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posted by Fnord666 on Thursday February 15 2018, @04:43PM   Printer-friendly
from the just-nod-if-you-can-hear-me dept.

Crypto-currency craze 'hinders search for alien life'

Scientists listening out for broadcasts by extra-terrestrials are struggling to get the computer hardware they need, thanks to the crypto-currency mining craze, a radio-astronomer has said.

Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers want to expand operations at two observatories. However, they have found that key computer chips are in short supply. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs [graphics processing units]... and we can't get 'em," said Dan Werthimer.

Demand for GPUs has soared recently thanks to crypto-currency mining. "That's limiting our search for extra-terrestrials, to try to answer the question, 'Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?'," Dr Werthimer told the BBC.

[...] Other radio-astronomers have been affected. A group looking for evidence of the earliest stars in the universe was recently shocked to see that the cost of the GPUs it wanted had doubled.

[...] Prof [Aaron] Parsons' radio telescope, the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (Hera), is an American, British and South African project located in South Africa's western plains. [...] Three months ago, the Hera team had budgeted for a set of GPUs that cost around $500 (£360) - the price has since doubled to $1,000.

"We'll be able to weather it but it is coming out of our contingency budget." added Prof Parsons. "We're buying a lot of these things, it's going to end up costing about $32,000 extra."

When the inevitable flood of cheap GPUs onto the market happens, will it be a boon to science?

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  • (Score: 2) by RS3 on Friday February 16 2018, @07:23AM

    by RS3 (6367) on Friday February 16 2018, @07:23AM (#638731)

    Yes, heat is usually the enemy of electronic components. Electrolytic caps actually have a liquid electrolyte in them.

    I'm not sure if everyone knows the story of bad caps [] or "capacitor plague" [] as some call it.

    In power supplies, capacitors are used to store charge and are called "filter capacitors" because they sort of filter out the "ripple" you get from rectified AC. (Rectified means AC turned into DC, usually by way of diodes, which used to be called "rectifiers".) Older power supply capacitors only had to withstand the "ripple current", electric current moving in and out of the cap, at 50 or 60 Hz ("half-wave"), or 100 or 120 Hz (full-wave), depending on your country. AC "mains" or "line" voltage, usually transformed to a lower or higher voltage depending on circuit needs, then rectified. Now with switching supplies the caps work very hard- switching frequencies are usually 50-200 KHz, so much much more work for the caps to do.

    An ideal cap would be okay at any frequency, but actual caps have some internal resistance, and electric current through resistance results in heat. Add to that a chemical action that takes place with all of that ripple current, on top of a faulty capacitor chemistry, used in underdesigned circuits, and you get rapid failures. They don't always bulge or burst, but the bulging is actually a good thing because it lets you know the caps are bad for sure.

    Motherboards have switching supplies on them to derive the various lower voltages needed by CPU, RAM, etc., thus caps to go bad.

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