Chia hardware starting points

I started writing this section as part of my So you want to farm Chia post, but that post was getting pretty long. So my hardware suggestions will make their own separate appearance here.

If you found this post first, please read So you think you want to farm chia? first. Then come back here. I’ll be waiting.

As I mentioned in the other post, start with what you have, if at all possible. An underused 2-4 cores of CPU, an extra 4-8GB of RAM, 300GB of temp space and a couple hundred gigabytes of permanent storage will get you going.

If you can’t start with what you already have, you can build a very viable system for around $1000. Since it’s not very specialized, you can reuse it for something else (a desktop, another software project, a VMware home server, etc) when you’re done, or when you outgrow it. 

These bills-of-materials will have some pricing and Amazon affiliate links. Prices are current as of the original posting, and will change over time. You can choose to buy them anywhere of course, or change the components up. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’d recommend checking out Central Computer to support one of our few remaining local computer stores, and I’ll mention their advertised prices here as well as Amazon’s. Sign up for their Preferred Customer program and you will probably save a few bucks. I get nothing if you buy from them, except warm fuzzies. 

Also be aware that some of these items may be hard to find at times, as Chia is becoming more popular and a lot of popular items are getting bought up.

One last caveat before we get to the configurations:

If you’re using an SSD or NVMe drive for plotting, the plotting process will wear out the SSD eventually. A single plot uses up to 1.8TB of writes. Check your drive specs and figure out what lifespan to expect, and don’t use your boot disk as plotting space. As examples, the 1TB Samsung SSD980 is rated for 600TBW, or 333 plots (including failed ones), for $130. A Seagate Firecuda 520 1TB is rated for 1800TBW, or 1000 plots, for about $180. So spending about 50% more gets you 3x the endurance. 

Intel NUC Farming Rig – around $1200 new – 5-6 plots in parallel, 10-12 per day

Update: I built this rig, and wrote up the process pretty much step by step. Check out Building the Intel NUC Chia Plotter for details.

For the Spouse Acceptance Factor, I recommend the following, based on a blog post by storage_jm on ChiaDeCentral. I’ll be building this version in the next week in fact I built this rig on May 3; see link above. I will be temporarily reusing my 8TB external drive, and using a 250GB SATA SSD that’s already in hand for my boot drive.

Base computer – NUC10i7FNH1 (6 core, 12 thread, supports an m.2 NVMe drive, a 2.5″ SSD, and up to 64GB of DDR4 SODIMM RAM). Currently $569.95 at Central, $594.90 at Amazon.

RAM – 32GB DDR4 2666 or better SODIMM. Crucial 16GB from $59.95 at Central, 16GBx2 kit around $200 at Amazon

Boot drive – Any 2.5″ SATA drive will do. Central has a couple of 250GB drives including the Samsung MX-77E250B/AM for around $50. Amazon has the same one for the same price, albeit out of stock right now. If you get a 1TB drive, you can plot with it as well, but you don’t need to.

Plotting drive – 2TB Inland Premium NVMe is popular, about $240 on Amazon but out of stock. I’ve been melting down a PNY 2TB drive I bought from Dell last year – used 38% of the life in one month. If you watch your drive life, you can use cheaper NVMe or even SATA m.2 storage. But check the TBW (Total Bytes Written, or Terabytes Written) and warranty for your drive and take that into account. 

Long-term storage – something big and available will do. Central has the WD MyBook 8TB for $155 and the Seagate Expansion 8TB for $145. I’ve used both, and the Expansion is running on my latest build right now. Amazon has the Seagate Desktop 8TB for $145 and the same WD MyBook for $150 (out of stock).

OS install drive – Anything fresh and USB 3.0 should be good, and if you already have an install drive for Windows or Ubuntu, you can use that. I like the Sandisk Ultra 32GB for price point and quality, $9.95 at Central and about the same at Amazon

You may want an outlet strip, or a UPS if you don’t already have one, and of course a keyboard and monitor and maybe a mouse to set up your OS. I’d run Ubuntu 20 for this if at all possible, but you can run Windows 10 as well. 

Dell Precision T7910 Rig – $1300+ used, 1 plot in parallel/2 per day as shipped

This is a heftier build, and it will cost a bit more. But it will plot more, and has a lot of expansion capability. It’s a lot quieter and power-efficient than some of the cheaper bulky rackmount servers as well. I’ve been plotting on a variation of this for the last six weeks or so.

Base computer, RAM, boot drive – Dell Precision T7910 dual-processor pre-build, $1289 plus shipping on eBay. This item has dual Xeon E5-2698v3 processors (total of 32 cores/64 threads), 32GB RAM, 512GB SSD, and 6GB SAS drive. With this you could plot 1 at a time as it arrives, storing almost 30 plots, or add an NVMe or SSD drive and some additional slow storage.

You could move the boot drive to mSATA and install a plotting NVMe drive on a PCIe card like this one that Central sells for $15 (I’m using one with a 250GB NVMe drive to boot my T7910). There are a number of options on Amazon for a similar price, including this Electop mSATA/NVMe PCIe card for $19.

By moving your boot space off the front 3.5″ bays, you can put SATA or SAS drives in those four bays for your slow storage. I bought a variant of this HGST 8TB SAS drive ($125) for my front bays, giving me a 29TB striped volume for my plot storage and farming.

Adding a 2TB NVMe drive as above ( 2TB Inland Premium NVMe, about $240 on Amazon) would give you the ability to do six plots in parallel. A 1TB drive will do three in parallel.

If you really want to go haywire, this model supports PCIe bifurcation on the first PCIe x16 slot. This means that cards like the Dell Ultra-Speed Quad adapter ($210 on eBay) will let you install four NVMe drives, each with its own 4 PCIe lanes. Use them as individual drives if they’re big enough, or stripe them for some massive performance.

Extreme T7910 Build – From $5900-6400, 44 plots in parallel, 88+ plots a day

A commenter on the main Chia post asked for a maxed out build based on the T7910. This is not for everyone, but it will make the most of your space. And it can support up to 44 parallel plots, for upwards of 8TiB a day.

Note that some of these parts are getting scarce and/or expensive, and prices and availability may change… so if the items linked are out of price range or sold out, search for something similar. Also, the slow storage removes the boot drives that come with the base system. You could put SSDs in the optical bays or on a PCIe card if you like, or work something else out.

Base System:

T7910 Prebuild barebones, E5-2620v3, 16GB RAM, no disk/video card, $414.
Same T7910 with single E5-2620v3, 2x 256GB boot SSD, 128GB RAM, basic video card, $957

I would buy the bigger prebuild, as it includes $600 worth of RAM and will allow troubleshooting and BIOS updates before upgrading the CPUs. But if you already have RAM, video card, or even CPUs, the base model is fine.

Processors:

E5-2699v4 – $650 each – 22 core 44 thread 2.20-3.60GHz, supports up to 44 plots in parallel

RAM:

The prebuild above has 128GB which will handle up to 38 plots in parallel. If you must squeeze those last 6 plots out, add 8x8GB ($304) or even 8x16GB ($632). The 8×8 is more than enough.

Fast storage:

Dell Ultra-Speed Drive Quad Ultra – $225 on ebay, as low as $120 on Amazon

To plot 44 plots in parallel, you need 11TB of SSD, probably either 4x 4TB NVMe on the Quad board, or 4x 2TB plus a PCIe add-in-card or two.

4TB NVMe SSDs at Amazon:

Mushkin Delta Gen 4.0 – $700 – 800 TBW
PNY XLR8 CS3040 – $690 – 900TBW
Sabrent Rocket Q 4TB – $650 – 1040 TBW
Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus – $900 – 2800 TBW
Sabrent Rocket Gen 3 – $800 – 6000 TBW (although some reports say more)
Corsair Force MP510 – $927 – 6280 TBW

2TB NVMe SSDs to pair with an add-in card

Inland Premium – $220ish when in stock – 3200TBW
Seagate Firecuda 510 – $310 – 2600TBW
Seagate Firecuda 520 – $423 – 3600TBW

Intel P3605 1.6TB add-in PCIe card – $720 on eBay – 8760 TBW

Slow storage:

You’re mostly on your own for this, but I use 4 8TB SAS HDDs like these Seagates in the front bays, booting from an NVMe or m.2 SATA drive on a PCIe card inside. This gives me a bit short of 30TB (300 plots worth) before I have to move them to larger external storage.

Seagate ST8000 8TB SAS Enterprise Capacity Drive – $129 or less on eBay

Lots of other options are out there

If you check out Reddit or the other sources I’ve mentioned, you’ll find lots of ideas for builds or reuse. Some people (including me) are using some inexpensive and slightly outdated PCIe flash storage for the plotting space (taking advantage of boards with lots of PCIe slots). Others are building workstations with high power boards like the ASUS P9X79 Pro (my latest build, which I’ve had around for 5 years as a desktop). You can run a Xeon on some of these boards that sold for core i7 processors; more cores, more cache, more raw power.

A Chia rig can be an obsession, and in a way it’s like an adjustable stool or tripod. You can easily paralyze yourself by adjusting the CPU and RAM, adjusting the fast storage, then going back to RAM, and so forth. If you’re going to be serious about Chia, you should build a stable rig first, and then experiment on something else. Keeping as many plots coming in as possible gives you the best chance of scoring XCH, and you miss all of the plots you don’t make.

Where do you go from here?

If you’ve built a Chia rig, let us know in the comments what you’re working with and how it turned out. If you have questions, I’ll try to answer them, but you can also get a lot of feedback on r/chia on Reddit.

25 thoughts on “Chia hardware starting points

  1. Pingback: So you think you want to farm chia? | rsts11 – Robert Novak on system administration

  2. Essentially I’d like to start with this rig since I have one. Thoughts?
    Dell T5810
    1x Xeon E5-1620 v3 3.5GHz Quad Core Processor
    16GB DDR4 (4 x 4GB)Memory
    1x 256GB SATA Solid State Drive (SSD)
    NVIDIA Quadro K2200 4GB GDDR5 (2x Display Port, 1x DVI-I)
    685W Power Supply
    Windows 10 Pro 64-bit

    I have a 10Tb external on the way and I have a
    Sabrent 2TB Rocket NVMe 4.0 Gen4 PCIe M.2 Internal SSD Extreme Performance Solid State Drive (SB-ROCKET-NVMe4-2TB) to install. I forgot the heat sink, so that’s on order to.

    Like

    • You’ll notice I have something very close up under “My Chia hardware experiences” … your config will do as a dedicated plotter/farmer for about 4 plots in parallel.

      Double the memory and you can do 8 plots at default (or 4-6 with more memory per plot), but you’ll be kneecapped by the processor at that point.

      Upgrade the CPU to 6-8 cores with hyperthreading along with the memory and you can go to 8 parallel comfortably. E5-1650v3 is a good step, and can be found on eBay US at least for around $120 or less shipped. The E5-1680 v3 is even better but also more than twice the price.

      But definitely start plotting with what you have (once the NVMe drive comes in) and get used to the process. You’re on the right path.

      Like

  3. Pingback: Building the Intel NUC Chia Plotter | rsts11 – Robert Novak on system administration

  4. I noticed the Dell Ultra-Speed Quad adapter is up to 9GB/s sequential read and 6GB/s sequential write speeds. Does that mean you can only attach (4) 1TB SSD or (2) 2TB and (2) 1TB SSD drives?

    Like

    • You can connect any four NVMe drives, although you may not get the full theoretical throughput of all four drives at once. I’m using four 1TB drives (Samsung SSD 980) myself, and I doubt it’s ever been the bottleneck in the process.

      Like

  5. I have a recently purchased HP tower, Ryzen 7 4700g, 8gb PC3200 DDR4, 256gb NVMe drive. Open gen 3 PCI X1 and X16 slots. What options should I look at? I’m getting some external storage on order for farming, and am looking at adding either a 1tb or 2tb SSD for plotting. I’m also looking at either adding one 8gb stick, or swapping out for two 16gb. Options for keeping the boot drive separate from the plot drive? (adapter, etc)

    Like

    • A lot of your questions are addressed in the post you’re responding to (look at the Dell Precision rig section).
      The “hardware considerations” part of https://rsts11.com/2021/04/27/so-you-think-you-want-to-farm-chia/ is also very useful for your questions, as it gives the metrics for each plot process.

      I can tell you up front, your NVMe drive will be your first bottleneck even if it’s dedicated to plotting (I don’t think the usable space will allow even one plot to run), and the RAM will be right behind.

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      • I guess I was primarily wondering if what I read elsewhere about keeping the plotting separate from the boot drive was indeed recommended. Assuming so, and since I have just one M2 slot, I was looking to see if I had an option for adapting my 256gb NVMe to my PCI x1 slot (struggling to find options for that lower than an X4), or if I should just bite the bullet and use an adapter in my X16 for either my boot or plotting drive.

        Is 32gb worth the cost (2x16gb sticks at $150-170-ish) vs me just adding one 8b stick to my current ram?

        I did read this and some other articles fully, but wasn’t feeling certain with these decisions.

        Like

  6. Hey, I was wondering if you could contact me about some paid support. No matter what I have tried I can’t get my rig to plot on windows 10 without crashing. Are you able to contact me by email to give me a hand? I have found no help on reddit or github as of yet.

    Like

    • Can you share a little bit of detail here? I might be able to help out, but I’d like to see if I can do it quickly without bothering with billing. Details like your cores/threads, RAM, NVMe or SSD type and size… and your plot configuration (RAM, threads, how many in parallel) would help.

      One of the most common issues I’ve seen is RAM oversubscription. I saw someone this afternoon on our telegram chat who had committed 3x 4500MB plots with a 16GB machine, and it was likely starving out his computer and killing the plots.

      Like

  7. Hi, thanks for this post, answered a lot of my questions.
    I would like to hear your oppinion on my project. trying to get startet with chia farming but don’t want to spend a lot of money. So i was thinking of using my laptop for plotting (I7, 6cores, 12 threads, 32GB RAM). I was thinkink of only working with external disks (2TB SSD and a 10TB HDD, both connected with USB 3.1.
    Do you think this could work or is the USB connection to slow for the plotting disk? any other bottleneck to consider?
    thx

    Like

    • USB 3.1 might be viable. I did my first few plots with a 512GB RAVPower drive until I found my 2TB NVMe and got it installed. I don’t remember the metrics but it worked.

      Worst case you’re a bit slower on the heavy plotting stages and get a couple fewer plots a week. If your laptop has multiple USB controllers, splitting them might help (i.e. a USB-C port might be a separate controller from the USB-A ports, especially if it’s Thunderbolt/USB-C).

      If you do have Thunderbolt 3 or 4, OWC makes a Thunderbolt 3 bus-powered NVMe enclosure that I keep meaning to test out against the RAVpower and VAVA USB-C flash drives. There are also some Akitio external enclosures that might be overkill but would do pretty well, especially if (like me) you find open box/scratch and dent sale offers.

      Like

      • Thanks, that OWC NVMe enclosure looks really neat! definately an option. but a bit more costly than what I want to spend.

        I have several thunderbolt connections so i think I’ll start with a Samsung x5. As you mentioned, i can always add a seccond one.

        I’ll give you an update once I’m plotting.

        Like

      • Watch their sales… I got the AKiTiO Thunder3 Quad (4x 3.5) windows version for $85 shipped because it had a bad displayport port (which I wasn’t going to use anyway). The Envoy Express diskless is about $80 for a single NVMe drive (I got it a few bucks cheaper for pre-release ordering). I wish it were 22110 but they don’t expect people to use datacenter NVMe on these.

        I’d also look at the Samsung T7 – USB 3.2, and $150 for 1TB vs $350 for the X5 (list price at least). You could get two of those and stripe them and have room for 6 plots, for less than the cost of the X5. Or get the 2TB T7 for about $20 less than the X5. Although if you split the plots across two drives you may get better throughput.

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  8. Hi, I am planning to farm Chia coins using my available disc space

    Just curious about the plotting mechanism:

    If I use my NVME SSD to plot, and HDD to store the Plots, if all my HDD is full, will the NVME still be working to plot?

    Just wondering about the potential lifespan of the NVME and HDDs (i.e. if my HDDs are full, then my NVME will stop plotting to increase lifespan)

    My NVME SSD is rated at 1600 TBW, and am using a pair of Seagate Skyhawk 4TB and 8TBs

    Like

    • If the HDD fills up, the plots on the SSD will stop when they try to copy over in the final phase.

      Check the main “So you think you want to farm chia” post for some thoughts on lifespan of SSD.

      Like

  9. Pingback: Frequently Ungoogled Chia Questions | rsts11 – Robert Novak on system administration

  10. Pingback: Chia update and frequently answered questions | rsts11 – Robert Novak on system administration

  11. I “really want to go haywire” and would love it if you’d spec out a “T7910 -Haywire Balls to the Wall” build (as you clearly already have the majority of what’s needed in your head… and I’ll certainly use your affiliate links).

    I think we can agree that a balls to the wall build would be max threads… although I’m not interested in overclocking.

    I built 2x ETH miners and mined it when it was around $4a coin… I was yielding about 4x a day to start. Everyone thought i was crazy.

    TIA

    Like

    • I can’t say you weren’t crazy, but I can’t say I haven’t been accused of the same, with good cause. And I’ve been forcing myself not to add too much more RAM to my 7910. 🙂

      I’ll set something up and add it to the hardware examples post – will comment back here when it’s there.

      Like

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