GPU Mining: back in style?

Ethereum 3 month price history

Ethereum: 3 month price history

Yes, it’s been awhile since I’ve posted. =) The GPU mining craze all but died three years ago with the rise of ASIC hardware for scrypt (litecoin) miners. But if the last few weeks are any indication, it looks like we may be in for a major resurgence in popularity.

Bitcoin is currently trading at over $1200—a roughly 400% increase in the past year. Equally interesting is the performance of a couple alternative cryptocurrencies. Ethereum is at ~$32 (up 300% in the last year), with a market cap of $3 billion—about 15% of Bitcoin! Dash is at $100 (+250% over the last year, with much of that gain in the past week).

Dash is based on the X11 algorithm, which means ASIC hardware dominates its mining scene—and getting your hands on an X11-capable ASIC miner is currently fairly difficult, as they’re mostly sold out everywhere. But Ethereum is exclusively minable with modern consumer-grade video cards, and it’s currently quite profitable to do so.

Read on for some “back of the napkin” numbers regarding Ethereum GPU mining profitability, and some current hardware suggestions.

Estimating Profitability

The easiest way to determine if GPU mining is going to be profitable for you is to use a calculator. For this purpose, Coinwarz is extremely popular, though I prefer the clean simplicity of this calculator. Open either link, and you can see that I’ve pre-filled values of 150 MH/s, 750 watts, and $0.10/kWh for hashing speed, power consumption, and electricity price respectively. As of the time that this article was published, you could reasonably expect nearly $300/month profit, given these assumptions. Why these assumptions, you ask? Allow me to explain.

My preliminary research leads me to believe that the two top options for GPU mining are AMD’s Radeon RX 470 and Radeon RX 480 video cards. I prefer the RX 470, because it performs nearly as well as the 480, consumes less power, and costs less. After spending a few hours browsing various mining resources and forums, most people report speeds of between 24 and 29 MH/s per single RX 470 GPU. I’m going to assume about 25 MH/s because it’s a nice easy conservative number to work with. We can pack six of these cards into a single mining rig, thus the 150 MH/s estimate (6 x 25 MH/s).

The 750 watt power consumption estimate is based on each RX 470 GPU consuming roughly 120 watts “at the wall” under mining load, given a high-quality efficient power supply. So 720 watts total for the GPUs, and another 30 watts or so for the rest of the system, which is basically a motherboard and idle low-power CPU.

My estimate of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour is probably close to the US average (I pay $0.07/kWh, for example), but it can vary pretty wildly worldwide. Make sure to use your own figure here!

Assuming that not too much has changed since the time that I published this article, you’re probably looking at a fairly positive Ethereum mining profitability number—possibly as much as $400/month or more if you get cheap electricity. Which leads to the next obvious question: what’s involved in setting up a mining rig these days?

Ethereum GPU Mining Rig Hardware Costs

After quite a bit of research, I believe the following hardware is pretty close to the optimal route when it comes to building a GPU mining rig:

Motherboard 1 x ASRock H81 Pro BTC $90
Processor 1 x Intel Celeron G1840 CPU $45
Memory 1 x 4GB DDR3 DIMM $20
Power Supply 1 x 1200w Seasonic Platinum $260
GPUs 6 x Radeon RX 470 video cards * $160 each
Case 1 x open frame case w/ risers $190
Boot Device 1 x 60GB SSD -or- ethOS pre-loaded $30

Total: $1,595

(*) Note that you can substitute any highly-regarded manufacturer’s RX 470 card for the MSI-branded option that I’ve linked: Sapphire, XFX, Gigabyte, and Asus should all be fine.

Not too bad—roughly 50% more expensive than my original litecoin mining rig nearly four years ago. Although this time around, we’re packing in twice as many GPUs, a beefier PSU, and using a professional purpose-built frame instead of a plastic milk crate “case” (although you could certainly still cobble something together on your own to save some money—just remember you’ll need to buy your own risers if you go that route!).

Much like my original litecoin mining rig, this updated rig is all about selecting the best GPUs and a high-quality efficient PSU (any 1000w+ platinum-rated PSU is fine, but Seasonic is generally regarded as the top choice). Everything else is essentially the lowest-cost option that will get the job done. The motherboard can be swapped for nearly any board that has six PCIe slots (or less, if you intend to use less GPUs)—the ASRock H97 Anniversary or Gigabyte GA-Z97X are other popular choices, for example. The CPU does essentially nothing during mining, so the Celeron is a great low-cost, low-power choice. Mining will use the memory on your GPUs, so system memory doesn’t matter much at all—feel free to use that old 2GB DIMM you have sitting around (I’ve picked a 4GB DIMM here because smaller options actually seem to cost more, so use whatever you can get your hands on cheapest).

It’s possible to boot via a $5 USB stick, like my original litecoin mining rig did (the assumption is that we’re running Linux). However, there is some concern about wearing USB sticks out due to constant writes during ethereum mining, and SSDs are really cheap nowadays anyway. If you want to get up and running as fast as possible without worrying too much about software setup, consider just grabbing ethOS preloaded on a small SSD.

Conclusions & Predictions

GPU mining is profitable again—possibly very much so, depending on your electricity costs. Assuming that not too much changes in the near future (and that isn’t always a safe assumption when it comes to cryptocurrency!), it’s currently possible to pay for the cost of the rig outlined above in a matter of a few months.

If the price of ETH continues to rise, expect to see a lot of people jump (back) into mining, which will likely result in inflated prices and shortages of AMD GPUs and motherboards with 5+ PCIe slots.

Look for a full guide (similar to my original litecoin guide) in the coming weeks, after I have a chance to get my hands on some hardware and play around a bit! For now, if you’re currently GPU mining, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

4 Responses to GPU Mining: back in style?

  1. Gary says:

    Dude, welcome back!
    I followed your guide back in 2013 and still have a couple of rigs mining strong… with 7950s, no less. 😉
    I’ll be keeping an eye on the blog if you’re going to be posting new guides. Cheers!

    • CryptoBadger says:

      Wow, that’s pretty impressive! Those old 7950s can certainly take a beating – I retired my own litecoin miners in 2014, after about 18 months of continuous mining, but I re-purposed some of the 7950s for gaming. In fact, the computer I’m replying on now is running one, with no signs of slowing down.

  2. Rob says:

    Nice work Gary, have those MVP 7950’s been running solid since 2013?

  3. Gary says:

    It’s been an interesting ride… I mined a shedload of Litecoin and lost them in a scam right around the time they went up to $45! Shut the miners down when they stopped being profitable – electricity is expensive in the UK – but brought them back up for ETH. I have two old 7950s in a gaming rig, two dead cards just sitting there, and another four that had died within a year but got a full refund under warranty!!
    Crypto’s fun, no? 😉

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