A couple of years ago bitcoin mining was usually handled by consumer grade hardware, namely AMD GPUs. However, as the hash difficulty increased GPUs were rendered obsolete and field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) took their place. ASICs are the only viable way to mine bitcoins right now. Trying it on a GPU will just land you with a huge electric bill and nothing to show for it.
However, mining certain kinds of altcoins such as litecoin on GPUs still makes sense. Radeons are still the best way to mine Scrypt-based currencies like litecoins and Scrypt is much harder to master with ASICs. Right now there are no Scrypt ASICs on the market, but British outfit Alpha Technologies claims it will have the first units ready in a couple of months. Even AMD mentioned altcoin mining in its latest Kaveri APU presentation.
TSMC produces AMD GPUs, some of which are in high demand due to the litecoin mining craze. Tahiti products are the most popular GPU for litecoin mining, as they offer the best performance/value ratio. In addition to Tahiti, TSMC is building some ASICs, too, along with Globalfoundries.
Other hardware outfits are trying to get in on the act, offering mining motherboards capable of accommodating more discrete graphics cards. IC designers like Global Unichip and Alchip Technologies are also entering the market, Commercial Times Taipei reports.
It is still unclear how much TSMC and AMD stand to gain, but Wedbush estimates around $200 million was spent on mining hardware this year. However, much of the money went towards the bitcoin network, which is powered by ASICs rather than AMD GPUs.