How To Mine Ethereum Now

Crypto mining has become a divisive issue. Miners gobble up popular graphics cards by the armful, depleting inventory and driving up prices. Gamers are left to pay exorbitant prices, sometimes as much as double, even for mainstream GPUs. A little animosity between the two camps is therefore understandable.

But even on the pragmatic side, cryptographic mining never made much sense to me. The profit margin is often so short-lived that by the time the average tech enthusiast hears about it, the bubble is ripe to burst. Once a mining algorithm moves to application specific integrated circuits (ASICs), it's impossible to compete otherwise. Even if the crypto currency du jour doesn't go ASIC, the mining pool can get saturated, and anyone without a quad-GPU farm (or better) may as well be trying to get to the moon with a sliderule (wait, we did that . . .).

But does that mean Ethereum mining is unprofitable for newcomers? Can you start mining at minimal expense? How about with no start-up costs at all?

The Idea

The recent drop in Ethereum's monetary value combined with the vastly increased mining difficulty has severely decreased the profit margin. It's certainly past the point where anyone buying a new, dedicated mining rig will see a good return on investment (ROI). Even if you spent a relatively meager $1200 on a new setup, you'd need to net at least $100 a month for a year to just break even. Ethereum's volatile nature and pending shift to a proof-of-stake model makes it unpredictable. Only the most desperate or foolhardy would buy new mining equipment at this point expecting to make a profit. So let's look for another attack vector.

The key to faster returns is minimizing initial costs. Unless you can get someone to pay you to take GPUs off their hands, the best you can hope for is free. Much as we may wish it, merchants don't give their merchandise away, and not everyone can expect to win raffles and prizes. But old components sitting on a shelf don't cost anything. With a little luck (and apologies to Dire Straits), you can go mining for nothing, bits for free.

Gamers and computer enthusiasts upgrade their systems more than just about anyone. Motherboards, CPUs, and graphics cards sitting around after an upgrade are the perfect starting points for a hobbyist mining machine. You've already paid for these components and extracted value out of them. What's more, you know their history and how well they've been cared for, which isn't necessarily the case when buying discount used parts on eBay. With sufficient leftovers, you should be able to cobble together a competent mining machine, even if it's not terribly impressive.

The GPU is still the biggest factor in determining mining performance and which card you have matters greatly. AMD cards are still king in total mining performance, just as they were in Bitcoin's early days. Nvidia microarchitecture (through Maxwell) wasn't focused on general purpose computing like AMD's Graphics Core Next. Actual hash rates will vary between different mining software, operating systems, and drivers, but even a GTX 980 Ti can't keep up with, say, an older mid-range AMD card. Nvidia has made changes in Pascal that make 10-series cards quite capable miners. Then again, if you're using a recent generation Nvidia card for mining, you're more likely mining on the side with your current machine rather than making a dedicated mining system out of spare parts.

Mining Ethereum at this point requires a 3GB GPU because of the size of the DAG file. DAG stands for Directed Acyclic Graph and is essentially a database of the existing blockchain. In order to mine the next block, your hardware needs to be aware of all the existing blocks. As of this writing, the DAG is just over 2GB, and it only gets bigger with each new step, which happens at least once a week. The vast majority of miners load the entire DAG into VRAM. Without sufficient capacity, the GPU can't even begin mining operations.

MORE: The Ethereum Effect: Graphics Card Price Watch

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36 comments
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  • rush21hit
    Us mere mortals wouldn't have an R9 290X level of card lying idle. Heck, suppose we do have unused GPU it would be something from 2 gen before it and a mainstream oran entry level card of its time at that, at the very least.

    That said, I do have HD7750 and HD6670 on a closet somewhere, only its from HIS with a common HIS problems; the fan.

    So suppose anyone does have some mainstream or high level card at least the level of HD5850, as an example, they'd still faced with power bill issue, which in some case outweigh the profit. As we all know how much of a sucker old gens are compared to what we have now. That is assuming they are somehow emotionally attached to it and not decided to sell it, even after buying later gen.

    This article still has a point. But a very unlikely one.
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  • Neuspeed
    This article didn't address the mining difficulty of Ethereum. At this point, is not a good idea to mine ethereum unless people have hash rates in the GH/s or at least MH/s. It's better to mine other alt coins such as: XMR, LTC, and many others. Overstock.com will now accept 40+ different Altcoins as form of payment. Won't be long before other companies do as well.
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  • why_wolf
    As with every gold rush. The real profit lies in selling shovels.
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  • RedJaron
    Anonymous said:
    Us mere mortals wouldn't have an R9 290X level of card lying idle. Heck, suppose we do have unused GPU it would be something from 2 gen before it and a mainstream oran entry level card of its time at that, at the very least.
    I think you read this wrong. I didn't write this saying "These are the exact steps and parts list you need." It's simply saying, "Here's a basic idea you can possibly adapt to your own circumstances." No, not everyone has a 290X in storage. But a lot of people do. My current "leftover" GPU is an R9 280. That's plenty strong for some hobbyist mining.

    Anonymous said:
    So suppose anyone does have some mainstream or high level card at least the level of HD5850, as an example, they'd still faced with power bill issue, which in some case outweigh the profit.
    All of which I cover fairly extensively in the last page, or did you not bother reading the whole thing?

    Anonymous said:
    As we all know how much of a sucker old gens are compared to what we have now. That is assuming they are somehow emotionally attached to it and not decided to sell it, even after buying later gen.
    You're attributing much too broad a brush to people. There are plenty of reasons to keep around leftover computer parts, other than sentimentality. You might want a backup incase your new hardware gets damages, is a lemon, etc. You might hang on to some stuff because you've got friends or family that might want it when they finally decide to ditch their current dinosaurs.

    Anonymous said:
    This article still has a point. But a very unlikely one.
    Never said it didn't have a few restrictions, was only saying it is possible.


    Anonymous said:
    This article didn't address the mining difficulty of Ethereum.
    Actually, I did talk quite a bit about the rising hash difficulty. Did you not read the last page? Did you not see on the front page where I talked about the ballooning DAG files making it harder to use older mainstream GPUs ( since most of them are 2GB VRAM or less )?

    Anonymous said:
    At this point, is not a good idea to mine ethereum unless people have hash rates in the GH/s or at least MH/s.
    You don't need a GH/s rig to do it, as I've already demonstrated. It may not be hugely profitable, but you can make a little at it even using something as lowly as a 4GB 1050 Ti.


    Anonymous said:
    As with every gold rush. The real profit lies in selling shovels.
    Too true. Just ask Sylvester McMonkey McBean.
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  • g-unit1111
    Anonymous said:
    As with every gold rush. The real profit lies in selling shovels.


    Yup those that got rich are the ones selling the mining equipment! :lol:
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  • 10tacle
    As much as I despise miners and the very idea of cryptocurrency, I found this article interesting and a little enlightening why people are getting into it late in the game. Even if ETH crashes and burns tomorrow, eventually there will be another to take its place. I don't see this cycle changing anytime soon either unless governments get involved and start banning mining in their nations.
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  • 10tacle
    Oh and one more thing: not all is bad for we PC gamers. Those of us who have previous generation GPUs have enjoyed watching the values of said cards go up. A friend of mine sold his 8GB RX 470 for $320 on eBay last month, or nearly $100 more than he paid for it. I sold my SLI pair of GTX 970s for $420 or about $120 more than they were worth combined a few months ago. We both upgraded to a GTX 1080Ti with the spoils.
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  • derekullo
    What about integrated graphics cards?

    From what I'm reading the Intel HD Graphics 630 can address up to 64 gigabytes of ram allowing you technically keep mining even after the Geforce 1070 is forced out when the DAG finally exceeds 8 gigabytes.

    Or is there hash rate efficiency not high enough to offset the electricity used for the Intel HD Graphics 630?

    My reason for asking is I have a lot of computers not being used but without graphics cards.
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  • Math Geek
    thanks for the article. i'll be pointing the 100 users a day in the forum asking about getting into mining toward this article. good basic info that can be easily adapted to individual users.
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  • LalitMUFC
    Very nice article. Can you provide guide for part-time mining on my gaming rig?
    1
  • RedJaron
    Anonymous said:
    What about integrated graphics cards?

    From what I'm reading the Intel HD Graphics 630 can address up to 64 gigabytes of ram allowing you technically keep mining even after the Geforce 1070 is forced out when the DAG finally exceeds 8 gigabytes.

    Or is there hash rate efficiency not high enough to offset the electricity used for the Intel HD Graphics 630?

    My reason for asking is I have a lot of computers not being used but without graphics cards.
    An interesting notion, but my gut says overall performance will be poor for two reasons. First, memory bandwidth. Even premium dual-channel boards top out around 30 GB/s, yet the lowly 1050 Ti can do better than 100 GB/s. Second, even if you had the bandwidth, low shader count wouldn't let you work with it fast enough. Also, you 'd need iGPUs with OpenCL support, which I believe requires Haswell and later ( I know my Sandy Bridge HD 3000 doesn't do OpenCL ). If you had a bunch of AMD APUs, that's a different story, of course.

    It would be very power inefficient since you're multiplying the power requirement overhead to run the rest of the system. But I love experiments. Try running it and see how it does. Linux will report all OpenCL compatible devices ( can't remember the exact command line for it right now ) so if you explicitly call Claymore and tell it to work with a given device, it should try.


    Anonymous said:
    Very nice article. Can you provide guide for part-time mining on my gaming rig?
    I assume your gaming rig is Windows based? If so, Claymore runs on Windows as well. Setup is basically the same, and you've already go the drivers. Just grab Claymore and execute it from the command prompt.
    1
  • Ncogneto
    Great Read!

    I myself was very curious about this type of thing and hope to see more articles of it's kind (to me more Hardware related than the numerous game reviews). One thing you did not mention however, is you could theoretically mine at break even, and if the Eth value explodes, discover your profit at that juncture. I guess that would make you more a speculator than a miner though?

    One thing, what you have done to my favorite case of all time is blasphemy! :)
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  • Math Geek
    Anonymous said:

    One thing, what you have done to my favorite case of all time is blasphemy! :)


    i love this case as well. have one on my desk and love all the room and everything else about it. never had one i liked more, maybe my old Antec 900 would be a close second but not too close :)
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  • RedJaron
    Anonymous said:
    One thing you did not mention however, is you could theoretically mine at break even, and if the Eth value explodes, discover your profit at that juncture. I guess that would make you more a speculator than a miner though?
    Too many possibilities for me to list them all. It's also possible to make a lot of Ether, sit on them too long, and then have the price implode and be left with very little.

    Anonymous said:
    One thing, what you have done to my favorite case of all time is blasphemy! :)
    It's a test bed. The loop isn't supposed to look nice and be tidy. It's supposed to let me get mboards and CPUs in and out easily.
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  • AnimeMania
    Stupid question: The calculations done by the GPUs, do they serve any purpose, or were they just created to be difficult to do. Could the mining crazes be tied to humanitarian causes like distributed computing projects (folding@home, etc.) so that this benefits society in some way, not just a waste of energy.
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  • CaptainTom
    To answer a few people's questions: Yes mining has a very real purpose.

    Mining runs the transaction and ledger network these coins run on. Thus miners are being paid to help run a financial network with their spare processing power. Anyone watch the show "Silicon Valley"? This is the future of computing - Mass Decentralized networks.
    1
  • Crashman
    Anonymous said:
    Stupid question: The calculations done by the GPUs, do they serve any purpose, or were they just created to be difficult to do. Could the mining crazes be tied to humanitarian causes like distributed computing projects (folding@home, etc.) so that this benefits society in some way, not just a waste of energy.
    A couple years ago I swapped out my space heater for a mining rig, so I was going to be "wasting" that energy anyway :)
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  • benedict78
    It's all good if you have a decent old GPU lying around. All I have is a 6850 with 1GB VRAM. Is there anything I could efficiently mine with it?
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  • BulkZerker
    Quote:
    As much as I despise miners and the very idea of cryptocurrency, I found this article interesting and a little enlightening why people are getting into it late in the game. Even if ETH crashes and burns tomorrow, eventually there will be another to take its place. I don't see this cycle changing anytime soon either unless governments get involved and start banning mining in their nations.


    Good luck in enforcing a mining ban. How are they going to differentiate between someone mining vs doing folding or running various other tasks that loads a computer? Especially when so many run a VPN.
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  • vmarinx
    I really liked this article, wish you guys posted it before :)
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