EIP 1057: ProgPoW, a Programmatic Proof-of-Work Source

TypeStandards Track

Simple Summary

The following is a proposal for an alternate proof-of-work algorithm - “ProgPoW” - tuned for commodity hardware in order to close the efficiency gap available to specialized ASICs.


The security of proof-of-work is built on a fair, randomized lottery where miners with similar resources have a similar chance of generating the next block.

For Ethereum - a community based on widely distributed commodity hardware - specialized ASICs enable certain participants to gain a much greater chance of generating the next block, and undermine the distributed security.

ASIC-resistance is a misunderstood problem. FPGAs, GPUs and CPUs can themselves be considered ASICs. Any algorithm that executes on a commodity ASIC can have a specialized ASIC made for it; most existing algorithms provide opportunities that reduce power usage and cost. Thus, the proper question to ask when solving ASIC-resistance is “how much more efficient will a specialized ASIC be, in comparison with commodity hardware?”

EIP presents an algorithm that is tuned for commodity GPUs where there is minimal opportunity for ASIC specialization. This prevents specialized ASICs without resorting to a game of whack-a-mole where the network changes algorithms every few months.


Until Ethereum transitions to a pure proof-of-stake model, proof-of-work will continue to be a part of the security of the network - whether it’s adapted into a hybrid model (as is the case of Casper FFG), or adopted by a hard fork.

Ethash allows for the creation of an ASIC that is roughly twice as efficient as a commodity GPU. Ethash’s memory accesses are paired with a very small amount of fixed compute. Most of a GPU’s capacity and complexity sits idle, wasting power, while waiting for DRAM accesses. A specialized ASIC can implement a much smaller (and cheaper) compute engine that burns much less power.

As miner rewards are reduced with Casper FFG, it will remain profitable to mine on a specialized ASIC long after GPUs have exited the network. This will make it easier for an entity that has access to private ASICs to stage a 51% attack on the Ethereum network.


ProgPoW is based on Ethash and follows the same general structure. The algorithm has five main changes from Ethash, each tuned for commodity GPUs while minimizing the possible advantage of a specialized ASIC.

The name of the algorithm comes from the fact that the inner loop between global memory accesses is a randomly generated program based on the block number. The random program is designed to both run efficiently on commodity GPUs and also cover most of the GPU’s functionality. The random program sequence prevents the creation of a fixed pipeline implementation as seen in a specialized ASIC. The access size has also been tweaked to match contemporary GPUs.

In contrast to Ethash, the changes detailed below make ProgPoW dependent on the core compute capabilities in addition to memory bandwidth and size.

Changes keccak_f1600 (with 64-bit words) to keccak_f800 (with 32-bit words).

On 64-bit architectures f1600 processes twice as many bits as f800 in roughly the same time. As GPUs are natively 32-bit architectures, f1600 takes twice as long as f800. ProgPow doesn’t require all the bits f1600 can consume, thus reducing the size reduces the optimization opportunity for a specialized ASIC.

Increases mix state.

A significant part of a GPU’s area, power, and complexity is the large register file. A large mix state ensures that a specialized ASIC would need to implement similar state storage, limiting any advantage.

Adds a random sequence of math in the main loop.

The random math changes every 50 blocks to amortize compilation overhead. Having a random sequence of math that reads and writes random locations within the state ensures that the ASIC executing the algorithm is fully programmable. There is no possibility to create an ASIC with a fixed pipeline that is much faster or lower power.

Adds reads from a small, low-latency cache that supports random addresses.

Another significant part of a GPU’s area, power, and complexity is the memory hierarchy. Adding cached reads makes use of this hierarchy and ensures that a specialized ASIC also implements a similar hierarchy, preventing power or area savings.

Increases the DRAM read from 128 bytes to 256 bytes.

The DRAM read from the DAG is the same as Ethash’s, but with the size increased to 256 bytes. This better matches the workloads seen on commodity GPUs, preventing a specialized ASIC from being able to gain performance by optimizing the memory controller for abnormally small accesses.

The DAG file is generated according to traditional Ethash specifications.

ProgPoW can be tuned using the following parameters. The proposed settings have been tuned for a range of existing, commodity GPUs:

  • PROGPOW_PERIOD: Number of blocks before changing the random program; default is 50.
  • PROGPOW_LANES: The number of parallel lanes that coordinate to calculate a single hash instance; default is 16.
  • PROGPOW_REGS: The register file usage size; default is 32.
  • PROGPOW_DAG_LOADS: Number of uint32 loads from the DAG per lane; default is 4;
  • PROGPOW_CACHE_BYTES: The size of the cache; default is 16 x 1024.
  • PROGPOW_CNT_DAG: The number of DAG accesses, defined as the outer loop of the algorithm; default is 64 (same as Ethash).
  • PROGPOW_CNT_CACHE: The number of cache accesses per loop; default is 12.
  • PROGPOW_CNT_MATH: The number of math operations per loop; default is 20.

The random program changes every PROGPOW_PERIOD blocks (default 50, roughly 12.5 minutes) to ensure the hardware executing the algorithm is fully programmable. If the program only changed every DAG epoch (roughly 5 days) certain miners could have time to develop hand-optimized versions of the random sequence, giving them an undue advantage.

ProgPoW uses FNV1a for merging data. The existing Ethash uses FNV1 for merging, but FNV1a provides better distribution properties.

ProgPow uses KISS99 for random number generation. This is the simplest (fewest instruction) random generator that passes the TestU01 statistical test suite. A more complex random number generator like Mersenne Twister can be efficiently implemented on a specialized ASIC, providing an opportunity for efficiency gains.

uint32_t fnv1a(uint32_t &h, uint32_t d)
    return h = (h ^ d) * 0x1000193;

typedef struct {
    uint32_t z, w, jsr, jcong;
} kiss99_t;

// KISS99 is simple, fast, and passes the TestU01 suite
// https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KISS_(algorithm)
// http://www.cse.yorku.ca/~oz/marsaglia-rng.html
uint32_t kiss99(kiss99_t &st)
    st.z = 36969 * (st.z & 65535) + (st.z >> 16);
    st.w = 18000 * (st.w & 65535) + (st.w >> 16);
    uint32_t MWC = ((st.z << 16) + st.w);
    st.jsr ^= (st.jsr << 17);
    st.jsr ^= (st.jsr >> 13);
    st.jsr ^= (st.jsr << 5);
    st.jcong = 69069 * st.jcong + 1234567;
    return ((MWC^st.jcong) + st.jsr);

The LANES*REGS of mix data is initialized from the hash’s seed.

void fill_mix(
    uint64_t hash_seed,
    uint32_t lane_id,
    uint32_t mix[PROGPOW_REGS]
    // Use FNV to expand the per-warp seed to per-lane
    // Use KISS to expand the per-lane seed to fill mix
    uint32_t fnv_hash = 0x811c9dc5;
    kiss99_t st;
    st.z = fnv1a(fnv_hash, seed);
    st.w = fnv1a(fnv_hash, seed >> 32);
    st.jsr = fnv1a(fnv_hash, lane_id);
    st.jcong = fnv1a(fnv_hash, lane_id);
    for (int i = 0; i < PROGPOW_REGS; i++)
            mix[i] = kiss99(st);

Like ethash Keccak is used to seed the sequence per-nonce and to produce the final result. The keccak-f800 variant is used as the 32-bit word size matches the native word size of modern GPUs. The implementation is a variant of SHAKE with width=800, bitrate=576, capacity=224, output=256, and no padding. The result of keccak is treated as a 256-bit big-endian number - that is result byte 0 is the MSB of the value.

hash32_t keccak_f800_progpow(hash32_t header, uint64_t seed, hash32_t digest)
    uint32_t st[25];

    for (int i = 0; i < 25; i++)
        st[i] = 0;
    for (int i = 0; i < 8; i++)
        st[i] = header.uint32s[i];
    st[8] = seed;
    st[9] = seed >> 32;
    for (int i = 0; i < 8; i++)
        st[10+i] = digest.uint32s[i];

    for (int r = 0; r < 22; r++)
        keccak_f800_round(st, r);

    hash32_t ret;
    for (int i=0; i<8; i++)
        ret.uint32s[i] = st[i];
    return ret;

The flow of the overall algorithm is:

  • A keccak hash of the header + nonce to create a seed
  • Use the seed to generate initial mix data
  • Loop multiple times, each time hashing random loads and random math into the mix data
  • Hash all the mix data into a single 256-bit value
  • A final keccak hash that is compared against the target
bool progpow_search(
    const uint64_t prog_seed, // value is (block_number/PROGPOW_PERIOD)
    const uint64_t nonce,
    const hash32_t header,
    const hash32_t target, // miner can use a uint64_t target, doesn't need the full 256 bit target
    const uint32_t *dag // gigabyte DAG located in framebuffer - the first portion gets cached
    uint32_t mix[PROGPOW_LANES][PROGPOW_REGS];
    hash32_t digest;
    for (int i = 0; i < 8; i++)
        digest.uint32s[i] = 0;

    // keccak(header..nonce)
    hash32_t seed_256 = keccak_f800_progpow(header, nonce, digest);
    // endian swap so byte 0 of the hash is the MSB of the value
    uint64_t seed = bswap(seed_256[0]) << 32 | bswap(seed_256[1]);

    // initialize mix for all lanes
    for (int l = 0; l < PROGPOW_LANES; l++)
        fill_mix(seed, l, mix[l]);

    // execute the randomly generated inner loop
    for (int i = 0; i < PROGPOW_CNT_DAG; i++)
        progPowLoop(prog_seed, i, mix, dag);

    // Reduce mix data to a per-lane 32-bit digest
    uint32_t digest_lane[PROGPOW_LANES];
    for (int l = 0; l < PROGPOW_LANES; l++)
        digest_lane[l] = 0x811c9dc5
        for (int i = 0; i < PROGPOW_REGS; i++)
            fnv1a(digest_lane[l], mix[l][i]);
    // Reduce all lanes to a single 256-bit digest
    for (int i = 0; i < 8; i++)
        digest.uint32s[i] = 0x811c9dc5;
    for (int l = 0; l < PROGPOW_LANES; l++)
        fnv1a(digest.uint32s[l%8], digest_lane[l])

    // keccak(header .. keccak(header..nonce) .. digest);
    return (keccak_f800_progpow(header, seed, digest) <= target);

The inner loop uses FNV and KISS99 to generate a random sequence from the prog_seed. This random sequence determines which mix state is accessed and what random math is performed. Since the prog_seed changes relatively infrequently it is expected that progPowLoop will be compiled while mining instead of interpreted on the fly.

kiss99_t progPowInit(uint64_t prog_seed, int mix_seq_dst[PROGPOW_REGS], int mix_seq_cache[PROGPOW_REGS])
    kiss99_t prog_rnd;
    uint32_t fnv_hash = 0x811c9dc5;
    prog_rnd.z = fnv1a(fnv_hash, prog_seed);
    prog_rnd.w = fnv1a(fnv_hash, prog_seed >> 32);
    prog_rnd.jsr = fnv1a(fnv_hash, prog_seed);
    prog_rnd.jcong = fnv1a(fnv_hash, prog_seed >> 32);
    // Create a random sequence of mix destinations for merge() and mix sources for cache reads
    // guarantees every destination merged once
    // guarantees no duplicate cache reads, which could be optimized away
    // Uses Fisher-Yates shuffle
    for (int i = 0; i < PROGPOW_REGS; i++)
        mix_seq_dst[i] = i;
        mix_seq_cache[i] = i;
    for (int i = PROGPOW_REGS - 1; i > 0; i--)
        int j;
        j = kiss99(prog_rnd) % (i + 1);
        swap(mix_seq_dst[i], mix_seq_dst[j]);
        j = kiss99(prog_rnd) % (i + 1);
        swap(mix_seq_cache[i], mix_seq_cache[j]);
    return prog_rnd;

The math operations that merge values into the mix data are ones chosen to maintain entropy.

// Merge new data from b into the value in a
// Assuming A has high entropy only do ops that retain entropy
// even if B is low entropy
// (IE don't do A&B)
void merge(uint32_t &a, uint32_t b, uint32_t r)
    switch (r % 4)
    case 0: a = (a * 33) + b; break;
    case 1: a = (a ^ b) * 33; break;
    // prevent rotate by 0 which is a NOP
    case 2: a = ROTL32(a, ((r >> 16) % 31) + 1) ^ b; break;
    case 3: a = ROTR32(a, ((r >> 16) % 31) + 1) ^ b; break;

The math operations chosen for the random math are ones that are easy to implement in CUDA and OpenCL, the two main programming languages for commodity GPUs.

// Random math between two input values
uint32_t math(uint32_t a, uint32_t b, uint32_t r)
    switch (r % 11)
    case 0: return a + b;
    case 1: return a * b;
    case 2: return mul_hi(a, b);
    case 3: return min(a, b);
    case 4: return ROTL32(a, b);
    case 5: return ROTR32(a, b);
    case 6: return a & b;
    case 7: return a | b;
    case 8: return a ^ b;
    case 9: return clz(a) + clz(b);
    case 10: return popcount(a) + popcount(b);

The main loop:

void progPowLoop(
    const uint64_t prog_seed,
    const uint32_t loop,
    uint32_t mix[PROGPOW_LANES][PROGPOW_REGS],
    const uint32_t *dag)
    // All lanes share a base address for the global load
    // Global offset uses mix[0] to guarantee it depends on the load result
    uint32_t data_g[PROGPOW_LANES][PROGPOW_DAG_LOADS];
    uint32_t offset_g = mix[loop%PROGPOW_LANES][0] % (DAG_BYTES / (PROGPOW_LANES*PROGPOW_DAG_LOADS*sizeof(uint32_t)));
    for (int l = 0; l < PROGPOW_LANES; l++)
        // global load to the 256 byte DAG entry
        // every lane can access every part of the entry
        uint32_t offset_l = offset_g * PROGPOW_LANES + (l ^ loop) % PROGPOW_LANES;
        for (int i = 0; i < PROGPOW_DAG_LOADS; i++)
            data_g[l][i] = dag[offset_l * PROGPOW_DAG_LOADS + i];

    // Initialize the program seed and sequences
    // When mining these are evaluated on the CPU and compiled away
    int mix_seq_dst[PROGPOW_REGS];
    int mix_seq_src[PROGPOW_REGS];
    int mix_seq_dst_cnt = 0;
    int mix_seq_src_cnt = 0;
    kiss99_t prog_rnd = progPowInit(prog_seed, mix_seq_dst, mix_seq_src);

    for (int i = 0; i < max_i; i++)
        if (i < PROGPOW_CNT_CACHE)
            // Cached memory access
            // lanes access random 32-bit locations within the first portion of the DAG
            int src = mix_seq_src[(mix_seq_src_cnt++)%PROGPOW_REGS];
            int dst = mix_seq_dst[(mix_seq_dst_cnt++)%PROGPOW_REGS];
            int sel = kiss99(prog_rnd);
            for (int l = 0; l < PROGPOW_LANES; l++)
                uint32_t offset = mix[l][src] % (PROGPOW_CACHE_BYTES/sizeof(uint32_t));
                merge(mix[l][dst], dag[offset], sel);
        if (i < PROGPOW_CNT_MATH)
            // Random Math
            // Generate 2 unique sources 
            int src_rnd = kiss99(prog_rnd) % (PROGPOW_REGS * (PROGPOW_REGS-1));
            int src1 = src_rnd % PROGPOW_REGS; // 0 <= src1 < PROGPOW_REGS
            int src2 = src_rnd / PROGPOW_REGS; // 0 <= src2 < PROGPOW_REGS - 1
            if (src2 >= src1) ++src2; // src2 is now any reg other than src
            int sel1 = kiss99(prog_rnd);
            int dst  = mix_seq_dst[(mix_seq_dst_cnt++)%PROGPOW_REGS];
            int sel2 = kiss99(prog_rnd);
            for (int l = 0; l < PROGPOW_LANES; l++)
                uint32_t data = math(mix[l][src1], mix[l][src2], sel1);
                merge(mix[l][dst], data, sel2);
    // Consume the global load data at the very end of the loop to allow full latency hiding
    // Always merge into mix[0] to feed the offset calculation
    for (int i = 0; i < PROGPOW_DAG_LOADS; i++)
        int dst = (i==0) ? 0 : mix_seq_dst[(mix_seq_dst_cnt++)%PROGPOW_REGS];
        int sel = kiss99(prog_rnd);
        for (int l = 0; l < PROGPOW_LANES; l++)
            merge(mix[l][dst], data_g[l][i], sel);


ProgPoW utilizes almost all parts of a commodity GPU, excluding:

  • The graphics pipeline (displays, geometry engines, texturing, etc);
  • Floating point math.

Making use of either of these would have significant portability issues between commodity hardware vendors, and across programming languages.

Since the GPU is almost fully utilized, there’s little opportunity for specialized ASICs to gain efficiency. Removing both the graphics pipeline and floating point math could provide up to 1.2x gains in efficiency, compared to the 2x gains possible in Ethash, and 50x gains possible for CryptoNight.

Backwards Compatibility

This algorithm is not backwards compatible with the existing Ethash, and will require a fork for adoption. Furthermore, the network hashrate will halve since twice as much memory is loaded per hash.


Please refer to the official code located at ProgPOW for the full code, implemented in the standard ethminer.

Copyright and related rights waived via CC0.