgminer 2.10.4, on top of OpenWRT "Barrier Breaker r35097" and Linux 3.6.11 w/ Avalon-specific device drivers. The primary user interface is via web browser, though SSH is also supported. It is the standard OpenWRT web interface, with two additions:
  • cgminer configuration: supports three (3) pools, for which you supply URL, worker username and password.
  • cgminer status:  example output
This miner's stock installation was statically set to IP address and no root password, for configuration purposes.  This may change to DHCP in the future.  It was trivial to plug in an ethernet cable, and immediately begin configuring the miner over the network with a web browser.

Grade: A+


The only thing that really matters, in the end, is the amount of power used and the amount of shares submitted upstream.  Unfortunately my Kill-A-Watt is missing in action, so we only have half the picture, output.

Performance is much higher than announced.  60 Ghps was announced.  The unit's cgminer self-reports 67.5 reports between 65 Ghps and 67 Ghps (see previous post).  This is a significant increase over the announced speed.  When you consider that it is possible to add a 4th ASIC module, it is even more impressive.

After 20 hours of mining, the unconfirmed + confirmed rewards equal  14.98832170 BTC.  Note that slush's pool was very lucky recently, in addition to some blocks with abnormally high TX fee income, so that number skews much higher than expected.

Grade: N/A  Want to write A+... but we cannot judge fully without power numbers.


The miner is currently running on an already loaded residential house power circuit, while sharing a Back UPS ES 550 with another desktop machine.  The small office/lab in which it resides is poorly ventilated, and in the winter time, prone to being overly hot.  In other words, not ideal conditions.

After 30 minutes or so of mining, the lights in my room flickered, UPS's beeped and complained.  Because of some stupidity (plugged into 'surge-only' side of UPS), the miner restarted as well.  After some reconfiguration, this problem was solved.

Nevertheless, the unit has seen several cgminer restarts, and a few full machine restarts.  Machine restarts seem to happen every 4-6 hours.  Even ignoring more obvious means of restart detection (login and look at uptime, or ping-monitoring etc), a restart is a clearly audible event:  At startup, the fans race at full speed for a few seconds, before "calming down" to a more moderate pace.

One of the temperature monitors consistently reads close to 50, and "temp_max" is often 100-125, so it is possible or even likely that temperature is playing a factor in these restarts.  Yifu stated that this machine has several failsafes, where it will restart upon abnormal events.

Grade: N/A  Need to investigate non-miner problem sources, but warrants watching.  Given evidence, it is highly likely that external factors are adding unwanted heat.

Feb 01 Update: Laying the machine flat, and adjust heat/air flow in my office seems to have helped significantly.  No problems or restarts seen since that change, though as of this writing, it is too soon to tell for certain.

Pool testing

Pool testing is ongoing.  More will receive their units before this unit gets around to testing your favorite pool, but this unit will be rotated through several pools.

Slush's pool with Stratum works great.  No problems seen.

p2pool was tested.  After some very helpful advice from p2pool's author and #p2pool channel, it appeared to start working.  Then Strange Things Happened.  The miner and p2pool both started reporting very odd values for everything from hardware fan temperature to software share difficulty on the pool side.  Cannot rule out hardware or software at this point, but the miner seems quite happy on slush's stratum pool.

Update: Eligius was also tested.  Saw issues with duplicates that were similar to p2pool issues.  These issues disappeared when switching to Stratum mode.

Customer Support

First, a story.  Apparent Yifu was quite surprised when I received the unit on Wednesday.  It sounded like there was a carefully planned PR campaign to coincide with the arrival of the units on... Thursday or Friday.  That was the expected arrival of my unit.  Then, surprise!  This crazy American is already posting pictures of an ASIC unit.  Suddenly all my mobiles, emails and IRC windows were lighting up with "oh crap! please call me!" messages.

After connecting on the phone, and talking about fun bitcoin projects, he made sure all my questions were answered, and made sure I was happy with the unit.  Yifu was clearly excited to finally get the ASICs out into community hands.

Grade:  It is not fair to give them a grade here, because it was a highly unusual situation, and the CTO was phoning personally to provide support.  It is unlikely that most customers will get that kind of star treatment simply out of fiscal and employee-bandwidth necessity.

Disclaimers and disclosures

My mining unit was a full price unit, ordered and paid for during Batch #1's order window.  Unsolicited, at the time of ordering (months ago), Yifu returned 25 BTC back to me, as a thank you for core development.

On the day of release (Jan 20), also unsolicited, Yifu bumped me to the front of the line for receiving units.  I learned of this via private email at the same time forum participants learned that ASICs had shipped.  Yifu requested (but did not insist) that I write a review, in exchange for receiving the first unit.  That is the extent of any special treatment or private communication (though see phone call, below).  Everything else has been publicly disclosed, primarily through BitSyncom posts or this Bitcoin Magazine interview.


  1. Great review! Thank you!

  2. I don't get it, they ask for new unit 1500$ paid in BTC, but BTC is not a stable currency. What is the point ? 1500$=80BTC? on market 1500USD=61BTC from other offer 80BTC=1290USD WTF?????????????????????????????

    1. Remember when you asked this?
      80BTC today = $42240, even with today's volatility. Not too shabby for waiting a year; I think that was the point.

  3. When it restarts do you have to do anything or will it automatically go back to mining?

  4. Just for an hour...

    Just kidding. Who wants to buy a video card?!

  5. Thanks for the feedback/review.
    Can s/w be updated? Is Linux knowledge required? how does one configure to conceal IP address (VPN. proxy)?

  6. I assume the IP address can be changed via the web interface? Can you set it up for solo mining?

    1. Yes and yes, though solo mining through a pool server is highly recommended. Straight solo mining through bitcoind saw many 'getwork' errors, almost 10%.

  7. Jeff please post HD video with overview ASIC inside and PC screen with miner working.
    Also, do you know an absolute way to proof asics are not SCAM? Maybe you can provide access to your mining machine via remote access soft (view options only) or to your pool account to check out your stats with ASIC mining.
    You know forums are raining cats and dogs with scam accusations, so please proof.

  8. Thanks for the review! I'd love to see screenshots of the web interface, if you get a moment some time :)

    Thank you for all of your work on the Bitcoin code as well, you rock!

  9. Ok.. Avalon wants to make money.. So they created a device that converts electricity into money.. Now they are selling these devices FOR money...

    This is a logic fail..

    I know if i built something that generated money.. I wouldnt sell it.. I'd just fill a warehouse with them and keep them all for myself.

    I think whats really going on here.. If you actually have this device as you claim you do.. I believe it to be just a PR move to generate massive hype for the next round of pre-orders.

    Then simply run off with either the money or the devices.

    It makes no sense to create a goose that lays golden eggs then sell it in exchange for golden eggs when you already have what makes them.

    Somethings not right.

    1. Well, its quite nice because you are receiving a fixed amount of money versus a fluctuating amount. In retail, you almost always know what you're getting.

  10. > I wouldn't sell it.. I'd just fill a warehouse with them and keep them all for myself.

    That is not very clever thinking.

    *I* would do both - "sell" as many as I can, ship none at all (except for one demo unit to a carefully orchestrated high-publicity community blogger, to ensure that customers keep placing new orders), and put all the new units in my warehouse and keep all the BTC for myself.

    Then, when eventually the BTC payoff from having done that subsides and they no longer earn such good income, I'd ship them out to those customers who've been "waiting" (or better still - refund them all, since in the meantime, I've made a 10-fold profit margin on BTC inflation from all their borrowed funds :-)

    0.74btc/hr = $223,206 USD /year (at todays $34). That's 2 days mining to pay of the hardware cost :-)

    You would have to be a really special kind of "f*ing stupid" to sell these things for $1500.

    1. the blackbook of bitcoin politics.
      domination of bitcoin to create slavery rather than
      creating merchendise or transaction flow with bitcoins.

      I guess , these factors will draw an end for bitcoin white paper money if they can't supply the demands for public by showing false crisis of the hardware or whether its on rush both mean same to me

      When all people won't be able to have it then how they spend it and why they buy bitcoins from bitcoin dominator , as they can use them for buying anything they want other than bitcoin? as bitcoin is not world currency but real cash are.... go to hell with your heavyweight electricity charger irons and games coin

    2. I thought the whole idea behind bitcoin was to free us from banks and the government! It's exactly how the first revolution in America started, the colonies got pissed about taxation without representation and started printing their own currency interest free. The King and the Rothchilds were not to happy about that! Dispersing these machines to people that want to help is the patriotic and morally correct thing to do, don't be a red coat ass hole!

  11. If something sounds too good to be true, it is!

    As a consequence we buy the small machine (4.5 GH/s), try to get it running. If successful, we order the next machine and so on.

    If not successful, we cancel the order. If we don't get the money back, the thing / his business is dead immediately.

  12. Where Can i buy a beast like this ???

    Please gimme links !

    Im so deep in coin mining, but all my cards are slightly poor comparing to this 1 !
    I want some improvement!

    Thank Yoiu in advance for your quick info...