The digital “crypto-currency” Bitcoin surged into the public eye last year, tantalizing enthusiasts with the promise of money unfettered by any government before falling victim to digital heists (see “Crypto-currency Security under Scrutiny”) and short media attention spans.
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But $130 million worth of bitcoins are still out there, tended by a dedicated community working to expand their use. More are still being “mined” in a process that rewards digital gold-diggers when their software solves mathematical puzzles involved in verifying transactions and regulating how the currency is used (see “What Bitcoin Is, and Why It Matters”). Now some in that community are taking the expensive step of creating custom silicon chips dedicated to running the software that carries out that process.
“It’s a business opportunity, and also because we believe in Bitcoin and what it can do,” says Josh Zerlan, COO of Butterfly Labs, a Kansas City company that is waiting for its first batch of custom chips to come back from an Asian manufacturer. These chips will be resold to Bitcoin enthusiasts in a line of products that plug into a computer via USB and supercharge its efforts to mine the currency. They range in price from $149 to $29,899, and in early 2013 they will start shipping to over a thousand customers who placed advance orders.
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