One of my finished mining rigs. Using plastic crates instead of a standard PC case helps improve airflow and cooling.
So you’re interested in mining cryptocurrency, but you’re not sure where to start? No problem, this guide is all you need to set up your own headless litecoin mining rig—even if you have absolutely no experience with this sort of thing.
First, let’s get the obvious question out of the way: why litecoins? After all, bitcoins are worth more, right? The simple answer is that at the time of this writing, litecoins are currently the most profitable cryptocurrency to mine when you take into account how much each coin is worth, and the time required to mine one. Rest assured that if the situation changes, and another cryptocurrency suddenly surpasses litecoin as the best mining option, the rig outlined in the guide should have no problem switching over to a new coin.
This guide will be broken into several parts, each focusing on a different aspect of building your first mining rig. First, let’s take a look at what you’ll need in terms of hardware to put a respectable miner together.
Build your own Litecoin Mining Rig, part 1: Hardware
Here is the list of hardware that I recommend:
Update 11/26/2013: The Radeon 7950 video cards are sold out pretty much everywhere. They’re still the best option for mining if you can find them, but if you can’t, then the new Radeon R9 280X cards are likely your best option. They do consume a fair bit more power though, so you”ll want to upgrade your power supply as well (this 1250w Seasonic should support three 280X GPUs without problems). As for brands, I recommend these Sapphire, Gigabyte, and MSI 280X cards for now. I’ll be updating the rest of my guide at some point in the near future with optimal settings for the 280X, so stay tuned.
Update 12/01/2013: If you’re trying to put a rig together, you’ve probably noticed that the above video cards have become nearly impossible to find. I’ve received a few messages from folks that are having some good results using the R9 290 cards, although they’re a fair bit more expensive than the 280X. If you’re itching to build a rig ASAP and can’t find a 7950 or 280X, then you might consider the 290. It looks like all of the current 290 cards are using AMD’s reference cooling design at the moment, so brand probably doesn’t matter too much. Although given a choice, you usually can’t go wrong with Sapphire, Gigabyte, and MSI. Again, remember to pick up a fairly powerful PSU if you’re going to run 3 of these in a rig.
You will also need a USB stick (8GB or larger, this one is fine) if you’re using Linux as your OS, or a harddrive (a cheap SATA drive of any size will do) if you’re using Windows. I will cover setup on both Linux and Windows in the next sections of this guide, as well as the pros and cons of each.
The video cards may be difficult to find, as they’re popular and often sell out. You can substitute nearly any 7950-based GPU, but if you have a choice, go for the MSI or Sapphire cards. They’re not voltage-locked and will save you some electricity in the long run. I have the MSI card that I recommended in all of my rigs, but I’m told that this (and also this) Sapphire card is also a good choice.
The motherboard, CPU, and RAM are all relatively unimportant. The motherboard simply needs to have enough PCI-E slots to host your three GPUs (if the recommended board isn’t available, here is another, or if you can’t find either ASRock, this Gigabyte board is a good alternative). The CPU will essentially sit idle, as all of the actual mining is done by the GPUs. The Sempron 145 is an excellent choice here because it’s cheap and draws very little power (if the Sempron is unavailable, this one is also a fine choice). If you’re going with Linux, you can get away with even less than 4GB of RAM, but I’d stick to that as a realistic minimum on Windows.
The power supply is important, and you don’t want to skimp on it. The Seasonic that I’ve recommended is extremely solid and 93% efficient, which will help keep power consumption to a minimum. It’s also modular, which is really nice if you’re putting this together in a plastic crate like I recommend.
The PCI-E risers aren’t strictly necessary, as all 3 GPUs will fit on the motherboard without them. However, airflow will be extremely limited due to the close proximity of the cards, and I really don’t recommend setting them up that way long-term. The riser cables allow you to position the GPUs off of the motherboard in a more spaced-out fashion. I dropped the temperature of my GPUs by nearly 10 degrees Celcius by simply using risers to separate them. Availability and pricing on Amazon is constantly changing, so check eBay if you can’t find them.
Important: you may also need to create dummy plugs for each of your GPUs. Some operating systems will idle video cards that do not have an active monitor connection, which will obviously kill your mining performance. Dummy plugs “trick” your OS into thinking a monitor is connected, thus preventing attached GPUs from being idled. You just need a few resistors ($1-2 at Radio Shack if they’re not available at Amazon) and these instructions to create your own plugs.
So you’ve got nearly $1400 worth of hardware, but no place to put it, as I haven’t mentioned a case. I highly recommend against trying to cram 3 GPUs into a conventional PC case. A plastic crate or two works far better due to the tremendous heat that the video cards will give off. Added bonus: they’re cheap!
Here is what you’ll need to create a simple DIY plastic crate housing for your miner:
You can get plastic crates in most home improvement stores if you don’t want to ship it from Amazon. I picked mine up at Lowe’s for under $5 each. You should be able to get everything else on the list at Lowe’s if you happen to have one near you, too. As far as tools go, you’ll need a drill and a knife capable of cutting into whatever plastic crate you buy.
First, attach your CPU & heatsink/fan to your motherboard, and place your RAM into the memory slot(s). Then follow the general steps below to mount everything into your plastic crate.
Click the images for a close-up look at each step.
- Place plastic standoffs on the bottom of your plastic crate, and rest your motherboard on top of them. Make sure that all of the essential ports are accessible (SATA, USB, keyboard, mouse, etc). Use your knife to cut away pieces of the crate if necessary so that all ports you plan to use are exposed. Then plug your riser cables into the PCI-E slots of your motherboard.
- Place your brace (either the plastic guards that I recommended, or a cut yardstick, or whatever you have that works) so that it is sitting above the motherboard, high enough for your GPUs to rest on. Cut the brace so that an inch or two sticks out on either end of the crate.
- Drill holes in your brace so that you can secure it with cable ties (see image). Do not simply rest the brace on the crate! An accidental bump can cause it to fall into the crate, along with ~$1000 worth of GPUs if you do that!
- Connect each GPU to it’s corresponding riser cable, resting the bracket end on the lip of the crate and the other end on your brace.
- Screw each GPU down into the lip of the crate. If you drill small pilot holes ahead of time (mark where to drill with a sharpie), this is much easier.
- If you have a power switch and LED, mount them into one of the crate’s corners. I was pretty sloppy with mine, but it’s functional.
You’re done! Simply connect everything to your power supply and you should be ready to power your rig on for the first time. If you have a second crate, you can put your power supply in there (along with your harddrive if you’re using Windows), and stack it under your main crate to save some space.
In the next part of this guide, I’ll show you everything you need to do to start mining under Linux (and Windows will follow shortly after)!