Biostar takes on Mining with the TB250-BTX PRO

12 PCI-E slots?

Biostar is going all in on the current wave of cryptocurrency mining with the TB250-BTC PRO. According to the company this is the world’s first native 12 PCI-E slot motherboard. These are PCI-E 1x slots of course, not the full-length PCI-E 16x slot that we’ve become accustomed to seeing on high-end motherboards. Based on the press release and materials accompanying this product launch it seems that Biostar understands the needs of cryptocurrancy miners better than any other motherboard vendor. Here are some selections that show to me that Biostar, despite some rough translations, has done their homework on this market:

With 12 GPUs working simultaneously on the BIOSTAR TB250-BTC PRO, this allows miners to rapidly gain their ROI faster than conventional setups. Possible rigs include 2-speed machines featuring GPUs from both AMD and NVIDIA allowing combined performance to provide miners with the ability to quickly adjust to the most profiitable virtual currency they want. See chart below for a quick comparison which shows the combined hashrate offered by a single platform powered by the BIOSTAR TB250-BTC PRO versus two rigs running different GPUs. The mining rig running TB250-BTC PRO receives a return of investment (ROI) in only 79 days versus 97 days for the separate systems.

When making the decision to purchase dedicated mining hardware the amount of time to break even on the initial investment is the primary concern. Biostar clearly gets this. An ideal crypto-mining motherboard should have as many PCI-E slots as possible, high reliability to constant heat, a good Ethernet NIC, and be as cheap as possible. Ports don’t matter, audio doesn’t matter, the chipset doesn’t matter, memory DIMMs don’t matter, and overclocking basically doesn’t matter either. CPUs that offer many PCI-E lanes and minimal SoC-based chipset options would be a good fit for this market.

Other brands implement tight and compact arrays for their PCI-e slots making them easy to short-circuit and affect stability during maintenance as well as other faults like displays not being recognized. The BIOSTAR TB250-BTC PRO uses a matrix arrangement for the PCI-E slots allowing optimal and ample spacing between the slots for effective management as well as layout so each daughter card connection does not interfere with its neighboring slots. This results in more stable signals to and from the board and the devices connected to the slots. BIOSTAR also utilizes their signature PRO Series standards on the TB250-BTC PRO utilizing an all-solid capacitor setup and a rigid power management module, ensuring highly stable power delivery and operation even with 12 cards running simultaneously.

One thing that may seem rather strange about these mining rigs is that unlike gaming or other kind of GPU compute the amount of bandwidth between the GPU and the rest of the system is of little importance. A graphic card can mine without any kind of performance hit using only a single PCI-E lane rather than 16 lanes that would be required for gaming scenarios.

Because of the large physical space requirements of GPU coolers miner’s often keep their GPUs physically separated from the motherboard they’re connected to. In the old days this used to be done with PCI-E ribbon cables. But these cables are rather expensive for good quality units and the cheap ones tend to melt or burn up shortly after installation. Most people have switched using PCI-E to USB converters on both the motherboards and GPUs and then using USB cables of whatever length necessary to physically connect the converter on the motherboard to the converter on the GPU.

Other manufacturers utilize low-level chipset bridge thus providing a narrow passage to the graphics card being used, affecting overall system performance due to bottlenecking of each graphics card. BIOSTAR addresses this by utilizing Intel’s B250 chipset allowing more bandwidth to be used and be utilized by the displays, with all 12 PCI-E groups populated. This allows all cards to work at their top-speed without any loss for the most effective setup ever.

The current mining wave stems from an increase in the value of Bitcoins and enthusiasm for a different or alt-coin called Ethereum. A few years ago the difficulty of mining Bitcoins and the presence of large ASIC-based mining farms made mining that coin and other coins, like Litecoin, on a small-scale unprofitable. The algorithm that is used to mine Ethereum thus far responds best to running on GPUs like AMD’s Polaris cards rather than FPGAs, ASICs, or CPUs. This focus on common GPU hardware and the growth in popularity of Ethereum and related alt-coins has led to a new wave of people building small-scale mining operations in their homes and apartments.

The availability of an intuitive mining client called Nicehash has also bolstered the number of small miners. With a wallet address and one click you can take pretty much any consumer grade or better PC hardware and start mining with it. A common use case is to run the Nicehash client in a mode where it’s only actively mining when the system is idle. This allows gamers to mine while they’re at school or work on their gaming PCs without needing to setup a dedicated mining rig.

Calling Biostar’s TB250-BTX Pro motherboard innovative might be a step too far, but it’s certainly something different. It’s also one of the first mining oriented products that I’ve seen provides real benefits to miners via its PCI-E slot arrangement rather than just cashing in on the buzz like the GPU AIB vendors are doing. Biostar understands that this is a cost sensitive market; so they picked a low-cost chipset on a mainstream platform in a cheap motherboard form-factor. With an MSRP of $130 this isn’t a bargain, but it’s a lot cheaper than buying two full systems and its uniqueness basically guarantees that it will always have an active, mining focused, community to support it.S|A

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Thomas Ryan is a freelance technology writer and photographer from Seattle, living in Austin. You can also find his work on SemiAccurate and PCWorld. He has a BA in Geography from the University of Washington with a minor in Urban Design and Planning and specializes in geospatial data science. If you have a hardware performance question or an interesting data set Thomas has you covered.