Although it may sound unlikely to mine bitcoin on a NES gaming system, it is certainly possible to do so. What started out as an offhanded challenge quickly turned into an intriguing project for the person who developed RetroMiner. Not everyone may see the benefit of this project, though, as it is unlikely the NES is even capable of mining bitcoin at any more than laughable speeds.
Most people do not understand the concept of bitcoin mining. Since it takes dedicated expensive hardware to perform this process efficiently these days, mining bitcoin makes little sense. Showcasing how this process works on a device most people are comfortable with, however, may sway a few people’s minds in the process. Then again, it is unlikely anyone will try to mimic mining bitcoin on a 1985 NES, though.
To put this into perspective, mining bitcoin on an 8-bit game console involves a lot more work than one would assume. Bitcoin mining is a very resource-intensive process and the 1985 NES is not a top-notch machine by any means. For its time, it was revolutionary in every way possible, but things have evolved a lot over the past 32 years. Then again, it is nifty to see someone actively mine bitcoin on such a device, albeit it may not generate any coins in the process.
The NES is not equipped to communicate with the live bitcoin network, or performing SHA-256 hashing. Communication with the bitcoin network proved to be pretty easy to implement once a custom bitcoind version was compiled. Keep in mind this involves using a Raspberry Pi as a proprietary device, though. More detailed instructions on the software involved can be found on the Retrominer website
SHA-256 hashing requires multiple 32-bit operations to take place. The NES, however, can only perform 8-bit tasks, which seemingly makes it incompatible. However, it was possible to create an open implementation of SHA256 that works just fine with 8-bit hardware. The custom ROM including the SHA256 algorithm is sent to the NES through the Raspberry Pi, though. However, in the end, the 8-bit game console is more than capable of doing its job, albeit no one should expect any miracles.
Interestingly enough, the person responsible for the Retrominer project feels there is still a lot of room for future improvements. At the same time, none of these improvements will turn 32-year-old hardware into a money making machine by any means. Eventually, the goal is to move more parts of the mining process to the NES, rather than passing through a Raspberry Pi first. All things considered, this is quite an amazing project, that goes to show old game consoles can be repurposed for other tasks with a bit of tinkering.