Wednesday, January 17th 2018

Confessions of a Crypto Miner: The Setup

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As I have mentioned on the forums here at TechPowerUp a few times, I was an active crypto-miner during one of the most tumultuous times in crypto history: The period between 2013 and 2015. Rather than tell you a long and sad story, I will say just this: I ended up with a net loss by the end of this era, and it wasn't a good time to be an investor if you didn't like roller coaster rides. The reasons I lost money are many, but I think I can attribute them to primarily a lack of experience, a lack of written records, and really, a complete lack of a plan.

My New Plan
Yes, I'm planning on mining again. I've always been drawn to the tech, and I am in a much better position to do so now. Ironically, this time around, I'm not really in it for the money. I've already been there, done that, and it's too stressful for me. Having no end goal of riches doesn't set me up for failure. I think it is a more realistic mindset for taking on this project. It also gives me a chance to document my endeavor to the world, and to you, dear reader. I hope we all learn something here.
First off, a piece of advice: Personally, I would never really consider getting back into crypto mining for money's sake. But if you have the money available and want to do this as a side operation for some fun and the possibility of making some money while you are at it, it might be for you. The aim of this column is to show you what the life of a crypto-miner is like, by becoming one, and to keep you updated with the things that concern miners these days. It will show you the work that goes into producing that "magic Internet money" that a lot of people claim "grows on trees" and show you that it is indeed an occupation in its own right… or so I hope. If I get rich off this, I really won't mind per se, but my assumption is I'll probably end up making below minimum wage at the end of the day, as has happened in the past.

Also, this article is meant to educate you, the reader. It is meant to be a piece for those considering getting into crypto-currency mining, to help them know what they are diving into. The reason I have no problem with doing this series is, the outcome doesn't matter. If I break even, I'm happy. I still get to tell a story, even if I basically worked as a miner for free for a year. The math now indicates I'll be more than breaking even in that timeframe, so I'm comfortable with this, even if the math ends up being somewhat horribly off.

The Math
Yes, the math. Unlike my prior endeavors into crypto, I did some homework first. I found that due to the GPU shortage, I could only easily get my hands on NVIDIA GTX 1080 cards. So, I bought two of those and the cheapest modern motherboard and CPU money could buy. The complete build, for the curious, may be viewed in Newegg receipt form here (Note I supplied the HDD, though a prospective miner could easily boot from USB as well):
So, I decided from the beginning that to minimize risk, I would mine a somewhat mainstream coin rather than go for some higher risk options. That basically means ZCash or Ethereum (I eliminated Monero as an option because some exchanges are beginning to flag this relatively anonymous coin as "high risk" transactions, and I want my liquidity to be high). Of the two, GTX 1080s do significantly better in ZCash than Ethereum, making about $300 per month over my electricity cost (I pay roughly 0.10 cents per kilowatt-hour, for reference).

The whole setup will draw less than 650W. It must, because that's the max rating of the PSU it's being supplied with. I went with a Titanium Seasonic Prime PSU both for their excellent quality/efficiency and for the fact that it may be usable after the mining is done.

The whole setup cost around $1,640. At $300 per month, it will be paid off in a little under six months, so it's not too difficult to get to a profitable point if you can spend the money upfront. From there, the setup can be sold or you can mine further, so you have more than surpassed your "Return on Investment." But you need to account for hours of your time spent, if you want to ask if it's really worth it. I'll be reporting hours throughout this build.

The Build
The Build is of the open-air type and minimalist in all regards, except for cooling. I designed this setup (which may be a generous term) some time ago back in the Litecoin GPU-mining era with Radeon 7970s, back when things were much hotter, much nosier, and much harder to keep cool. Basically, the concept is simple. Use the motherboard box as a makeshift breadboard case and splay the innards of the PC around it on a shelf. Mount a big house fan on top of the GPUs to hold them in place (It will also provide cooling on hotter days, of course.) The result is pictured below, ready to mine. All in all, the assembly probably took two hours, but the install and setup of the OS (I went with Windows, but Linux options are available), various updates, and ZCash mining and wallet software probably took me another four hours. It really was a whole day of work, truth be told. I am listing seven hours of work for the moment on my chart. All for this:
The rig is mining right now (has been since the 8th of January, actually) and producing as expected from the looks of it. Expect a report in approximately two weeks and a biweekly column from this adventure. It should be an interesting ride.

You can track the stats of how TPU's new mining project is doing at anytime here.
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