In a time of global crisis, a pandemic, and a generally unstable political and social environment, cryptocurrencies have shown remarkable stability. Moreover, the pandemic-induced economic downturn played into the hands of the industry by not only attracting professional cryptocurrency traders but also reviving mining as a way of generating passive income.
It is not surprising that countries experiencing difficult political and economic situations have witnessed a boom in the purchase of GPU cards in recent months. In the region of Abkhazia, where all crypto activities have been illegal since 2018, citizens spent more than $500,000 on mining equipment over a period of six months.
Another factor that has worked to further popularize mining is strong crypto prices. Bitcoin (BTC) has risen by almost a third, while Ether (ETH), the most popular currency for mining, has added $150 to its price and the decentralized frenzy has meant that gas fees have reached unprecedented levels.
So, here’s how to design a cryptocurrency rig — and an exploration of whether it needs to be done at all, given all the associated risks.
Mining rig components
A cryptocurrency mining rig consists of a computer that has many graphics cards but no monitor. Computer cases are filled with GPU cards, a power-generating unit, a motherboard and a cooling system. If a monitor is connected, it can become a regular computer where a user can open a browser or play their favorite video game.
The rig is connected to the internet, and thus, the blockchain network. The network operates by itself to conduct monetary transactions using the power of the graphics cards. To be more specific, a mining rig consists of:
- An ordinary motherboard, which has the capability of linking to a number of connectors for GPU cards.
- A hard disk drive, or HDD, with 100 to 250 gigabytes of memory to house the cryptocurrency wallet, with an Ether wallet usually taking up 25 GB and a BTC wallet requiring 50 GB or more.
- Several GPU cards, which are the most important components in a rig because they are the base that defines the cryptocurrency that a user will mine, along with their future profit and its timeline.
- A power-generating unit. A rig with four GPUs often requires more than one power unit. Usually, miners have a few 750-watt units connected together.
- A power adapter for GPU cards. Video cards are connected to the motherboard using special extension cards called “risers.” There are many different types and models of risers, but the PCI-E 1x version 006 is the most popular.
- A power switch.
- A cooling system, and it’s preferable to have several coolers to provide additional airflow.
Another important detail is the frame for the rig. It is better to make a frame out of wood or aluminum. The size of the mining rig will be slightly larger than its frame due to protruding parts, adapters and a cooling system. For example, a seven-GPU rig will be approximately 21 inches wide (53 centimeters), 12 inches deep (30 centimeters) and 12 inches high (30 centimeters).
After purchasing all the components of the rig, it’s time to design it, which is a rather easy task for a person who has experience with computer hardware. Additionally, there are plenty of guides on YouTube.
When a rig is ready, all that needs to be done is to install some software — i.e., to choose a program for mining the currency of preference. Another way is to find a mining pool, which is a popular way to mine, as it’s becoming harder to do so individually due to the rising complexity of crypto mining. There are also some tools available such as TeamViewer, for remote control, and WatchDog, which automatically restarts the system if the program freezes.
Top GPU cards
As a rule, one rig should include four to seven video cards — it’s a number that will not go beyond the framework of a stable operation, although there are exceptions. Miners can connect 10 to 15 GPU cards to one motherboard, but seven is the optimal number because Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system can detect only this number of cards. But there is a solution: specialized mining software based on the Linux kernel. In that case, the key is to choose the right motherboard, such as an ASRock Pro BTC+ series or similar.
Determining which GPU cards are best for mining is not so straightforward, as the answer depends only on the amount of money that the miner has. In general, it makes little sense to buy the most expensive, powerful GPUs for the price of two to three slightly weaker ones, as there is a greater chance the cheaper ones will bring more benefits due to their low power consumption and initial cost.
The highest income in mining is currently achieved with Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti and AMD Radeon VII cards, but it is more profitable to build a mining farm with AMD Radeon RX 580 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Super cards, as they will pay off much faster.
It should also be kept in mind that AMD RX series GPU cards can be flashed by changing the working time of the RAM, downvolting the core and overclocking. Programs such as MSI Afterburner and Sapphire TriXX can assist in making these manipulations, which will help GPU cards achieve maximum performance during the mining process.
Electricity in question
In over 10 years, the mining industry has turned from something incomprehensible and rather cheap to a professional, high-tech venture that implies high barriers of entry, not only for the equipment but also for its maintenance.
After purchasing mining equipment, paying the cost of electricity during its operation becomes the main expense that directly affects profitability. The energy consumption of one mining rig consists of the following components:
- GPU cards, depending on the power and mining algorithm, consume between 360 watts and 1500 watts for a rig of six to seven cards.
- The motherboard, power unit, HDD and RAM consume up to 100 watts.
- The cooling system uses from 20 watts to several kilowatts when using air conditioning systems.
So, how can a miner reduce the cost of electricity? The main consumers of electricity are the GPU cards, and with the right settings, electricity consumption during mining can be reduced significantly. For example, when mining Ether, the main thing is to overclock the video memory. The most optimal operating mode for GPU cards is setting the core voltage to about 830 to 850 millivolts for AMD cards and 650 to 850 millivolts for Nvidia cards. Lowering the voltage on the core of the card, in addition to reducing power consumption, decreases the amount of heat, which has a beneficial effect on the equipment.
Power-generating units can also use less power if they have a “gold” certificate, which means they save a large amount of electricity (about 15%) compared with power units that lack them. Another way is to change HDDs to solid-state drives, which will increase the speed of loading the operating system and reduce the power consumption of each rig by five to 15 watts. Furthermore, modern RAM (DDR4 or DDR3L instead of DDR3) and processors can reduce consumption by another 10 to 20 watts.
A miner can also reduce consumption through slightly more complicated ways too, such as finding more economical electricity tariffs — for example, installing the rigs where there are reduced tariffs for consumers with electric stoves or electric heating and lower night-time prices. If possible, miners can even reach out to a power plant that generates electricity to find out if it has surplus capacity. Some miners can create their own solar or wind farms and use them for mining, but not everyone can afford such an investment.
Mining in the cloud
Keeping in mind the unstable situation in the economy, some may want to join the crypto mining community but cannot due to the high initial costs associated. Here’s where “hosted mining” can come into play, whereby cryptocurrencies are mined through a remote connection to equipment that has been rented out. Philip Salter, head of operations at Genesis Mining — a hosted mining provider — told Cointelegraph:
“Since mining is becoming more competitive, margins are shrinking and it’s harder for home miners to compete. Miners need to get every drop of efficiency they can, and that means growing the operation (economies of scale) and doing it somewhere where electricity is insanely cheap. [...] Mining in the cloud seems like the only viable option for many.”
Hosted mining starts with a user choosing a provider of computational capacity. Then they enter into agreements with the company to connect to its equipment. After paying for computer capacity, miners are provided with access to remote mining of cryptocurrencies through rented equipment. So, users only need a computer and a fast internet connection to operate. Hosted mining commissions are charged in accordance with the agreements established between the parties.
This type of mining has a number of advantages, such as not requiring start-up capital, not needing to connect equipment by yourself, no costs of maintenance and electricity, the ability to disconnect from work at any time, and not needing special technical knowledge and skills.
There are also risks in cloud mining, primarily because, like any young industry, many rogue actors seek to take over the funds of ignorant users. So, when choosing a platform, users should spend time and carefully study its history and reviews.
Also, hosted mining brings in lower income compared with mining using one’s own equipment. Nevertheless, this is a possible option for those who really want to get involved in mining because, in any case, no one will give up an opportunity for passive income, even if it’s not too significant.
Build it on your own
In summary, it can be said that today, mining seems to be an attractive way to make some income. If for some reason hosted mining is inconvenient, then setting up a personal rig is not too difficult. This will require an initial investment and a little time to figure out how the system operates.
Randy Ready, CEO and chief technology officer of Mining Rig Rentals — a hardware mining rental platform — believes that building your own system certainly is more interesting, adding: “I suggest going with a small rig and potentially going larger once you are familiar with mining and have a stable profit.”
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