Deep in the Bitcoin Mine – What Are The Best Bitcoin Mining Rigs– Part 2

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Bitcoin Mining Basics

Welcome back to our exploration into Bitcoin mining!  In the first part of this mini-series, we took a look at what mining is and how it originated.  Remember that the whole point of what we are doing while mining is attempting to find a “golden” hash which means:

  1. It provides a correct output hash from the current block
  2. It is a value below the target number provided by the Bitcoin network. 

What Are The Best Bitcoin Mining Rigs

We’ve gotten past the CPU and GPU miners, and though they are quite capable at calculating hashes, they have been trumped by different technology that is specifically built for such calculations.  Let’s take a closer look at FPGA and ASIC miners and see why these are the miners of choice in the current environment.

What Is A FPGA Miner

An FPGA miner is a field-programmable gate array. 

To keep it simple, this is somewhat like a hybrid between a software-configurable logic structure and a microprocessor.  A specific hardware description language (HDL) is able to convert instructions in software to a novel setup within the processor itself.  This is where the term “field-programmable” comes from – an engineer in the “field” is able to change the architecture of the circuit so that it can be different from how it came from the factory.  The FPGA can be programmed and re-programmed with relative ease to design novel circuits and accomplish tailor-made results. 

            So, you may be asking yourself, “Why does this matter?”  Power consumption for a given computational workload – this is a key metric in actually running a profitable mining operation. 

Why Are FPGA’s Good?

FPGA’s use much less power per computation than GPU’s.  It’s difficult to give exact numbers because workloads vary, but FPGA’s can use anywhere from 3x to 10x less power than a GPU.  Even at only 3x more efficient power consumption, you could, for instance, take a 1,500 W mining machine down to only 500 W, saving approximately $1,000 over the course of a year (using about $0.1319/kWh and mining 24/7).  This is a significant amount of savings, needless to say.  With this in mind, it’s a simple matter to switch to a technology that will perform comparable workloads with significant savings.  I guess that’s that – we’ll stick with FPGA’s! 

What Are ASIC Miners

Not so fast…  There’s a new miner in town (well, at least as of 2013).  The ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) can perform calculations more quickly than FPGA’s in addition to being significantly less power-hungry.  An ASIC is specifically designed to perform a single function – and to perform it incredibly efficiently. 

ASIC’s are used in a host of electronic tech nowadays, including networking routers/switches, digital voice recorders, and, of course, cryptocurrency mining gear.  Because these chips are designed to do one thing, they aren’t quite as versatile as FPGA miners, but if you only plan to mine one cryptocurrency (i.e., Bitcoin in our case), then you’ll find your ROI to be quite higher over the lifespan of a device.  If you plan to mine multiple cryptocurrencies, you might be better off going with an FPGA miner – the choice is yours and is largely based on where you plan to devote your resources – both time and electrical energy consumption.

ASIC Or FPGA For Mining?

“Alright,” you might be saying, “get to the point – which one is better for Bitcoin mining?”  This is a tough call.  I think the age-old answer, “it depends…”, is in order here. 

ASIC’s are definitely more efficient and faster than FPGA’s.  It is very difficult to find direct comparisons on the Internet given the disparity of information and the difference in specific applications, but ASIC’s tend to be about 10x more efficient than FPGA’s (in terms of number of hashes per Watt of electricity required).  This means that you can either reduce your overall power consumption or mine significantly more BTC at a specific power consumption. 

Antminer For Bitcoin Mining

One example of a rig you might consider is the Antminer S9K-13.5 TH/s.  At around 1,150 Watts of energy consumption, you can mine approximately 13.5 terahashes per second (TH/s).  Needless to say, this is a crazy amount of mining potential for a very low price.  FPGA miners tend to be higher priced but are also able to mine many different types of cryptocurrencies.  It’s difficult to find specific FGPA mining rigs because FPGA’s can be placed in a typical computer’s PCIe slots and utilize a commodity operating system (Windows, for example).  A code base is configured, compiled, and pushed to the FPGA. 

After programming, the FPGA is able to start mining – typically in the neighborhood of 500MH/s or so – but again, it varies so much that it’s hard to really get an “A to B” comparison here.  As far as price, many specific rigs are starting in the $650 range and can easily hit $5k – $6k depending on the complexity and brute force available.

Bitcoin Mining Rig Analysis

For this reason, let’s discuss what you need to concern yourself with if you plan to mine with a personal rig and provide links so that you can make an informed decision on how to proceed.

  1. Do a brief economic analysis.  Is there at least a marginal possibility that you will earn money mining?  Remember that between the costs of acquiring mining hardware and paying for electricity to run these beasts, you could spend anywhere from $100’s to $1,000’s.  Make sure this has at least a reasonable probability of earning you money before dumping your savings into a rig.
  2. Buy a miner.  This could be an ASIC miner if you know you will specifically focus on one type of mining (i.e., you only plan to mine Bitcoin).  This could alternatively be an FPGA miner if you plan to try your hand at different cryptocurrencies out there.
  3. Get a Bitcoin wallet and join a mining pool.  Obviously, you need to get paid, so you’ll need a wallet.  You’ll also dramatically increase your chances of earning at least some money if you pool your resources with other miners.
  4. Get some sort of mining software to start mining and get to work.

Resources For Bitcoin Mining Hardware

So there’s a lot going on here, needless to say.  Below are some links to help get you started in the world of cryptocurrency mining:

In the next post, we’ll take a look at other options available to get in on the action.  Until then, happy mining!