Homebrew FPGA Encryption Cracker Beats 1500 CPUs

June 23, 2011
By The Architect

With the Bitcoin mining frenzy presently going on, there is a lot of chatter about cheap massively parallel supercomputing. Geeks are desperate to get as much processing power for as cheap as possible to grab the Bitcoin free money while it lasts.

We’ve already seen the CPU get squashed by the leap to GPU mining. But now the next step is looming in the form of FPGA custom hardware.

The frst problem with this is programming an FPGA. The everyday computer geek knows little about VHDL and Verilog. However open source VHDL code is springing up to help with the process (gotta love those altruistic engineers!)

The second problem with FPGAs is their cost. Small volume of production relative to GPUs means their cost is high. But scavengers note… there is a different way: Ripping perfectly good and expensive FPGAs out of unwanted consumer electronics, mainly Plasmascreens. That’s right, HDTV boxes use the same FPGAs to do image processing that can be used for Bitcoin mining. It’s just a matter of pulling them out, mounting and reprogramming them.

Check out this project to crack SHA-1 hashes from scavenged FPGAs, it’s outperforming an equivlaent of 1500 AMD cpus at present:


NSA@home is a fast FPGA-based SHA-1 and MD5 bruteforce cracker. It is capable of searching the full 8-character keyspace (from a 64-character set) in about a day in the current configuration for 800 hashes concurrently, using about 240W of power. This performance is equivalent to over 1500 Athlon FX-60 CPUs, which would take about 250kW.

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