Cryptocurrency mining took the world by storm when Bitcoin first arrived on the scene 10 years ago, and in the beginning, your home PC or gaming rig was more than up to the task of mining for Bitcoin. This is because the initial phases of the Blockchain didn’t require too much difficulty to solve, making for easy mining of the relatively cheap crypto currency, at the time.
But gradually, as Bitcoin became more valuable, many new players arrived in the crypto mining arena, and the problems that needed to be solved in order to unlock Bitcoin got more difficult with every difficulty update. Normal home PCs were simply no longer up to the task, and specialized gaming hardware became the target of many a Bitcoin miner’s attention.
Companies that specialize in cryptocurrency mining started to form soon afterwards, assembling large scale mining operations that consist of thousands of dedicated mining units, using thousands of devices such as the Antminer units from Bit Main. This massive peak in mining led to a build-up in hashing difficulty, making the return on investment (ROI) almost non-existent for home based Bitcoin miners, who simply cannot compete with the raw hashing power of large scale miners.
We will take a look at what the average PC looks like in 2018, and how well it would perform as a Bitcoin miner. We can do some rough calculations for how long it would take for such a setup to make some money back from mining Bitcoin, and then compare it to a best case scenario hardware build, with high end graphics cards that were designed for gaming. We can work out the ROI and then see how long it would take for you to make some kind of profit from mining Bitcoin.
The Average Home PC
There is a common misconception that Bitcoin mining is a very CPU intensive operation that requires large amounts of RAM, and high CPU clock speeds. This is not the case at all, as the advanced algorithmic functions that are needed by Bitcoin, and cryptocurrencies in general, are best handled by your graphics card’s GPU (Graphical Processing Unit). This means that unless your home PC has a dedicated graphics card, you will not be able to mine any meaningful quantities of the currency.
If you are fortunate enough to have a decent gaming graphics card, then you still have the problem of the increasingly difficult hash-rate. This is the difficulty measure that was mentioned earlier, which increases in difficulty at set intervals, making for a steep upward climb as you go forward in time. In order for you to be competitive, you will need to have a high end gaming card, and a cheap supply of electricity.
The electrical costs can make or break a mining operation, and if your utility company charges higher peak time rates, then you will have the added concern of timing when you can mine, and when it is more economically viable to not mine at all.
The Average Gaming Rig
One of the world’ most popular gaming platforms for PC, Steam, offers a handy list of hardware data from its surveys. This shows the global hardware specifications of what the average gamer uses while gaming on their platform. The most current specs in 2018 show that CPUs with 4 cores are most prevalent, RAM count is averaged out at 8GB per system, and that the most popular graphics card on Steam is an NVidia GTX1060. With these specs, mining for Bitcoin would still not yield any profits, unfortunately.
If we do a quick cost calculation, we can look at how long it would take to earn back our initial investment if we had to build such a rig from scratch. We won’t include software costs in this example, as our hypothetical machine will run on an open source operating system.
Intel i5 CPU $204
MSI Motherboard $110
8GB DDR4 RAM $85
750W Power Supply $120
Hard Drive 1TB $45
Graphics Card $290
According to NiceHash’s handy calculator or 99Bitcoins , our rig would only earn us around $1.20 per day, excluding electricity costs! That means that we are looking at around 3 years’ worth of mining before we cover our hardware costs at the current Bitcoin value, and unless your electricity is free, you will probably not be making any money by mining Bitcoin with this setup.
As well as the aforementioned challenges such as the ever increasing difficulty of the hash-rate, and electricity costs, there is another issue to contend with: the actual value of Bitcoin. Soon after Bitcoin became better known to the public, people realized that it had a value that could be ascribed to it, much like commodity such as gold. This led to coin markets, which act very much like stock markets, but with volatility and risk that far exceed traditional stock markets.
In early 2018, the crypto market took a severe knock on these platforms, with Bitcoin being the biggest loser. The cryptocurrency lost almost half of its value, as investors went into full panic mode, and began selling off their stake in the coin. This led to a spectacular market crash, with many speculating that this would be the end of crypto currencies in general. This was an over exaggeration, however, and the value of crypto seems to be recovering again, albeit at a slower rate than the explosive growth that we saw in 2017.
What We’ve Learned
It looks like the only way to really make any kind of money in the Bitcoin mining game is through the use of a dedicated mining unit. I mentioned the Bitmain Antminer units earlier, but there are others as well. The top performer at present is the Baikal Giant X10, which is hashing at 10000MH/s, earning its owner around $17 per day. If you consider that some of these units can cost upwards of $2,500 each, then your ROI would be about 6 months, depending on electricity costs.
So, based on everything we’ve learned today (check more calculators here), it is safe to say that your PC is not suitable for Bitcoin mining, at least, not if you want to make enough of the currency to be profitable. If mining is something that you are interested in, then it might be worth checking out mining pool software that lets you mine for the most profitable cryptocurrency at the time, and then switches you between coins depending on demand and value. In this way, you essentially rent out your hardware to the Blockchain, and let it use your hardware to unlock its mathematical treasures.