If you’re a Bitcoin (BTC) mining veteran, sulking over how zillion-dollar, ASIC-based data centers have stolen the spotlight, you’re probably already well into alternative coins. But maybe you’ve scored a cool-new GPU in the Newegg lottery or just happen to have one lying around. Or maybe you’re curious about whether all those hard drives you’ve got in your closet can earn you some cash via Chia. If you’re new to cryptocurrency mining, the good news is that the game isn’t completely over.
We’ll cover how you can get started mining (and in the case of Chia, farming) using hardware you may already have, or in theory can buy at retail, and provide our recent real-life experiences earning some hard cash from GPUs, CPUs, and drives. Note that this is definitely not a guide for devotees who are planning to build custom rigs for mining. It’s for those who are looking to see if they can generate some cash without too much effort, or are just curious about mining, using gear they might already own or can get off-the-shelf.
Bitcoin Mining Is History
Bitcoin mining is dominated by inconceivably huge mining facilities. The largest has over $300,000,000 worth of ASIC-powered computers. So I don’t see any way for mere mortals to participate, although if any of our readers are still making it work for them let us know in the comments. Perhaps fortunately, the “Bitcoin bubble” quickly expanded past BTC.
In particular, there are two coins I find of interest because they have broad support and can be mined with consumer hardware. Ethereum has an algorithm designed to prevent an ASIC from taking over, with the result that GPUs can dominate its production. In a different vein, the newly-released Chia coins rely on what they call plotting and farming, which are dominated by storage requirements. There are plenty of other coins that you can still mine, that on any given day might be a little more or a little less profitable, but these two are a good place to start.
Mining Ethereum (ETH) Using Desktop GPUs
Assuming you have or can find a decent discrete GPU — or ideally, more than one — it’s incredibly easy to get started mining Ethereum. When I first wrote about mining BTC years ago, you needed to have a full node on the network, your own wallet, and probably establish yourself with a mining pool. Now, if you have an account at a cryptocurrency exchange that accepts ETH, like Coinbase, you can just use your wallet address from that account with mining pool software.
Unless you have a large number of GPUs to put to work, you’ll probably still want to join a mining pool. They’ll take a fee, but often that is only 1 percent. In exchange, you get a share of the proceeds from a large number of miners, rather than relying on your own probably meager chance of mining an entire coin on your own.
For my experiment, I joined Nanopool. Well, really there isn’t really any joining, per se. If you use its open-source Nanominer software, you simply give it your wallet address and launch it. There are versions for Windows and Linux, and it supports both AMD and Nvidia GPUs. I found that the CUDA version in particular enabled my RTX 3090 to produce hash rates of around 110Mh/s at full power and 100Mh/s after I throttled it back to keep the memory a little cooler.
My AMD GPUs weren’t competitive until I installed AMD’s custom crypto driver. However, if I was also using the same AMD GPU for gaming or applications, it’d be quite a hassle to switch drivers all the time. As another experiment, I tried mining on my laptop Quadro T2000 GPU. It never managed to get above 3Mh/s, so that was a not-unexpected dead end.