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As of the 26th of July 2014, NeoScrypt will be the latest proof of work (PoW) algorithm to hit the cryptocurrency world. It has been designed as an "ASIC-resistant" algorithm for GPU and CPU miners. The first alt-coin to adopt NeoScrypt will be Phoenixcoin, soon followed by Feathercoin.
As Application Specific Integrated Chip (ASIC) devices transformed the world of SHA256 (e.g. Bitcoin) mining, ASIC devices for Scrypt currencies threaten to do the same thing. The technological arms race that this technology creates means that those who have invested heavily in GPU mining would potentially lose their investments overnight.
NeoScrypt, a strong memory intensive key derivation function, was developed by John Doering (aka "Ghostlander"), a developer for Feathercoin and Phoenixcoin, to tackle that problem.
"Mining is not the perfect way to manage coin distribution and transaction processing, but there is no better alternative. Since mining cannot be avoided, it's better to keep it as decentralised as possible. This protects the network from interruptions and abuses.
If ASICs were inexpensive and affordable for most people, then currency networks would not become as centralised as, for example, Bitcoin has.
On the other hand, computer processors (CPUs) and video cards (GPUs) are produced in large quantities by several vendors and many people can afford them. Whereas ASICs are more expensive, depreciate very quickly and have little to no value outside of mining."
John Doering, developer for Phoenixcoin and Feathercoin Feathercoin's founder, Peter Bushnell (aka Bushstar), also said:
"Avoiding ASICs forever may not be possible, but the current version of Scrypt makes this easier than it should be, as it uses relatively weak components that have been broken by differential analysis, this means you can get the same result without going through the process expected by Scrypt design. This is why you now see cheap ASICs for Scrypt coins coming out. We are moving to a hashing solution that uses stronger components that have not been broken yet and should not be for the next decade at least. The performance and cost of
￼￼NeoScrypt ASICs would be prohibitive and this is the best way to protect the decentralised mining of Feathercoin."
Advantages and Specifications
Note that a white paper on NeoScrypt will be released soon.
NeoScrypt will replace the Scrypt PoW algorithm, initially in Phoenixcoin (block #400K, expected to
be the 10thth of August) followed by Feathercoin. Scrypt was made popular by Litecoin. The hashing technologies used by this algorithm starts with PBKDF2-HMAC-SHA256key derivation, and ends with 8 rounds of the Salsa20cipher as its mixing engine. However, it has been shown that only having 8 rounds of Salsa20 can be broken through differential cryptoanalysis (source).
Doering created NeoScrypt to be compatible with Scrypt, but has functional differences which provide advantages over Scrypt. He has written a custom key derivation algorithm which is stronger and faster.
Furthermore, NeoScrypt's mixing engine employs 20 rounds of Salsa20, followed by 20 rounds of ChaCha20(read more about Salsa and ChaCha here). Not only is this combination faster and more secure than standard Scrypt, but it only takes 32Kb to 64Kb of memory, compared to the 128Kb of memory used by Scrypt.
NeoScrypt based currency is set to become the best option for those who have a low to medium budget for mining equipment and therefore cannot afford ASIC rigs.
Feathercoin has always been a community focused altcoin. With that in mind, its adoption of NeoScrypt will ensure that its loyal miners will still be able to viably mine by not competing against miners who have bought Scrypt ASICs.
Peter Bushnell said:
"It is clear that Scrypt ASICs are going to be expensive so the smaller hobbyist miner is going to have no place left on Scrypt based coins just like GPUs have no place on Bitcoin any more. Only those with deep pockets can mine Bitcoin and this will end up being just a few large companies. This does not make a good case for decentralisation."
When the Neoscrypt source is released, a functional CPUMiner will already be available. However, as the code is open, those with the skills necessary to create the first open source GPU miner for NeoScrypt are highly encouraged to do so. Bounties have been issued for this work.
Having Pheonixcoin available to test NeoScrypt on should greatly help development of third party software like pool software and miners. Once the necessary tools are available Feathercoin will release NeoScrypt onto its network.
Phoenixcoin will use the new hashing algorithm from block 400K, which will fall on the 10th of August 2014. Feathercoin has said that it will make an announcement on the timing of its hard fork in plenty of time for everyone to test the new miners and be sure that the community is ready for such a major shift.
Meet the team
Peter Bushnell is the former Head of ICT at Brasenose college which is part of Oxford University. He is a keen enthusiast for crypto currency and has been involved in many projects the most known of which is Feathercoin for which he is lead developer. Peter lives by the open source ethos and believes that we are here to work together to progress the underlying software. It has been Peter’s task to oversee the development of Feathercoin and to make some of hard decisions to secure its future.
John Doering has been with the Feathercoin development team since the early days. Leads the development on the new hashing algorithm called NeoScrypt. Contributes to all things technical when we are talking code, he and Bushnell work closely together hashing out the technical details with the other members of development team. He has also become the lead developer of Phoenixcoin and Orbitcoin after their original developers abandoned them.