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Bitcoin miner Zack Pettit skating on his work break at the SCATE Ventures mining facility in Dallesport, Washington.
SCATE Ventures Inc.

Nick Sears was 17 years old when he helped build a bitcoin mining farm in Dallesport, Washington. He was 18 when he was legally allowed to buy bitcoin for the first time. And now, at 19, Sears has doubled down on his life as a bitcoin miner, saying “no” to college and “yes” to living in a room inside a data center that houses 4,500 whirling ASICs. 

“My room is sound-locked,” said Sears of the acoustic retrofitting of his living quarters. “So I can’t hear the machines when I close my door, but they are definitely noisy if I have my door open.”

The machines generate about 80 decibels of noise apiece — but Sears says he likes being as close to the action as possible. It also beats making the half hour commute each way from his parents’ house in White Salmon. 

The 19 year-old has spent pretty much every single day for the last two years teaching himself the nuances of how mining machines work – and crucially, how to fix them. He believes his education in soldering and electronics is worth a whole lot more to him than a university degree. 

“I don’t think about going to college at all, just pursuing further knowledge in the repairs of the miners,” continued Sears.

CNBC spoke with multiple miners for this story. Many explained that the allure of mining comes from being able to tangibly grasp the power of bitcoin. 

“If you’ve been to any of these data centers, the first thing you’ll notice is just how vast and how impressive they are. They’re huge,” said explained Thomas Heller, chief business officer for Compass Mining, which works with Sears’ employer, SCATE Ventures. 

“There’s so much noise, and there’s so much heat. There’s just so much action going on. It is quite cool to walk into a data center for  the first time that’s mining bitcoin, because you can really connect the intangible aspects of bitcoin as a currency, with the physical nature of these machines consuming power and doing these calculations.” 

Bitcoin miner Nick Sears lives on-site at the SCATE Ventures mining farm in Dallesport, Washington.
SCATE Ventures Inc.

A day in the life of a miner

Mining for bitcoin isn’t a glamorous job.

“When we first got here, we were setting up racks, creating the network infrastructure for the internet, and we essentially had to wire everything,” he said. 

Once the physical infrastructure was up and running, Sears got into more of a rhythm. He’s now up at 7 A.M. everyday and works from eight to four. He remains on site afterwards, just in case of an emergency, and there is a technician who works night shifts so that Sears can get some sleep.

But beyond the hours, there is no typical work day for Sears. 

“That’s the cool thing about this job – I don’t have a set routine that I do everyday,” he said. “Every morning, I find what needs to be fixed.” 

Some days, that means Sears repairs walls and other physical infrastructure. “If we have to repair a camera, maybe I’m fixing a cable.”

But the biggest part of the job is monitoring and managing every one of those 4,500 Bitmain and Whatsminer ASICs to ensure they are running 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If even one of those machines goes offline, or is only running at partial capacity, the SCATE Ventures mine loses money.

That’s because when someone is mining for bitcoin, what they are actually doing is lending their computing power to the bitcoin network. The more machines you have online, the better your chances at winning bitcoin.

Rig under inspection at the SCATE Ventures mining farm in Dallesport, Washington.
SCATE Ventures Inc.

Roughly every ten minutes, 6.25 bitcoins are created. In order to mint these new tokens, a global pool of miners are all contributing their computing power to running a hashing algorithm. But these miners aren’t working in a vacuum. They’re competing against each other to see who can unlock each batch of new bitcoin first. 

So the stakes are high for Sears. Being diligent and knowing how to triage issues across the entire facility is critical to success.

Some mining sites use more sophisticated software to monitor the machines, which includes checking the temperature of each hashboard within the individual miners. 

But most important for Sears is just figuring out which of his machines aren’t functioning at full capacity. 

“Every day, you find the machines that have stopped hashing, then you remove them from the rack, and you troubleshoot,” he explained. “You’ve got to find the problem with the machines. You’ve got to find out why it went offline.”

It could be a power outage, which would affect all the machines, or it could be a network outage which could impact all of the machines or just some. 

“Sometimes they just need a power cycle or a reboot,” he said.

But the hardware fix isn’t always as simple as that. 

“It could be that the fan on the individual machine that is used for cooling is broken, or maybe it’s the power supply that needs to be repaired or replaced,” explained Heller.

“It could be the hashboards themselves,” continued Heller. “Each hashboard has lots of individual chips, and those are the chips doing the calculations. I think with a Bitmain machine, if more than four chips on a single hashboard are broken, the whole hashboard will switch off. So instead of hashing at about 100%, you’re only hashing at two-thirds or one-third.” 

Seasonal changes in the weather add a whole other layer of complexity. 

Lead technician Nick Sears repairs hardware at the SCATE Ventures Inc. mining farm in Dallesport, Washington.
SCATE Ventures Inc.

Storms can lead to power outages or other disruptions. Heller says that in the summer, the machines can also overheat, especially at the farms which have upgraded to using more powerful units over the course of the last two years. 

SCATE’s mine in Washington seems to have found a way around this problem by using its own immersion cooling technology, which involves submerging bitcoin miners in a non-conductive fluid to dissipate heat, rather than relying on fans. 

Training up and getting paid

Sears may not need a diploma to mine, but taking online training courses run by Chinese engineers who work for Bitmain has gone a long way toward helping him repair specialized mining equipment.

Last month, Sears and another employee completed a virtual class through Bitmain to learn how to work on the ASIC chips on hashboards, as well as the power supplies of the S17s, one of the most popular machines now used to mint bitcoin. 

“I have a certification of maintenance repair, so lately, I’ve just been perfecting my skills in that category,” explained Sears. “It certifies my knowledge and gives me access to buy supplies and material directly through Bitmain.”

Lead technician Nick Sears at the SCATE Ventures Inc. mining farm in Dallesport, Washington.
SCATE Ventures Inc.

Next, he hopes to attend an in-person class in Atlanta, Georgia, to learn more about soldering. “The hard part is learning how to solder and disassemble a circuit board,” said Sears.

Sears’ boss, Scott Bennett, is big on giving his team access to the resources they need to get better at their jobs. 

Bennett, CEO of SCATE Ventures, is a self-taught miner who started his business in his parents’ garage back in 2017, just before the last crypto “winter,” when prices of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies plunged. Similar to Sears, Bennett once lived at one of his data centers – only he opted for an on-site camper, rather than a room inside the facility itself. 

It helped that he lives within minutes of some of the cheapest power in the world. 

“All of our facilities are 100% hydro powered,” said Bennett. 

The mining facility where Sears works is next to the Columbia River and directly adjacent the Dalles Dam. “We love that source of power. It’s cheap, renewable, and very abundant,” he said.

As for employee pay, Sears says that he makes $54,000 a year, plus full health insurance, which is paid for by the company. 

Bennett also runs some mining machines exclusively for his employees. That amounts to about .02 BTC quarterly, which by today’s price equates to a $788 bonus every three months to Sears. 

“With all the miners in China going offline, the difficulty rate has been changing, so the rewards are higher,” said Sears. “The last time we got a little bit more than we did the previous time, which is cool by me.”

The SCATE Ventures mining farm runs on hydropower generated by the Dalles Dam.
SCATE Ventures Inc.

Mining remotely

It is also possible to become a crypto miner without physically handling any mining equipment at all.

Adam Gitzes decided in early 2021 that he really wanted to mine for bitcoin. After his wife vetoed the idea of installing equipment in their home, he began to look for alternatives.

Gitzes discovered Compass Mining, which allows customers to buy mining machines for between $5,800 and $11,700, then locates them in partner data centers and takes care of the physical logistics.

“I bought the machines on the website, Compass managed the logistics, delivering the machines to three different data centers in North America,” said Gitzes, who explained he spent 1.1 bitcoin — about $60,000 at the time of purchase — on them.

“Compass also configured them the way that I asked.”

So a typical day in the life of a miner like Gitzes consists of waking up and checking online to see how much bitcoin his machines mined overnight and to ensure that none of his units are down.

Inside the SCATE Ventures mining farm in Dallesport, Washington.
SCATE Ventures Inc.

Gitzes owns six machines that he says are on the “higher end.” When China expelled all its miners, Gitzes says it doubled the amount of money that his machines generate daily. 

After paying the mining pool fee of 1.25%, Gitzes’ miners generate about .0055 bitcoin a day, or $216 at today’s prices. Daily electricity costs are about $30, so he’s pulling in roughly $186 a day, or just shy of $5,700 every month. At that rate, he’ll recoup his investment in about 11 months, assuming no major fluctuations in energy or bitcoin prices.

Gitzes was so impressed by the Compass business model that he quit his job at Amazon to join the team in March. “The mission to decentralize mining and make it so that everyone can participate is something that I find really important,” said Gitzes.

The SCATE Ventures mining farm is in Dallesport, Washington.
SCATE Ventures Inc.

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eToro wants to bring its trading app to Apple Vision Pro and Meta Quest headsets

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eToro wants to bring its trading app to Apple Vision Pro and Meta Quest headsets

An Apple Vision Pro mixed reality (XR) headset is seen at Apple store in New York, United States on Feb. 3, 2024.

Fatih Aktas | Anadolu | Getty Images

Online brokerage firm eToro is exploring ways to bring its retail trading app to augmented and virtual reality headsets from Apple and Meta, the company’s CEO Yoni Assia told CNBC exclusively.

EToro, which operates a trading platform on which users can buy and sell a range of assets ranging from stocks and exchange-traded funds to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, is looking at ways of launching on Apple Vision Pro and Meta Quest.

If eToro succeeds in getting onto the Vision Pro and other VR devices, it would mark a rare step from a financial services firm to open up what is effectively a storefront in a virtual reality environment.

Assia said that artificial intelligence is a big focus for the firm and it is looking to integrate features that focus on giving users the ability to interact with the app via voice.

However, AR and VR are also a priority for the firm.

“We are planning to look at how we think about eToro with natural language, with voice, but actually also in the realm of AR VR, during 2024,” Assia told CNBC last week.

He didn’t provide a timeline for when eToro expects to launch an AR experience, and added that it remains an experiment the company is still exploring for the moment.

However, he suggested it will be a serious focus for the firm in 2024.

Financial firms such as JPMorgan and Citi have talked a big game about the “metaverse.” But this has been more in relation to desktop environments like Decentraland. And even then, hype surrounding digital real estate platforms like that has dropped off a cliff in the past couple years.

Limitations

It’s not yet fully fleshed out as a service.

But, on a simple level, eToro’s experience would allow users to pick stocks to buy and sell by touching digital screens within Apple’s Vision Pro and Meta’s Quest devices.

“You could actually now talk to the eToro app through the speaker [of your VR headset],” Assia said.

“I don’t think a lot of people are used to talking to their mobile phone asking questions, yet.” However, Assia expects this to become more mainstream.

Financial companies have refrained from taking big steps into virtual reality as the technology hasn’t proven its utility for something like banking or wealth management.

There are some technical limitations to consider.

While modern-day VR and AR headsets are getting better at tracking users’ eye movements, images can appear blurry if the display settings aren’t finetuned.

EToro said its augmented reality app would likely be a service that its more advanced traders will use, not necessarily casual retail traders or day traders.

“We’re starting to experiment with it,” Assia told CNBC in an exclusive interview. “Do I think it’s going to be hugely popular in 2024? Probably not probably, it’s still premature.”

“But I do think in the world of trading and investing, when we think of the vast amount of information, we’re trying to sort of constantly look at it to make smarter decisions,” he added.

The augmented reality experience would likely be enhanced with artificial intelligence, Assia noted, with a personal AI assistant helping users through the investing process.

“This is still in very initial discussions,” Assia noted, but added he thinks the firm could be ready to show off a prototype “in a couple of months.”

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Smartphone makers are dreaming of a ‘supercycle’ driven by AI. Analysts disagree   

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Smartphone makers are dreaming of a 'supercycle' driven by AI. Analysts disagree   

Samsung Electronics’ flagship smartphones Galaxy S24 series are displayed during their unveiling ceremony in Seoul, South Korea, January 15, 2024. 

Kim Hong-ji | Reuters

BARCELONA – Smartphone makers are talking a big game about artificial intelligence this year. 

And they’re so confident about features they’re cramming into their phones that they think it’ll drive a new “supercycle” for the industry. 

Samsung, Google, and Chinese firm Honor are among the names that are beefing up their latest handsets with AI-powered features for translating and summarizing conversations and taking and editing photos with the power of generative AI algorithms. 

These are algorithms that are baked into the devices’ chips themselves, rather than accessed via the cloud. 

Samsung has gone big on generative AI with its Galaxy S24 Ultra smartphone. 

Google, too, has integrated AI directly into its latest Pixel phones. 

Apple, meanwhile, is also reportedly exploring the addition of on-device AI features to the next iPhone, per the Financial Times

'Sea of sameness': Are smartphone makers out of ideas?

This is all coming at a time when Mobile World Congress, the mobile technology industry’s biggest trade show of the year, is kicking off. 

Major device makers like Samsung, Huawei, Honor, and Oppo, plus chip companies like Qualcomm and MediaTek, are expected to talk a big game about how much AI is transforming our personal devices. 

When was the last smartphone supercycle? 

Smartphone makers have been dreaming of a “supercycle” in their industry, driven by AI, after a bruising few years that saw device sales slow aggressively. 

In 2023, smartphone sales fell to 1.16 billion units, the lowest point for unit shipments in a decade. 

The last “supercycle” in smartphones happened between 2010 and 2015, where in five years the market grew fivefold from roughly 300 million units sold per year to 1.5 billion units, according to IDC data. 

That came at a time when smartphones were just starting to become mainstream thanks to the emergence of widely used applications: Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Uber, Snapchat, Twitter, and Candy Crush Saga, to name a few. 

“The growth happened not just because Apple launched the iPhone, or because Google launched Android,” Francisco Jeronimo, vice president of data and analytics at research firm IDC, told CNBC. 

“What really made it successful, that supercycle, was the fact that people were able to get the internet in their pocket,” Jeronimo said, in a phone interview with CNBC. 

The evolution of Apple's iPhone and how it changed the world

Other things were happening at the time, including the ability to make video calls over the internet with 3G, and the transition to 4G which meant faster speeds. 

“We saw very popular operating systems not just the browser, but a world of applications that brought so many services and so much content through the phone,” Jeronimo said. 

Ben Wood, chief analyst of CCS Insight, pinpoints the unveiling of the iPhone as the last “seismic disruption” that took place in the industry.  

“Everything since then has been less disruptive,” Wood told CNBC. 

‘AI phone era’

Major smartphone players are betting that a supercycle is about to happen thanks to AI. 

Samsung, which launched the Galaxy S24 Ultra earlier this year, thinks that there’s a strong chance that AI will drive a new dawn that can breathe fresh life into the industry. 

James Kitto, Samsung’s head of mobile experience division in the U.K., told CNBC the mobile industry is at the start of a new era of hypergrowth driven by AI. 

“There’s every expectation that will be the case. We’re seeing some really, really high demand,” Kitto told CNBC from Samsung’s European headquarters in Chertsey, England. 

The Galaxy S24 came with the ability to circle an object on your camera and pull up Google Search results for it, as well as live translation of phone calls to people speaking in foreign languages. 

“We’re right now at the dawning of an entirely new era, an AI phone era,” Kitto said.

Brian Rakowski, vice president of product management for Google’s Pixel phone unit, said he expects AI to drive renewed interest around mobile technology. 

Google has been working on integrating AI into its devices for years, most notably with the addition of Tensor line of smartphone processors. 

“We already saw that AI was going to be the differentiator and the next wave of innovation across all technology but especially mobile,” Rakowski told CNBC. “It is so key to everything all our computing lives and computing platform.” 

The smartphone market has shifted toward the premium, market research firm says

Google recently made it possible for its Tensor Processing Units, or TPUs, to run its Gemini nano AI system. This is a smaller version of its family of large language models which come under the umbrella name Gemini. 

Google is expecting it will launch more advanced versions of Gemini on Android next year, according to Rakowski.

“We’ve placed a lot of bets and have really close collaboration with the research team at [AI lab] DeepMind to make sure Pixel is the best way to showcase and surface what’s coming down the pipe,” Rakowski said. 

“No one knew that LLMs would be the thing. But we expected breakthroughs in the space,” he added. 

Why a supercycle is unlikely

Analysts say a supercycle is unlikely to occur within the next few years as there’s not enough going on in the market in terms of novel features and innovation that will convince people holding their aging smartphones to upgrade. 

Sales are expected to see growth this year, according to IDC, with smartphone shipments expected to climb 2.4% this year to 1.19 billion units in 2024. But that’s coming off a low base, and overall represents lackluster growth for an industry.

Growth is expected to remain stagnant from there in the coming years, with IDC forecasting incremental year-over-year increases of between 2% and 3% from 2025 to 2028.

Consumers remain wary about the prospect of upgrading their smartphones today as the prices for upgrading are still elevated.  

Plus, much of the latest models that are coming out are still only touting incremental improvements on what came before. 

“Much as the potential of AI on smartphones is an exciting prospect, I don’t believe the technology will contribute to a new supercycle for smartphone sales,” Wood told CNBC via email. 

“At best it will help sustain sales and add a little bit of extra interest in smartphones at a time when the hardware is becoming increasingly boring.” 

Today, there’s not enough excitement about smartphones on a broader level to justify a sales boom of the kind many companies are dreaming up. 

That will change in the coming years, according to Jeronimo — but only once artificial intelligence starts becoming useful for consumers. 

“If there’s anything that could make [a supercycle] happen, it would be AI,” Jeronimo said. “But with AI, there’s this question mark of how much the phone will become intelligent.” 

Smartphones today “are not intelligent,” he added. 

“If you see a billboard of the latest Tarantino or ‘Mission Impossible’ movie, what do you do? You need to open an app, book tickets in that app, send texts to your wife, text where she needs to go, go into your calendar app, check when is the best day to go to the movie, and so on.” 

Plenty of companies are working on tech that can do exactly this.

For example, Humane has its AI Pin, a compact, square-shaped device that users can speak with to ask it to do certain tasks like setting reminders. It uses OpenAI’s large language models to do so.  

Another startup, Rabbit, has a similar device. Geely-owned firm Meizu, meanwhile, recently said it’s giving up on making Android smartphones in favor of creating an AI-focused hardware product.

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Samsung unveils new memory chip with ‘highest-capacity to date’ for AI

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Samsung unveils new memory chip with 'highest-capacity to date' for AI

Samsung logo displayed on a glass door at the company’s Seocho building in Seoul on July 7, 2022. Samsung Electronics has begun applications for tax breaks for 11 potential chip plants in Texas adding up to investments of about $192 billion, according to documents filed with Texas authorities.

Jung Yeon-je | Afp | Getty Images

Samsung Electronics on Tuesday said it has developed a new high-bandwidth memory chip that has the “highest-capacity to date” in the industry.

The South Korean chip giant claimed the HBM3E 12H “raises both performance and capacity by more than 50%.”

“The industry’s AI service providers are increasingly requiring HBM with higher capacity, and our new HBM3E 12H product has been designed to answer that need,” said Yongcheol Bae, executive vice president of memory product planning at Samsung Electronics.

“This new memory solution forms part of our drive toward developing core technologies for high-stack HBM and providing technological leadership for the high-capacity HBM market in the AI era,” said Bae.

Samsung Electronics is the world’s largest maker for dynamic random-access memory chips, which are used in consumer devices such as smartphones and computers.

Generative AI models such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT require large numbers of high-performance memory chips. Such chips enable generative AI models to remember details from past conversations and user preferences in order to generate humanlike responses.

The AI boom continues to fuel chipmakers. U.S. chip designer Nvidia posted a 265% jump in fourth fiscal quarter revenue thanks to skyrocketing demand for its graphics processing units, thousands of which are used to run and train ChatGPT.

During a call with analysts, Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said the company may not be able to maintain this level of growth or sales for the whole year.

“As AI applications grow exponentially, the HBM3E 12H is expected to be an optimal solution for future systems that require more memory. Its higher performance and capacity will especially allow customers to manage their resources more flexibly and reduce total cost of ownership for datacenters,” said Samsung Electronics.

Samsung said it has started sampling the chip to customers and mass production of the HBM3E 12H is planned for the first half of 2024.

Samsung is likely to see 'very strong' improvement in earnings, analyst says

“I assume the news will be positive for Samsung’s share price,” SK Kim, executive director of Daiwa Securities, told CNBC.

“Samsung was behind SK Hynix in HBM3 for Nvidia last year. Also, Micron announced mass production of 24GB 8L HBM3E yesterday. I assume it will secure leadership in higher layer (12L) based higher density (36GB) HBM3E product for Nvidia,” said Kim.

In September, Samsung secured a deal to supply Nvidia with its high-bandwidth memory 3 chips, according to a Korea Economic Daily report, which cited anonymous industry sources.

The report also said that SK Hynix, South Korea’s second-biggest memory chipmaker, was leading the high-performance memory chip market. SK Hynix was previously known as the sole mass producer of HBM3 chips supplied to Nvidia, the report said.

Samsung said the HBM3E 12H has a 12-layer stack, but applies advanced thermal compression non-conductive film which allows the 12-layer products to have the same height specification as 8-layer ones to meet current HBM package requirements. The result is a chip that packs more processing power, without increasing its physical footprint.

“Samsung has continued to lower the thickness of its NCF material and achieved the industry’s smallest gap between chips at seven micrometers (µm), while also eliminating voids between layers,” said Samsung. “These efforts result in enhanced vertical density by over 20% compared to its HBM3 8H product.”

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