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Don't Start Crypto Mining Now: 500+ Days Just to Break Even

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These days it seems like cryptocurrency is constantly in the news with some investors and miners taking home huge profits. If you’re not already involved, it may seem like getting into cryptocurrency mining — the process of minting a new coin by having your computer solve complex equations — could earn you some money. However, if you look carefully at the cost of building and maintaining your own mining rig, as we have below, you’ll find that it currently takes between 500 and 900 days just to break even. And that’s assuming your equipment doesn’t break and that current prices don’t sink much lower.

The latest downward trend in crypto prices, along with the uncertainty surrounding the key currencies, is bad news for new miners. However, given that miners have been snatching up GPUs and driving up GPU prices, it could be good news for gamers who want to buy the best graphics cards at anywhere close to MSRP.

One of the biggest factors in mining profitability is the amount of energy consumed. Looking just at Ethereum, since that's by far the largest cryptocurrency that's mined via GPUs, current estimates peg the Ethereum network's power use at 111 TWh per year and 261 kWh per transaction. That means if someone wants to buy lunch at a place that accepts Ethereum and sends $15, around the globe there will be about $26 worth of electricity (at a rate of $0.10 per kWh) burned up "securing the blockchain" for that (and other) transactions.

Ethereum 2.0 looks to address this major concern by switching to a proof of stake model, which would eliminate most of the power drain. That's slated to occur some time in the first half of 2022, though do note that it has already been pushed back two years and could end up being delayed once again. Now factor in the still-inflated GPU prices and you have a trifecta of great reasons to not think about starting mining or expanding an existing mining farm.

But let's say someone wants to throw caution to the wind. Just how bad an investment would it be to purchase PC hardware for cryptocurrency mining right now? Let's run some numbers, but start with a look at the current profitability of the last two generations of GPUs. We'll sort these according to the time required to break even, using current eBay GPU prices. We've factored in the cost of the rest of the PC as well as electricity costs, which gives the following:

GPU (Six for Miner Rig)Miner Cost (Jan 2022 eBay GPU Price)Total HashratePower UseDaily ProfitDays to Break Even
Radeon RX 5700 XT (opens in new tab)$5,618 323889$10.78 521
Radeon RX 5600 XT (opens in new tab)$4,016 238822$7.55 532
Radeon RX 5700 (opens in new tab)$5,522 314942$10.30 536
GeForce RTX 2060 Super (opens in new tab)$4,598 262916$8.32 553
GeForce RTX 2070 (opens in new tab)$4,616 263922$8.32 555
Radeon RX 5500 XT 8GB (opens in new tab)$2,948 158596$4.99 591
GeForce RTX 2070 Super (opens in new tab)$4,982 263909$8.38 595
GeForce GTX 1660 Ti (opens in new tab)$3,512 178542$5.89 596
GeForce RTX 2080 (opens in new tab)$5,264 263849$8.50 619
Radeon RX 6800 (opens in new tab)$7,878 3871162$12.68 622
GeForce RTX 2060 (opens in new tab)$3,866 198756$6.17 626
Radeon RX 6700 XT (opens in new tab)$5,840 283856$9.28 629
GeForce GTX 1660 Super (opens in new tab)$3,746 181556$5.95 630
GeForce GTX 1660 (opens in new tab)$3,164 152522$4.87 649
GeForce RTX 2080 Super (opens in new tab)$5,702 263882$8.44 676
GeForce RTX 2080 Ti (opens in new tab)$7,740 3611256$11.41 679
Radeon RX 6600 XT (opens in new tab)$4,418 194556$6.43 687
Radeon RX 6600 (opens in new tab)$3,854 171556$5.59 689
Radeon RX 6800 XT (opens in new tab)$8,592 3881296$12.36 695
GeForce RTX 3060 Ti (opens in new tab)$5,822 254816$8.27 704
GeForce RTX 3090 (opens in new tab)$16,632 6901956$22.74 731
GeForce RTX 3060 (opens in new tab)$4,700 204789$6.35 740
GeForce RTX 3070 (opens in new tab)$6,728 257856$8.26 814
Radeon RX 6900 XT (opens in new tab)$10,146 3881276$12.43 817
GeForce RTX 3080 Ti (opens in new tab)$12,222 4621522$14.80 826
GeForce RTX 3080 (opens in new tab)$10,188 3951489$12.23 833
GeForce RTX 3070 Ti (opens in new tab)$8,052 3061089$9.62 837
GeForce RTX 3050 (opens in new tab)$3,992 138556$4.27 935

One thing to note is that we're using LHR hash rates for the RTX 30-series GPUs, as Nvidia isn't allowing the production and sale of new non-LHR cards. Only the RTX 3090 remains fully unlocked for GPU mining. Also of note, more recent drivers and firmware seem to have rolled back some of the gains made by NBminer in overriding the LHR limiter, so that RTX 3080 Ti as an example only ends up running at 63 MH/s. We're giving miners the benefit of the doubt by not using the half-speed figures on the LHR cards, but Nvidia hasn't given up on limiting Ethereum mining performance. 

If Ethereum goes through with the proof of stake change, miners could be looking at 780–825 days to break even.

The best-case scenario for breaking even right now is around 520–550 days. That could be accomplished with the Radeon RX 5700 XT or 5700, Radeon RX 5600 XT, GeForce RTX 2060 Super, or the RTX 2070, using current prices. This of course assumes static profitability and the continued mining of Ethereum, neither of which are likely. For nearly all GPUs, Ethereum remains the most profitable option, with the next best choice typically averaging 33% less income. What that means is that in the coming months, if Ethereum goes through with the proof of stake change, miners could be looking at closer to 780–825 days just to break even, assuming all of the hardware remains fully functional.

That's at the "good" end of the spectrum as well. If you wanted to blow nearly 17 grand on an RTX 3090 setup, the current rate of around $4 per day per GPU means it would take 731 days to break even mining Ethereum. Without Ethereum, you're basically looking at three years of continuous mining to recover the cost of the hardware purchases.

And that's just for the cost of the mining rig, which of course doesn't exist in a vacuum. You also need space, infrastructure, internet, and cooling to keep everything running, especially in the warmer summer months. You also need someone to put everything together, maintain the hardware, and troubleshoot any problems. Those costs could easily double the expense, meaning double the amount of time to break even.

Just for clarity, here's the sample mining rig we're using for the above calculations, which uses six GPUs per PC. We have a motherboard that supports six PCIe slots (two x16 and four x1 slots), six riser cables, storage, memory, a modest CPU, and a good power supply. 

That's $758 as a baseline, not including the graphics cards and whatever extras might be needed to put it all together. Realistically, the cheapest approach is probably a bunch of zip ties to secure everything in place. We'll leave that as an exercise for the potential miner, because the whole point is that this really isn't going to be a great money making proposition.

With the above setup, after tuning for optimal efficiency, you could run six budget to mainstream GPUs (<150W power each), or if you want to chase higher hash rates, adding a second PSU would allow for up to six extreme GPUs like the RTX 3090 or RX 6900 XT and increase the cost by $220.

Mining on a Laptop?

As bad as that all sounds, there are even worse ways to try to mine cryptocurrencies. At the height of the crypto bubble last year, we reported on some places setting up mining farms using laptops. It was a stupid and short-sighted idea then, and it's an even worse idea now. The RTX 3080 mobile as an example is basically equivalent to a desktop RTX 3070, meaning best-case (i.e., without an LHR limiter) it could do perhaps 60 MH/s on Ethereum. With the limiter, it would be closer to 40 MH/s or less.

The problems with mining on a laptop are numerous. You have to pay for the entire system, and you only get a single GPU miner in the process. The cheapest RTX 3080 laptops typically cost more than $2,000 — twice as much as you'd pay for a similar performing desktop card. Even worse, cooling on a laptop most certainly isn't designed to run 24/7 at maxed-out loads. Even if we take the higher hash rate, you'd be looking at roughly 1,000 days to break even at current rates. Use the lower 40 MH/s value and that climbs to about 1,500 days. Then take away Ethereum mining and we'd be looking at perhaps 2,200 days to break even.

Raise your hand if you actually think a gaming laptop will run at 100% GPU load 24/7 for six years straight. Anyone with your hand up, I've got a sure-fire business proposition that will only require a modest investment…

Just Say No to Mining

The bottom line is that, as good as things might have looked in early 2021 for cryptocurrency mining, we knew it wouldn't last, and it didn't. There are of course pundits predicting the next big wave of cryptocurrency fever, and maybe they'll even be right. That's the problem with unregulated and pseudo-anonymous commodities like crypto coins. Maybe in a few years we'll see Bitcoin break $100,000 and Ethereum at $10,000 or more! Equally possible — more so in the minds of many people — is that this whole funny money scheme will prove unsustainable and many people will lose whatever savings they put into it.

Jarred Walton is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on everything GPU. He has been working as a tech journalist since 2004, writing for AnandTech, Maximum PC, and PC Gamer. From the first S3 Virge '3D decelerators' to today's GPUs, Jarred keeps up with all the latest graphics trends and is the one to ask about game performance.

  • VforV
    Rule number 1 in crypto: never invest more than you are willing to lose.
    That's for trading. For mining it's a little different, because you can always sell the GPU(s) and recoup some or a lot (depending on other factors and circumstances) of the price you paid, so it's not as risky as trading, in general.
  • peachpuff
    GeForce RTX 3080 $10,188

    Umm on which planet does a 3080 cost 10k?
  • Co BIY
    But now is probably a great time to roll out a new crypto that will be attractive to all the slow to the game people who will be willing to buy the mining hardware finally getting available at "normal" prices.

    The anonymous Founders (none of whom will be known to be connected to Nvidia, Intel, or AMD) of course will get substantial reserved blocks of "value".
  • spongiemaster
    peachpuff said:
    GeForce RTX 3080 $10,188

    Umm on which planet does a 3080 cost 10k?
    There was an article under the headline. If you read it, they explain how that cost was calculated.
  • octavecode
    You should rename the site to TomsCryptoware
  • bigdragon
    Buy the dip! HODL! Take it to the moon! Diamond hands! What goes down must go up! Your friends at Newegg, Ebay, Amazon, Microcenter, ASUS, Zotac, EVGA, MSI, Sapphire, and more NEED you to to keep getting into crypto! GPU prices are starting to fall! They NEED you to keep buying! Gamers , please, spend more money! Hurry, before interest rates increase! We can't have this little pullback affect quarterly profits!!!
  • mrv_co
    I'm surprised THG didn't use this article to promote Chia Coin mining :rolleyes:
  • VforV
    I think this article had the opposite effect, BTC has now risen to 40k USD.

    Will we have another bull run and peak at 70k maybe, before the half year point and the ETH POS dreams of some come true, if they do this year?

    Regardless, I love people celebrating crypto's death too soon, like when it reached 33k 2 weeks ago and so many were being gullible again thinking it's over and now it sits at 40k...
  • AtrociKitty
    Mining is still an attractive way to offset the cost of a new PC, even if your primary use is gaming. I wouldn't want to buy an entire mining rig today, but there's very little reason not to mine when you're not using your computer if you have a newer graphics card.
  • cryoburner
    AtrociKitty said:
    Mining is still an attractive way to offset the cost of a new PC, even if your primary use is gaming. I wouldn't want to buy an entire mining rig today, but there's very little reason not to mine when you're not using your computer if you have a newer graphics card.
    Or one could just wait some months for graphics card prices to potentially plummet to offset the cost of their PC. >_>

    As for reasons not to mine to recoup overpriced hardware costs, harming the environment burning significant amounts of electricity for the sole purpose of paying a ransom to those price gouging graphics hardware seems like a fairly good one.

    Or putting needless wear on your new hardware, making it more likely to fail sooner, perhaps when it's just out of warranty.