While Bitcoin requires advanced hardware to mine efficiently, Ethereum is still one of the better GPU mining algorithms out there. While several of the privacy focused coins like Monero are often more profitable, the Ethash algorithm used by Ethereum is also the driving algorithm behind other popular coins such as Ethereum Classic, Ubiq, Pirl, Metaverse, Musicoin, Ellaism and others that are forks of the original Ethereum code.
This guide will look into what’s needed for Ethereum (Ethash) mining, and will also delve into the coming ASIC Ethereum miners.
Ethereum Mining Basics
If you’re just getting started with Ethereum mining there are five very important things you’ll want to know before setting up your first Ethereum mining rig:
Proof of Stake is Coming
Ethereum has long been planning to switch to proof of stake as their consensus mechanism. The switch is initially planned to be a hybrid between proof of stake and proof of work, so mining will still be possible, but likely not as profitable. Other coins that use Ethash won’t be affected, so you can still use your cards to mine these other coins.
You’ll Need Enough VRAM
One aspect of mining Ethereum relies on checking the Ethereum Directed Acyclic Graph (DAG). The information from the DAG is stored in the VRAM of the GPU and this means there has to be enough VRAM available to store all the information. Currently this requires 3 GB of VRAM to mine Ethereum, although other Ethash coins like Ubiq can be mined with just 2 GB of VRAM. The size of the DAG increases with every epoch (roughly 30,000 Ethereum blocks), so this means VRAM requirements also rise over time. Here’s a site that lets you know the current size of the DAG< as well as the expected date it will reach any given size.
GPUs are more Expensive Due to Mining
Over the past years GPU mining has become increasingly popular, and this has affected GPU prices as Nvidia and AMD struggle to keep up with demand. Because there aren’t enough new GPUs coming to market, resellers have significantly increased the price of the available cards. This means a successful Ethereum miner has to be good at locating deals on GPUs. In many cases you can expect to pay retail price for used cards, or 50-100% markup on new cards.
There’s More to Consider than GPUs
The GPU is the most important aspect of mining Ethereum, but there are other hardware considerations you’ll need to keep in mind. In general, your hardware should meet all the following specifications at a minimum:
- For rigs of less than 6 GPUs, 4 GB ram is required, but it’s recommend you go with a minimum of 8 GB RAM.
- A motherboard with enough PCIe inputs is a crucial thing to look for in your motherboard. If you are building a multiple GPU rig your motherboard needs to have enough PCIe inputs to hold them all.
- A powered riser cable for each card.
- An open-air rig for multiple GPUs.
- A reliable power supply. The capacity needs to be calculated based on the GPUs you choose.
- A reliable internet connection.
Hardware isn’t the only consideration. You also need to think about the software and drivers you’ll need in mining. Some are generic, but some are GPU specific, and I’ll expand on those later. The following software will be required for Ethereum mining:
- Temperature monitoring and overclocking software. This is software that helps you optimize the performance of the GPU. It will help you run cooler, with less electricity, and with more hash power. Most Ethereum miners use MSI afterburner overclocking software and GPU-Z for temprature and power monitoring.
- Mining software. One of the oldest and most popular Ethash mining software is the Claymore software. Other more recent additions include Phoenix miner and Ethminer.
ASIC Mining is Coming
In April 2018, the major ASIC producer Bitmain announced that they had developed an ASIC miner for Ethereum. The first units are scheduled to ship in July 2018. With a price tag in excess of $1,800 it’s uncertain if these miners are actually worth buying, or if acceptable results can still be had with GPU mining. It’s also possible that the Ethereum community will choose to fork the blockchain to avoid ASIC mining. It’s also possible that the Caspar upgrade will be coming very soon, and Ethereum will move to Proof of Stake. Bitmain says that the Antminer E3 will have a hash rate of 190 MH/s, which is better than most GPU cards (although a 6 GPU rig using AMD RX 470/570 cards would be comparable). It may not be a significant enough difference to justify the risk of Ethereum forking or going to PoS.
Ethereum Mining GPU Manufacturers: AMD vs Nvidia
When getting started, unless you have a large budget, you’ll almost always want to begin with AMD cards as they can cost as little as 60% less than their Nvidia counterparts. This doesn’t come without a cost however as the Nvidia cards are far easier to learn how to use, to configure, and to overclock. So, you’ll have a more gentle learning curve when starting with Nvidia, bu you’ll see significant monetary savings with AMD.
You will also see less power from AMD cards, which won’t hurt when mining Ethash and Cryptonight coins, but the Nvidia card will be more powerful with almost any other algorithm.
Comparing the Best Hardware for Mining Ethereum
Both AMD and Nvidia have good cards for mining, and great cards for mining. So below you’ll find a review of the best AMD and Nvidia cards for mining Ethereum. Hopefully these reviews will help you choose the best card for you. Below I an explanation of some of the terms used in the review process:
Name: Quite simply the name of the chipset. Note that when you go shopping you will also find variations on each chipset, but I haven’t taken the time to explain the pros and cons of each variation, as that would make this article far too long. But these variations can affect performance, so once you’ve determined the best chipset you’ll want to do more research to see which variation is best for your purposes. For example, with the AMD chipsets the MSI Gaming X variation is known to have the best cooling systems, but also one of the highest price tags.
Price: How much you pay for your GPUs will determine how long you’ll need to mine before hitting a breakeven point and moving into profitability. I’ve given retail prices, but in most cases you can expect to pay 50-100% more for most cards these days (effective June 2018).
Hashrate: How powerful the card is in solving (hashing) the algorithm under ideal conditions. Higher hashrates lead to a greater number of Ethereum being found by the miner. The hashrate given will be a range, and can be affected by overclocking or underclocking the card, flashing the BIOS, or undervolting the card.
Power Draw: This is the amount of electricity consumed by the card and will affect the cost of mining, and your eventual profitability.
Efficiency: This is measured by dividing hashrate by power consumption. New cards will always be more efficient, and the more efficient a card is the more profitable your mining will be once you’ve reached your breakeven point.
AMD Cards for Ethereum Mining
If you choose to use AMD cards for mining you’ll need to download the AMD blockchain driver to get the most efficient performance. You’ll get much better performance from your GPU mining efforts with this blockchainmining optimized driver.
You’ll also find you can get better hashrate with lower power consumption by flashing your card’s BIOS. This is an advanced operation, and you should be comfortable with the process before attempting it. It can increase performance by as much as 50% though, so it’s well worth learning how to accomplish this. The Ethereum forums have a good explanation of how to flash the BIOS of AMD RX 470/480 cards.
This is the base entry level card, and if you can find it at retail price it’s just $200-270. This is a great price if you can find it as the card will give a hashrate of 20-30 MH/s with a power draw that ranges from 80W to 200W. It also comes in both 4 GB and 8 GB VRAM versions.
Miners consider this to be the most energy efficient series available, and by properly optimizing the card you can reach hash rates in excess of 30 MH/s with just 80W power draw.
Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to find these cards at retail price, due to their popularity for mining. It’s more likely you’ll find it marked up 100%, lowering the ROI of the card. They also aren’t too good with algorithms other than Ethash, so if you’ll want to mine other altcoins, or expect Ethereum mining to end soon this might not be the best card.
A retail priced RX 480/580 series GPU will only run you $250-300, but like its predecessor it is very popular, and it’s not likely you’ll find it for much less than double its retail price when new. Like the 470/570 it has a hashrate of 20-30 MH/s, but has a power draw of 100W to 250W, making it less energy efficient. Like the 470/570 it also comes in both 4 GB and 8 GB VRAM versions.
One big positive with this generation is that it can be used with altcoins, so if something were to happen to Ethereum mining you could switch over to mining Monero or Zcash with this card. Otherwise it has pretty much the same pros and cons as the 470/570 series.
This is the latest generation GPU chipset from AMD and at retail you can expect to pay from $450 to $700. Like other cards you aren’t likely to find this card at retail prices, so expect a 50% minimum markup. It has a power draw of 100-250W like the 480/580 series, but has a higher hashrate of 30-45 MH/s.
This card comes standard with 8 GB VRAM, and is very good in their performance given their power consumption. They can also be resold used at a higher price since they’re the latest generation GPU. And they mine altcoins such as Monero quite well.
On the downside, aside from the high cost of this card, it also runs hotter than the older cards, so this should be taken into account.
Nvidia Cards for Ethereum Mining
As mentioned earlier, the Nvidia cards are more expensive than the AMD cards. This is because they are more powerful, but perhaps more importantly for some is that they are easier to use and don’t require much in the way of technical knowledge and skills to use. Simply install the card, download the drivers, and off you go. Even if you want to overclock them it doesn’t require much more than decreasing the power limit and increasing the memory clock.
The retail cost of these cards is very reasonable, but unfortunately you probably won’t find them for retail price. These are the entry level Nvidia card, and will produce a hashrate of 18-25 MH/s with a power draw of 60-150W. One positive is that the cards don’t see any degradation in performance as DAG increases. They are available in both 3 GB and 6 GB VRAM versions, but since you won’t be able to mine Ethereum with 3 GB by mid-2019 it’s probably better to get the 6 GB version. One other benefit to this card is that it is quite good for mining Zcash.
The second level Nvidia card comes with a list price of $370-$450, but as is the case with most every other card you’ll not be likely to find it for less than 50% higher. It has a hashrate of 25-32 MH/s with a power draw of 150-225W. While it has a bit higher energy requirements, it’s a great all around card, and can be used to mine many other altcoins, meaning it won’t be useless to you if Ethereum mining comes to an end. It comes with 8 GB VRAM standard and if you can find in at a good price I wouldn’t hesitate to pick it up.
This is the Lambourgini of GPU mining cards. It is the most expensive, with a retail price tag of $750-$850, but it also has a hashrate of 35-40 MH/s with a power draw of 150-250W. It comes with 11 GB VRAM standard, and while it costs nearly 4 times as much as the RX 470 series, it can also mine any GPU minable coin out there.
That said, this isn’t the most efficient card to use for mining Ethereum as the hashrate isn’t much higher than the GTX 1070, while the price is double. And in comparison to the AMD Radeon RX Vega the hashrate is the same, but the cost can be double that of the AMD chipset. It can be a good choice if you’re mining altcoins.
Regardless of which card you finally settle on, it goes without saying that you’ll be spending a lot of time online research GPU prices at various online retailers and resellers. That’s the only way to find a card at the best current prices. Mining has seriously inflated GPU prices over the past 18 months, and the fact that prices remain high is a good sign that GPU mining remains profitable – if you aren’t overpaying for your GPUs.
Don’t neglect the other hardware and software factors that come into play with Ethereum mining, and you might want to consider cards that will allow for mining altcoins if Ethereum decides to fork in response to the new ASIC miners, or if they go ahead and switch to Proof of Stake.