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

Edit: I now have a full guide available, with updated hardware choices and full setup/configuration instructions!

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! Edit: My updated Ethereum mining guide is available here!

36 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? 😉

  4. Mark says:

    Im worried about this set up overheating, is there any cooling systems i could add to it?

  5. Gary says:

    Heat produced is dependant on the algorithm used for mining. Scrypt was pretty intensive and my cards would run about 80 degrees, but ETH is much easier on them. Currently mining ZCoin which is even nicer on the cards.
    It’s warm certainly, but make sure you have a bit of ventilation in the room and you’ll be fine – it’s great in winter.

  6. Mark says:

    Also any efficient way to mine Litecoins at home currently?

    • CryptoBadger says:

      Not with GPUs. There are ASIC miners that do scrypt coins very well, but they’re generally expensive, often sold out, and can’t be re-purposed should mining become unattractive. The Antminer L3 is due to be released next month and will mine LTC at 250 MH/s @ 400 watts (a couple orders of magnitude better than the fastest GPUs!).

  7. Brows says:

    Can someone please comment on the difficulty of ETH mining? It does not seem to be shown in the profitability calculator. My concern of course is rising difficulty as ETH mining blows up.

    I did great with my scrypt rigs I learned how to build here. I mined probably over 100 different shitcoins, and at my peak I had 19 gpus running.

    It was interesting times and I feel lucky to have caught the bubble at just the right time. It ended badly for many. I quit when the scrypt asics came and sold off my components.

    Reading this post definitely gives me a funny itch to start mining again!

    Thanks for everything CB!

    • CryptoBadger says:

      Both of the calculators take current difficulty into account (CoinWarz shows it explicitly, CryptoCompare doesn’t seem to display it anywhere, but it is definitely taken into account in the profitability calculation).

      It’s true that difficulty is currently rising fairly rapidly, but the price seems to be keeping pace for now. ETH was roughly $30 when I wrote this 10 days ago; it’s at ~$50 today. While the difficulty has increased over those 10 days as well, it’s actually 20% more profitable to mine today than it was then because of the price increase.

      Mining cryptocurrency should always be considered a fairly speculative proposition, as none of us know what will happen tomorrow. That’s why I prefer GPU mining to investing in ASICs, as at least if mining suddenly becomes unattractive I can use the hardware for something else, or sell it.

  8. Mark says:

    Are you based in the UK? Amazon has it priced at around $1794+ shipping even with the video discounted. Figured id make sure i didnt have the wrong type of video card selected or something similiar wrong. Thanks for the guide im excited to start this hobby soon and hope it pays for itself.

    • CryptoBadger says:

      I’m in the US, but the prices on popular mining hardware have increased a bit over the past couple weeks (and the top 6 PCIe slot mining motherboards are pretty difficult to find in stock at all!). The prices on hardware will probably keep rising as long as cryptocurrency prices stay high. The LTC mining craze caused a global AMD GPU shortage at the end of 2013; I wouldn’t be too surprised if it happens again with ETH.

  9. BilboBaggins says:

    I got to enjoy much of the litecoin bubble a few years ago.

    Cynically though, had I bought the HW equivalent in litecoins at the beginning and sold at the same time, I probably would have made way more…

    But it was way fun!

    • CryptoBadger says:

      Depends on when you got in.

      For me, I started mining on April 18, 2013. LTC was at about $2.25 – I paid roughly $1200 for my first rig, but I could have just bought ~530 LTC outright instead. The rig mined about 1200 LTC over the next 10 months (and cost me an additional $500 in electricity over that time). But I also recovered about $500 when I sold the rig for parts when I was done mining. So mining definitely worked out considerably better for me than buying directly would have – I effectively got my litecoins for about a dollar each. Plus it was more fun, like you said. =)

      I haven’t made anything yet, as I’m still holding all of my LTC. The huge price jump today was interesting!

  10. Mark says:

    once i can no longer mine ETH on this rig (its going to take me a little time to build it) is there any newer coins you’d reconmend mining with the same rig? Price per coin isnt super important, im more interested in mining a new currency in the hopes of a longterm value increase.

    • CryptoBadger says:

      Whenever ETH mining doesn’t make sense, either due to the difficulty/price ratio or because of the eventual PoS switchover, it’s likely that there will be some other coin to move to.

      Zcash and Monero are both present-day popular mining alternative to ETH, although both are currently less profitable. ETH also probably has a significantly higher chance of a bright future than the current alternatives.

  11. Inquirer says:

    Could one use older server components? The parts can be exceedingly cheap.
    $5 3.3ghz CPU’s
    $5 4gb DDR3 1333mhz ECC ram
    $30 Motherboards (need to have a lot of PCI-Ex16 slots though)

    • CryptoBadger says:

      Absolutely! When it comes to mining, the GPUs and PSU are generally the only components that matter. The CPU and memory are usually not important (especially under linux), and you can get away with using pretty ancient stuff if you happen to have it laying around. The motherboard just needs to be able to accommodate however many GPUs you want to run (do note that just because a board has 5+ PCIe slots doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to slot GPUs into all of them successfully).

      I’m currently testing a few RX 470 GPUs on a motherboard/cpu combo that’s nearly 5 years old, because I’m having a hard time getting my hands on any of the current popular 6+ GPU mining motherboards. I’ll be limited to 4 GPUs, but otherwise performance will be the same as with a modern motherboard.

  12. Mark says:

    Can you make a build video and more importantly can you make one showing how to set it to run a program like minergate? I am about to build and found similiar tutorials i can use for building but nothing super specific and cant find anything on the basics of setting up and running the software. This is going to be my first time mining anything so any pointers will be helpful.

    • CryptoBadger says:

      I’ve considered making build videos, but so far I haven’t had the ambition to actually attempt it. I won’t rule it out for the future, but it probably won’t happen any time soon. I do have most of my updated guide published, hopefully that gets you pointed in the right direction!

  13. mark says:

    I saw your guide from 2013 on undervolting in vBIOS. That software looks pretty dated now and was wondering if you have any advice so that I can undervolt 580s in BIOS and use them in linux? I imagine there’s a way to do it using PBE (don’t mind using Windows to do the BIOS flash) but I haven’t figured out the voltage settings. Thanks for the great site.

  14. Nick says:

    Do you have any good resources for building an ethereum mining rig with FPGAs?

  15. Gustavo says:

    Hey Badger, thank you for your post! im thinking about mining business in my country because the cost of energy here is U$0,06 kwh. If you could help me in anything! Much obliged! Peace

    My email is gustavol.ciabay@gmail.com

  16. Andrew says:

    Hey I was just given everything to set up a rig with 4 Radeon he 7990, I have an extra tower as well but would need a mother board and power supply. Any tips would be appreciated, my buddy is going to put it together but has no clue what mining is. Thanks in advance.

  17. Ron C says:

    Unfortunately guides like this are outdated by the time they hit search engines. Eth was profitable when it was priced low and the hash rate was low. Now you have no chance at anything with a video card or even several video cards. It was profitable for that quick moment while the traders were pumping and the was a co-oridinated effort to raise the price while difficulty was low. If you look at the charts now the difficulty doubled in one month so by the time someone read this article the presumed profits where half, and by next month less than half.

    • Hatman says:

      Uh… are you forgetting that the price of ether has increased by a factor of TEN since the time that CB wrote this? ETH mining is literally more profitable now than it was when this was originally written, and CB even linked two calculators in the post so that you can see that for yourself ($300/month back then, almost $400/month today with the rig that he describes).

  18. Bob says:

    Is Ron C right? Has Ethereum mining been unprofitable recently? I thought with the price increase it would be more profitable than ever unless the difficult increased at a faster rate than the price of course.

    • Hatman says:

      No, he is wrong. ETH mining is more profitable today than it was five months ago, and the calculators linked in CB’s post prove it.

      Ron C is probably a miner trying to dissuade others from jumping in, so that his own miners reap the benefits with less competition.

      • Deman says:

        This article was written March 15th. price was around ~$50 and difficulty was ~184TH.

        today price is ~$300 but difficulty is also now >~2800TH .

        the price has gone up by 6x but the difficulty has equally gone up by 15.22, therefore making it LESS profitable than it was at a lower price.

        The hardware running in march will be generating a lower return now than it was.

        that is not to say that mining is still not profitable – just less so..

        ref:
        https://etherscan.io/chart/difficulty
        https://www.plus500.co.uk/Instruments/ETHUSD

  19. […] this article is specific to Litecoin, we suggest taking a look at this Ethereum GPU Mining Rig article from our friends over at […]

  20. […] this article is specific to scrypt mining, we suggest taking a look at this Ethereum GPU Mining Rig article from our friends over at […]

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