Build your own Ethereum Mining Rig, part 1: Hardware

Ethereum GPU mining rig testbed.

My open-frame GPU testbed, mining Ethereum on a couple Radeon RX 470 video cards.

It’s finally time for an update to my popular 2013 Litecoin mining guide! It’s four years later, and Ethereum mining is where it’s at for GPU miners, so that’s what I’ve focused on. I’ve kept the same format and detail level as my old guide, so if you were around back then, you’ll know what to expect.

If you’re new to the world of crytocurrency mining, this guide should give even an absolute beginner all of the knowledge needed to put together an efficient Ethereum (or other GPU-minable altcoin) mining rig using readily-available consumer hardware.

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 Ethereum miner together.

Build your own Ethereum Mining Rig, part 1:  Hardware

Here is the list of hardware that I recommend. Don’t worry if you’re not able to get exactly what’s on this list, I provide some excellent alternatives below the table.

Motherboard 1 x ASRock H97 Anniversary $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 3-6 x Radeon RX 470 video cards (*see below) ~$180 each
Boot Device 1 x 60GB SSD -or- USB stick (Linux) $5 – $35
Case 1 x build your own* -or- open frame case $35 – $200

Some explanations and alternatives for each item:

Motherboard

Generally, any motherboard with PCIe slots on it is suitable for mining—typically one GPU per PCIe slot. The PCIe slots don’t need to be full-length, as we can attach GPUs to 1x slots with the help of risers. With that said, there are potentially some limitations when you start to pack a large number (4+) of GPUs onto one motherboard, even if that board has enough PCIe slots to physically accommodate them. That’s why picking a suitable motherboard is probably your biggest hardware headache if you want to run as many GPUs as possible in your rig.

Enter ASRock: they’ve released a couple motherboards specifically targeted at miners, and these should be considered the gold standard for 5-6 GPU setups: the ASRock H97 Anniversary and the ASRock H81 Pro BTC. If you can get your hands on either of these, they’ll work out of the box with 6 GPUs. I give a slight preference to the H97 because the 16x PCIe slot doesn’t block the adjacent 1x PCIe slot (so you only need five risers instead of six). However, these boards are often sold out everywhere—you may be able to get one from a seller on the Amazon marketplace or eBay, but you’ll likely pay a premium (both boards retail for under $100, but boards on the secondary market often go for more than that).

Biostar also recently released a board aimed at miners: the TB250-BTC. This Biostar board will work with up to 6 GPUs right out of the box, but it’s based on the newer LGA1151 socket and requires DDR4 RAM, which makes it a slightly more expensive option overall compared to the other motherboards I’ve listed here. If you opt for the TB250-BTC, make sure that you get a LGA1151 Celeron CPU and DDR4 RAM instead of the CPU/memory options that I linked in the table above.

If you’re not able to get one of the above, then the Gigabyte GA-Z97X-Gaming is a fine choice for up to 6 GPUs, but it may require a bit of BIOS fiddling before it recognizes all cards. It retails for more (~$160), but it should be available (note that there are several versions of the GA-Z97X-Gaming, if the one I linked is out of stock, try this link to search for others—just make sure whatever board you pick has 6 PCIe slots!).

If you only want to use 3-4 GPUs in your rig, then you’ll have a much easier time. Most boards with up to four PCIe slots should accommodate a GPU in each. Keep in mind that you can use old hardware that you have sitting around—the board doesn’t have to be recent. I dug out an old ASRock 970 Extreme4 that I used four years ago for litecoin mining, and it still works fine today for up to 4 GPUs (5 is possible with some work). So it’s possible to pick up an ancient board on eBay/Craigslist for nearly nothing and mine with less than 6 video cards.

CPU / Processor

This one is easy: buy the cheapest CPU that works with whatever motherboard you pick. When it comes to mining, the GPUs do all the work. Your CPU will essentially sit idle, so there is no reason to waste money on anything other than the bare minimum.

All of the motherboards that I recommended based on Intel’s LGA 1150 socket, so that means the Celeron G1840 is the current best choice.

If you go with an AMD motherboard, a Sempron CPU will do nicely.

Memory

4GB is fine. Overkill really, at least for Linux. If you have an old 2GB stick (or even 1GB!) sitting around and plan to run Linux, you’re good to go. If you want to run Windows, then 4GB is probably a realistic minimum.

While Ethereum mining is pretty memory-intensive, everything happens on the GPUs. System memory will be pretty much unused, so there is no reason to spend money here.

PSU / Power Supply

The power supply is extremely important—don’t skimp on it! A good, efficient PSU will keep your electricity costs to a minimum and more than pay for itself over the long run. I’m a huge fan of Seasonic and have built dozens of rigs with their PSUs. I’ve never had one fail on me, and they are some of the most efficient units around. The 1200W unit that I’ve linked may seem like overkill, but power supplies are most efficient when they’re not running near their rated maximum load. A 6 GPU rig will draw about 750 watts (assuming 6x RX 470 cards, properly optimized), which means a 1200W PSU will have sufficient headroom to perform efficiently.

If you’re planning on running only 3-4 GPUs, you can save a bit of money and go for their 860 watt model instead.

As far as alternatives, Corsair and EVGA both also make extremely efficient, highly-regarded platinum 1200w PSUs.

GPUs / Video Cards

Edit 6/8/2017: The AMD RX 470/480/570/580 cards are sold out essentially everywhere due to tremendous demand from miners. If you’re building a mining rig today and can’t get your hands on a RX 570/580 card, consider the nVidia GTX 1070. The GTX 1070 delivers roughly the same ETH mining performance as a RX 570/580, and it’s still available to buy (albeit at a higher retail price than the RX 570/580). The GTX 1060 is a less-expensive option, although it’s about 20% slower than a RX 570 when mining ETH. The GTX 1080 delivers roughly the same same mining performance as a GTX 1070, but costs more. If you opt for any of these nVidia GPUs, do remember to substitute the nVidia video drivers for the AMD ones that I link in the Linux/Windows portions of my guide!

The top Ethereum mining choice is currently the Radeon RX 470 / RX 480 line. The RX 470 delivers nearly the same performance as the RX 480 (within 4-7% or so) for a bit less power consumption—they’re essentially equal from an efficiency standpoint. The RX 470 is usually significantly cheaper than the 480, so generally the 470 is the best choice.

Which model to pick, though? While literally any RX 470/480 card will do, the most important thing to look for is memory speed if you want the best performance. Cards with a higher memory clock speed will generally perform a bit better while mining ETH (and can generally be overclocked more). Memory capacity isn’t really important beyond 4GB, so all other things being equal, there is no reason to shell out extra cash for the 8GB version of a card. It’s true that every GPU needs to be able to hold Ethereum’s DAG file in memory, and that file is slowly increasing in size—but it won’t surpass 4GB until late 2019 (and ETH’s switch to PoS will likely occur before then, anyway).

With all of that said, the 8GB versions of the cards tend to have faster-clocked memory than most of the 4GB cards, so if the price difference isn’t too large, spring for whatever is the fastest. Most of the cards fall between 1650 Mhz (6600 Mbps effective) to 2000 Mhz (8000 Mbps effective). The slower 1650 Mhz memory GPUs will hash at 21-23 Mh/s, and the fastest 2000 Mhz ones will do 25-28 Mh/s (both can potentially be pushed higher with BIOS mods and good luck).

Top RX 470 pick is the 8GB Sapphire Nitro (2000 Mhz memory); I’m not aware of any other 470 cards clocked that high. Any of the 4GB cards are fine budget choices if you can score a deal, but they’ll likely be clocked at 1650 or 1750 Mhz. MSI, Gigabyte, XFX, and Asus are all reputable brands—generally just get what’s cheapest if you’re going for a 4GB RX 470 build.

Top RX 480 choices are the 8GB MSI Gaming X, 8GB Sapphire Nitro, and the 8GB XFX GTR XXX edition. Most of the 8GB RX 480 cards are clocked at 2000 Mhz, so generally it’s just about price and the fan/cooler design. I generally wouldn’t recommend a 4GB RX 480 unless you get a deal, as they all seem to be clocked at 1750 Mhz or lower (including oddly, Sapphire’s 4GB 480 Nitro card), so you might as well just save some cash and get a 470.

Boot Device

If you plan to run Linux, you can use pretty much anything, including a ~$5 16GB USB stick (we’ll be using Claymore miner, which doesn’t write Ethereum’s DAG file to disk, so we don’t need to worry about wearing a USB stick out due to constantly writing to it, like with the stock ethminer). With that said, SSDs are pretty cheap nowadays and it might be nice to have one in case you want to try Windows at some point.

If you plan to run Windows, then a cheap 60GB+ SSD is your best bet. If you have an old mechanical hard drive laying around, that’ll work fine too.

The Case

I highly recommend against trying to cram a bunch of GPUs into a conventional PC case. You have two realistic options here: buy a purpose-built mining frame, or build something yourself.

The first option is straightforward, if not a bit more expensive. Here is an example of an open-air frame that will accommodate up to 6 GPUs, risers included. Here’s another option. You’ll pay a premium going this route, but it’ll save you some time and effort.

The second option is much cheaper, and (arguably) more fun! If you’re handy, you can put together a simple aluminium frame yourself for a fraction of the cost of buying one. If you don’t have the necessary skills or tools for that, I popularized building mining rigs inside plastic crates back in 2013, and that still works fine today (for up to 4 GPUs or so, anyway). At the bottom of this post, you’ll find instructions on how to build a plastic crate “case”.

Risers & Miscellaneous Stuff

If you’re building your own case (whether it’s from a plastic crate, or aluminium, or something else), you’ll need risers to connect your GPUs to your motherboard. If you’re buying a mining frame, most include risers. Risers tend to be pretty misunderstood among new miners, so here is what you need to know:

  1. Risers can be powered or unpowered. A riser is unpowered if it simply connects a GPU to a motherboard PCIe slot. A riser is powered if it additionally accepts power from the PSU (generally via a molex-type connector). Unpowered risers allow GPUs to receive up to 75 watts of power through the motherboard’s PCIe bus, just as if they were plugged in directly. Powered risers will take that additional power directly from the PSU instead, bypassing the motherboard.
  2. You may mix unpowered and powered risers, but the total number of unpowered risers should not exceed two (this includes GPUs plugged directly into the motherboard)! Motherboards are generally not designed to deliver more than 150 watts of total power through the PCIe bus, so two GPUs on unpowered risers is the safe maximum (2 x 75 watts).
  3. The newer USB-style powered risers often include SATA-to-molex power adapters. Throw these adapters away! SATA plugs are not designed to deliver 75 watts safely, and these can get hot enough to potentially be a fire risk (admittedly, 99% of the time you’ll be fine, but it’s not worth the risk). Instead, connect the molex plugs on the riser directly to your PSU (no more than two risers per PSU plug).
The different PCIe riser types.

PCIe risers: click to enlarge.

I do think the newer USB-style risers are the way to go—they’re longer and easier to work with than the old ribbon-style cables. Just don’t use the included SATA adapters! I bought a 6-pack of these and didn’t get any bad ones, but it’s always smart to buy an extra or two, as defects are relatively common. If you have older ribbon-type risers laying around, or can get them cheaply, they’ll work just fine.

If you’re building or buying a large frame, you might need extenders for some of your molex plugs and PCIe power plugs.

You’ll also need a power button, unless your motherboard has one built in (which is fairly rare). This will do the trick, or you can build one into your plastic crate if you plan to go that route (see below).

Some people have reported that their rigs won’t boot unless they have a monitor connected, although this seems to be fairly rare (my own rig boots fine without a display attached). If this happens to you, you’ll need a dummy plug.

Building your Mining Rig “Case” from plastic milk crates

(I’ve copied the instructions from my original 2013 guide here and updated them slightly.)

Here is what you’ll need to create a simple DIY plastic crate housing for your miner:

Plastic milk crate (can stack two and put your PSU in the lower one) $10 each
Plastic stand-offs $3
6 x #4 3/8″ wood or metal screws $1
Brace to rest GPUs on (1″ PVC pipe works great!) $2
a few cable ties (8″ or so) $2
power switch & LED (optional) $5

You can get plastic crates in most home improvement stores if you don’t want to ship it from Amazon (it’ll be cheaper, too!). 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.

 Assembly Steps:

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.

  1. Step 1Place 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.
  2. Step 2Place your brace (1″ PVC pipe is really ideal and won’t flex over time) 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.
  3. Step 3Drill 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!
  4. Step 4Connect 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.
  5. Step 5Screw 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.
  6. Step 6If 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 (or skip to the Windows section if that’s more your thing)!

277 Responses to Build your own Ethereum Mining Rig, part 1: Hardware

  1. […] While is pretty memory-intensive, everything happens on the GPUs. […]

  2. Anonymous says:

    Hi all,
    I have an Asus B150M-C it has 2 PCIex16 and a PCIex1 slot. I have recently bought two ribbon extenders in the hopes to add a third GPU via the PCIex1 and a powered riser.
    My GPU’s are:
    2x EVGA Geforce GTX 1060 6b (These are attached to the ribbons, attached to the 2 PCIex16 slots)
    1x PNY Geforce GTX 1060 6b SC (THis is the GPU attached to the PCIex1 and the powered riser)
    My PSU is an EVGA 850GQ
    The issue:
    When all three are connected my screen goes all wonky. Nothing really works. When just the two extenders are attached everything works fine. When just the single riser is attached everything works fine. But I can’t get all three to work at once.
    Thoughts?

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