Oh, and it’s hot, too. If I moved it into my office and could stand the noise, I could keep a cup of coffee comfortably warm on top of the thing.

Why on earth would anyone want such a disagreeable little machine in their home? A newbie and his miner Ars Senior Business Editor Cyrus Farivar tapped me on the shoulder a few weeks back with a proposition. I’m working on a story about the company, but I’m about to go on vacation.

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Do you want to see if you can get the thing working while I’m out? That’s the electronic currency that’s quickly rocketed from lame nerd project to ludicrously valuable hot topic, right? I didn’t know a lot about the world of Bitcoin other than the fact that “mining” them involved people building custom PCs with tons of video cards to handle the math. I certainly didn’t know how to “mine” bitcoins myself or what to do with the things once I had them. And yet here was the opportunity to take a piece of hardware I’d never heard of and see if I could use it to magically create some money out of nowhere.

I told Cyrus to send me the Butterfly Labs miner. As he trekked off to Peru for his vacation, I settled in with the little black box. Butterfly Labs is a company that has drawn a fair amount of controversy for what the Bitcoin community at large perceives as a string of broken promises. The company sells ASIC-based Bitcoin miners—machines that are built around customized chips that do nothing except compute SHA hashes very quickly. The problem is that Butterfly Labs started selling the machines long before it actually had a product to sell.

Butterfly Labs promised certain performance targets to customers—it initially felt confident that its application-specific integrated circuit ASIC designs would deliver one billion hashes per second for every 1.

This proved extremely optimistic. Hardware delivery slipped multiple times. Now, a full year later, the first few real live Butterfly Labs boxes are finally being shipped, though no small number as many as 30 were sent to journalists to review rather than to paying customers.

I didn’t really even fully understand what the miner did. I simply knew that I wanted to get this thing working and make some money. The only connectors on the exterior of the device are on the back: Near the power plug are a series of small red LEDs that the device uses to tell you its status, though there was no documentation in the box to explain what the LEDs meant.

Reader Comments (1)

The front of the cube contains another red LED to indicate power.