Mining Cryptocurrency Part 3: GPU Mining

Share:

Table of Contents

Dice Ninja Gaming is supported by our customers. Purchasing via affiliate links and our own store are ways everyone can help support us.  You can read more about this in our privacy policy.

We appreciate your help and support!

Cryptocurrency mining has been around for over a decade and continues to grow in popularity. One of the most profitable types of mining rig, the GPU mining rig, is also one of the easiest to put together. We will discuss the differences between a GPU miner and other types, what to look for, and how to put one together.

Hardware Requirements

The most crucial decisions about putting together a GPU mining rig are the choice of hardware and how they will affect hashing performance. Some options, like the GPU(s), are critical components that you should thoroughly research before purchasing. Others, such as the storage device, aren’t important at all.

When you decide on the proper hardware, future upgrades should be considered. If you cannot purchase the top-of-the-line GPU you want, you can always get a lower-end model now and add more in the future. Also, if you get a high-end CPU, you can mine using it and the GPU(s) on the same rig.

It is essential to ensure that the parts you purchase are compatible with one another. One of the best sites is PcPartPicker, which helps you build an entire computer and ensures compatibility between the components. 

Mining Profitability Tools

There are a lot of different video cards out there that you can use for mining, some are better than others, and some do better with certain coins than others. There are some great sites that will show you how well different GPUs perform. Also, there are resources that can help you calculate profitability based on hashrate and power consumption. 

Here are a couple of those tools (As always, please do your research and make sure you’re only making purchases on trusted sites):

Graphics Processing Unit (a.k.a Video Card)

The Graphics Processing Unit (also known as GPU or video card) is the most critical part of this type of mining rig. The video card(s) you choose will determine the coins you mine and how much power you need. It is important to note that you can have multiple GPUs in a single mining rig. This will reduce the power needs and cost by keeping the number of rigs down if you want to run multiple video cards.

It is essential to keep in mind that if you plan on mining Ethereum, the video card must have a minimum of 5GB of video RAM (VRAM). The increased memory need is because Ethereum utilizes a Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG) loaded into the GPU memory. This DAG is over 4GB in size, so video cards with 4GB RAM or less can’t load the entire file.

When researching the video card(s) you want to include, the profit of each card is additive. For example, if GPU X makes $2.50 per day, having four of them in a rig means you will earn $10 per day. It may not seem like each card makes much profit individually, but as you become more comfortable and invest in more GPUs, your mining profits will increase as well.

Best GPU Mining Video Cards

  1. NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3090 Buy on Amazon
  2. NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080 Buy on Amazon
  3. AMD Radeon RX 6900 XT Buy on Amazon

Best Budget GPU Mining Video Cards

  1. AMD Radeon RX 6600 Buy on Amazon
  2. NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1660 Super Buy on Amazon
  3. AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT 8GB Buy on Amazon

Chip Shortage

With the current chip shortage, the popularity of video games, and cryptocurrency mining, it can be challenging to find a video card at all, let alone at a reasonable price. It may not be financially responsible to pay inflated prices for video cards from scalpers on eBay. Still, there are options available to find GPUs at MSRP. Discord channels such as GPU Drops have great information on finding deals and getting alerts on releases. Newegg Shuffle is a semi-regular lottery-style system that allows you to purchase a curated list of components. Also, don’t discount sites like Offerup, Craigslist, or Facebook Marketplace to find used cards. It’s possible to find great deals on lightly used cards that will work great for mining.

Motherboard

The choice of motherboard is important, but not for the reason most people think. The only specifications of the motherboard that matter when it comes to GPU mining are:

  1. CPU brand (Intel or AMD)
  2. Number of PCIe slots

The CPU brand is largely unimportant except for purchasing decisions (See the CPU section below for further details). The number of PCIe slots is a more significant decision because it is one of the factors in determining how many video cards can fit in the mining rig. While there are devices that can increase the number of cards you can plug in, generally, you’ll have one video card per PCIe slot.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

The speed and amount of RAM don’t impact hashrate performance. You want to make sure that you meet the minimum requirements for the operating system and software used. Dual-channel configuration is not necessary; using a single stick of RAM is more than sufficient if you will only be GPU mining. If you are planning to also mine with the CPU, you’ll want to read our article on CPU mining for more tips on RAM needs. 

Storage

The storage medium that you choose (hard drive (HDD), solid-state drive (SSD), USB drive, etc.) for the mining rig has a negligible impact on day-to-day hashrate. The most significant effect on the rig will be in boot speed, update speed, and reliability. While there may be a noticeable difference in boot and update speeds between a slow HDD and a fast SSD, it will have an almost negligible effect on mining income. We recommend buying the least expensive solution with the necessary space without sacrificing reliability, such as Western Digital WD AV-GP 500GB or PNY CS900 120GB. Stay away from cheap, no-name brands, especially if you’re using a USB thumb drive. A 5-pack for $20 may seem like a good deal, but you’re going to have many problems with reliability and data corruption because they’re usually extremely slow and use poor-quality parts.

Power Supply

Essentially, a power supply is a device that converts the energy from the outlet into something usable by the computer. The key takeaways from this process are:

  1. It can only supply as much energy as it is rated for
  2. This conversion process causes some power to be lost as heat

Because of this, a few essential things to look for in a power supply:

  • The total power of all connected devices should be 80% or less of the power supply’s maximum rating (example: you should use at most 800W on a 1000W power supply)
  • A power efficiency rating of 80+ Gold or higher

While a power efficiency rating above Gold (such as Platinum or Titanium) is better at minimizing power loss, there are significant diminishing returns. The price will increase substantially, and the additional power savings may never offset that extra cost.

Here are our recommendations for power supplies:

Best for single GPU only

Best for multiple GPUs

Case

The choice of case isn’t significant except that you want to ensure good airflow, cable management, and that it can hold the number of video cards in the rig. Many miners opt to forego the traditional computer case and put it on a wire shelf with carabiners or an open-air frame. Keep in mind that when you don’t use a conventional case, you’ll want to pick up a couple of stand-alone PC power switches so you can turn it on.

Optional Equipment

There are several pieces of equipment that, while technically optional, may be required for specific mining rig setups.

The first, called a PCIe Riser (Or simply just “riser”), serves two purposes:

  1. Allows you to use the PCIe 1x slots on the motherboard (modern video cards only fit in a PCIe 16x slot)
  2. You can move the video cards around and put them in different physical configurations (such as hanging from a rack or attached to a riser bar above the motherboard) 

While a riser may not be required, it can make life much easier by giving you the freedom to move the video cards around for the best airflow. We’ve had great luck with these PCIe risers in our GPU mining rigs.

The second is called a PCIe Multiplier (or switch). It is used to split a single PCIe slot into two or more and don’t require any drivers or BiOS tweaks. These are needed to fit more video cards than available slots. For example, if you have eight video cards but only 5 PCIe slots, you could get a 1-to-4 multiplier like this one, which will allow you to use all eight cards.

The last optional piece of equipment we want to talk about is a PCIe Power Splitter. These increase the number of power connectors you have available. Most video cards require one or two PCIe power plugs, and if you are using PCIe risers, you may need one for that as well. We strongly recommend reading the section about Power below before planning your power needs. It is easy to exceed safe limits with these splitters if you don’t pay close attention to the rated power limits. With that in mind, we like these splitters as they allow for maximum flexibility and have thick wires.

Using Your Existing Computer

Suppose you already have a computer with a good mining GPU. In that case, you can mine with it when you aren’t actively using it. If you use the computer often, you’ll need to take extra precautions with it. Keep an eye on GPU temperatures to ensure they stay within safe levels.
The mining calculations are very GPU-intensive and can make using the computer for other tasks like gaming or photo/video editing sluggish or unusable. With this in mind, you may want to stop the mining software when you’re actively using it if it doesn’t already have a feature to throttle itself automatically.

PCIe

At its simplest, Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe) is a standard for a motherboard connector that allows you to install add-on devices. They come in several different physical configurations such as 1x, 4x, 16x, etc. Toms Hardware has a great article explaining the basics of the PCIe standard that we recommend reading for further details.

For GPU mining, we’re only concerned with PCIe 1x and PCIe 16x connections. Modern GPUs use PCIe 16x connectors because it provides maximum data transfer bandwidth, which is necessary for gaming or video editing applications. While GPU mining takes a lot of processing power, it doesn’t require a lot of bandwidth, which is great because you can run multiple GPUs for mining off of a single PCIe 1x slot.

Power

GPU mining can consume a lot of power if you have a lot of video cards in your rig. Planning your power usage is essential for putting together your mining setup. It’s also a good idea to plan for future expansion. We feel that a basic tutorial on electricity, power, and the different connectors available is necessary to help you make informed decisions.

Connectors

When planning your mining rig setup, it’s vital to consider the various types of connectors available and their rated standards. A single video card typically draws anywhere between 50W to 300W of power. There are several places where power can be drawn, such as from the PCIe slot itself or external connectors. To safely provide that power, we need to ensure that we are using a connection type rated for the amount of power, and that the wire size (also called wire gauge) is sufficient.

The critical thing to remember for the wire gauge is that the higher the number, the thinner the wire. For example, a 16 gauge wire is thicker than a 20 gauge and therefore can carry more power than the thinner wire. You can read more about the AWG (American Wire Gauge), but the rule of thumb for using a splitter for GPU mining is to use 18- or 16-gauge wires. 18-gauge wires are sufficient for most situations. We don’t recommend running more than one splitter per output on the power supply.

Two of the connectors we discuss below, Molex and SATA, are not found on video cards. We include these because they tend to be very common on PCIe risers. They matter because a GPU can draw up to 75W of power directly from its PCIe connection. If the connector can’t handle that amount of power, it can cause serious problems such as fire.

Molex Connector

Molex Connector
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Barcex and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5

The 4-pin Molex connector has been in use since the 1950s in many different applications. It was one of the earliest connectors used in PCs and still exists in many modern builds. Over the years, the standard for the amount of power they can provide has changed dramatically, and it’s unclear what standard is used in any given power supply. In addition, these connectors are inexpensive and tend to use cheap materials. For this reason, we recommend not using this connector for any GPU connections, regardless of what the manufacturer claims.

SATA

SATA power plug
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user AFrank99 and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Serial ATA, or SATA, is a standard introduced in 2000. It consists of both a data transfer cable and a power cable. Typically, it is used to connect storage devices such as hard drives and SSDs. In the context of GPU mining, we only care about the power connector portion, which all modern power supplies provide. While it technically can provide up to 91W of power, only approximately 54W is at the proper voltage needed for a video card. We recommend not using a SATA connector to power a PCIe riser for these reasons.

PCIe Power Connectors

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user UniversalBit and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

PCIe power connectors typically come in two varieties: 6-pin and 8-pin. These are the most common types of connectors for video cards, and these are the types we recommend for all GPU mining rig connections. There is also a newer 12-pin connector introduced for some of Nvidia’s top-end cards, but they are much less common. We will discuss the differences below, but these are appropriate for powering both the video card and the riser.
We recommend you always assume a particular connection will draw its maximum rated power. For example, let’s say you have a video card with both a 6-pin and 8-pin port and is rated to draw 225W of power at peak usage. Even though it only uses 225W, it has 300W available (75W from the PCIe slot, 75W from the 6-pin connector, and 150W from the 8-pin connector). Unfortunately, we don’t know which lines will draw that power. Suppose we wire the mining rig according to the assumption that any of those lines could pull their maximum power at any time. In that case, we can be assured the power across any individual line will be within safe tolerances.

6-pin

A 6-pin PCIe connector is capable of carrying 75W of power. A single 6-pin connector can safely provide enough power for a PCIe riser and is the configuration we recommend for that purpose. We recommend against splitting a 6-pin connector to power multiple risers or connections. We can never be sure that won’t lead to too much power being drawn from the line.

8-pin

An 8-pin PCIe connector is capable of carrying 150W of power. A single 8-pin connector can be safely split to provide enough power to two 6-pin connectors. Suppose you have a video card like the AMD Radeon 6600, with only a single 6-pin connector. In that case, you could safely split a single 8-pin connector to power both the riser and GPU, as it has the same maximum power rating as two 6-pin connectors.

We recommend against splitting an 8-pin connector to power multiple 8-pin connections. We can never be sure that won’t lead to too much power being drawn from the line.

12-pin

A 12-pin PCIe connector is a relatively new standard that has yet to be widely adopted. The official standard calls for carrying 600W of power; however, that requires 16-gauge wiring. If the cable manufacturer wants to save costs with 18-gauge wiring, we’re looking at a maximum safe capacity of approximately 504W.

Voltage

In general, most power outlets in the Americas (North, Central, and South) use 110-120v as their standard, and most of the rest of the world uses 220-240v. There are many exceptions to this rule, but it is important to mention here because it directly affects the number of devices that can safely run on a line.

The expression for calculating power in a circuit is P=VI. What this means is that Power (P) is equal to Voltage (V) multiplied by Current (I). We measure Power in Watts (W), Voltage in Volts (V), and Current in Amps (A). If we want to figure out how much Current a given device uses, the formula changes to I=P/V.

Why is this important? Let’s use an example:

Let’s say that you’ve decided to put together a mining rig that uses 500W of Power and live in the United States. In the USA, the standard for a power line in your home is 120V and can safely carry 15A. If we plug that into the formula, we would have 500 / 120 = 4.17A. You could run three mining rigs safely off that line (4.17 * 3 = 12.51A). Adding a 4th rig would, at best, trip your breaker. At worst, it could cause an electrical fire.

Now, let’s take that example one step further by converting that line to 220V. With that one change, each mining rig now uses 500 / 220 = 2.27A. It cuts the Current draw almost in half! Now, we can safely run 6 (2.27 * 6 = 13.62A) mining rigs off that one line!

Operating Systems

There is mining software designed for both Windows and Linux, as well as a custom mining OS called HiveOS. You have the option to use the OS you’re most comfortable with or to try something new. While we have seen anecdotal evidence that Linux performs better in some scenarios, Windows is also viable. One of Windows’ most notable benefits is the ease of setup and use for someone who is not already familiar with mining rigs.

HiveOS

HiveOS is an operating system built on Ubuntu and designed specifically for cryptocurrency mining. It is easy to use and has many rich features. If you aren’t familiar with Ubuntu, don’t write this one off: It has a tremendous web-based interface and doesn’t require any knowledge of Linux to use.

It can run any CPU or GPU mining rig and even some ASIC miners. It has built-in drivers, automatic updates, and the most popular mining software built right into it. You can run it out of the box as-is, or you can dive into some of its more in-depth features like custom overclocking and remote monitoring.

Pricing is very reasonable for HiveOS. It is free for the first 4 GPU “workers” (mining rigs), so you can use it from home at no cost indefinitely. CPU mining is only $0.3 per month per rig, and you can even set it up to automatically pay the fees out of any Ethereum you mine with your account.

Software

There are many different programs that you can use to mine cryptocurrency using a GPU. Some are cross-platform, and some require a specific operating system to run. We’ll give you a look at a few different tools, and we encourage you to do your research before choosing.

Nicehash

Nicehash is an excellent place to start mining if you’re using Windows for your operating system. Their QuickMiner option is a simple way to start mining if you are using Nvidia GPUs. It also has excellent features like Game Mode if you’re running it on your main computer. With Nicehash, you have the option to do both CPU and GPU mining from within the same software. NiceHash Miner gives many more options for dedicated mining rigs, such as choosing which algorithm to mine and changing it on the fly. 

One important thing to note about Nicehash is that all of its payouts are in Bitcoin. Essentially, Nicehash uses your idle resources to mine other cryptocurrencies, such as Ethereum, and then pay you out in Bitcoin based on the exchange rate at the time. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s something to consider.

TeamRedMiner

TeamRedMiner (TRM) is available for Windows and Linux and only supports AMD video cards. It is designed from the ground up to take advantage of all the features available in the video cards. Since they only support AMD GPUs, they can optimize their algorithms. They also pride themselves on being more transparent about reported hash rates, so users have the best information available while mining.

T-Rex Miner

T-Rex Miner is mining software that runs on Windows and Linux and only supports Nvidia video cards. It is designed to be one of the fastest mining programs and has one of the lowest developer fees at only 1%. If you have an LHR (Limited Hash Rate) video card, like the 3060, T-Rex allows you to get around the restrictions by mining two different coins at once. T-Rex has a web interface that lets you watch it and even change settings on the fly. The web interface makes it convenient to use, especially for people who aren’t used to monitoring terminal windows.

NBMiner

NBMiner supports Windows and Linux as well as both Nvidia and AMD video cards. NBMiner is an excellent option if you are running mixed video cards and even supports unlocking the full potential of LHR video cards. It can also utilize a backup mining pool if the primary one is unavailable for any reason, so your mining isn’t interrupted.

Choosing A Coin

You can mine many coins with a GPU mining rig, which makes choosing a particular coin difficult. Some coins may be more profitable on a specific video card than others, and coin profitability can change based on many factors. For these reasons, we recommend doing your research when choosing a particular coin and watching as trends change. Don’t be afraid to change what you’re mining based on current trends.

Here are a few resources to help inform your decision:

  • NiceHash Profitability Calculator – A quick drop-down where you can easily choose a CPU or GPU. It will tell you the estimated profit and what they determine to be the best algorithm
  • whattomine GPU Profitability Ranking – An easy-to-read list of the most profitable video cards and coins. whattomine is always our first stop when researching mining profitability because it shows you a lot of data on many different coins and includes a calculator that can take into account your energy and entry costs

Mining Pools

Choosing a mining pool is a critical decision. It can be daunting to choose the right one for you, and it’s ok to change if you don’t feel that you’re getting a good value from the one you choose. There are multiple payment types, schedules, and minimum payouts so take your time to do your due diligence. Using a mining pool is effectively mandatory, as mining on your own can take a long time to see any payout, if at all.

We recommend starting with this great write-up on what a mining pool is, and then check out MiningPoolStats, which gives a live view of all tracked mining pools and makes it easy to look up pools by coin.

Conclusion

Properly putting together a GPU mining rig takes a lot of research and attention to detail. Still, once it is complete, you can turn it on and let it make money without any further intervention. It can be an excellent starter for your journey to financial independence and a great way to learn how to build a computer if you don’t already know how.

Have you put together a GPU mining rig? Are you planning on putting one together?

Let us know in the comments below!