Quick Take: Is It Too Late To Get Into Crypto?

Short answer: Maybe. But read on.

In January 2021, I refreshed my involvement with cryptocurrency mining, after two years of Ronco-mode Ethereum mining. Set it and forget it worked pretty well, except when a power supply died.

I started a post then, and had told some friends about my calculations for Ethereum mining with the new 30-series from NVIDIA or even my old RX580 cards. A $1500 rig that could pay for itself in six months? Amazing.

But in the week or two after I said that, as James Burke might say, the universe changed. Or at least the crypto and GPU world started to transmute in strange ways.

The RTX 3060 Ti started crawling up from $400ish into the high three figures range, along with the rest of the new GPU line, Ethereum difficulty started increasing more noticeably, and estimated rewards started to take a dive. Even the RX580 8GB cards I paid $200-250 each NEW for in 2018 made it up to $500 each USED by April or so.

So while the first week of January would’ve been a pretty good time to stock up on GPUs and start mining, it’s been a harder sell in many ways since then. Supply chain difficulties and scalpers and limited stock and (later) theft of truckloads of GPUs didn’t help with stock, and many retailers have had to pay a premium which they have to pass along to grumbling customers.

I still brought in a few RTX-series GPUs, and for a while I had my old 4GB and 6GB GPUs running too. It was still a good opportunity if your GPUs were in hand and paid for, and if your energy costs weren’t too bad. And the windfall that might have been possible in late 2020 was no longer practical.

It got better, right? And what’s LHR?

It didn’t get better, and it’s not at all related to London’s Heathrow Airport.

Almost a year later, GPUs are still twice MSRP on a good day, if you can find stock. Deals may come up from time to time but you may be waiting a while.

In addition, NVIDIA “innovated” in May with their Lite Hash Rate GPUs (most people de-euphemize it to Limited Hash Rate), and sometimes the limit may be at 50% of what the previous version of the card was capable of.

The idea was that by making changes to the video BIOS and driver, they could keep people from using their GPUs as efficiently for crypto mining. This was supposed to make cards more accessible to gamers and less accessible to miners. Of course they cut the performance and not the price, and as mining software developers got to work they found ways to work around the limits at least somewhat.

If you can find RTX 30-series non-LHR GPUs at a fair price today, that’s the way to go, and the 3070 is a sweet spot. There are SKU decoders out there to help you make sure, and if you know the card was made or sold prior to May 2021 you can be fairly certain they are full hashrate cards (FHR or NHR – Normal Hash Rate). But you’re looking at twice the release price if you can find them new, and possibly even if you can find them used.

So you think you want to mine Ethereum?

My old posts on Ethereum mining rigs are still pretty relevant, except for the prices and the earnings. Three years later, my RX580 rig is still mining 30MH+ per GPU at about 100W per GPU, and a lot of the physics and logistics are the same.

If you’re new to mining, it’s best to start with what’s in your gaming PC, or look around on local marketplaces or retailers for a current GPU. I recently recommended that someone go to a computer builder and get a basic gaming PC built with 1-2 3060ti/3070 GPUs to get started. You need very little CPU (quad core Celeron or Pentium from the last couple of years is enough), very little memory (8GB should cover you), and a 8GB or larger USB flash drive to boot off of.

Most NVIDIA and AMD GPUs with at least 6GB of RAM can mine Ethereum and several other coins. Search for overclocking and hashrates for the cards you have access to (I usually use hashrate.no as my first point of information) and then use a calculator like Cryptocompare.com to figure out your earnings and power. You can also use whattomine.com to figure out what coins are profitable for your cards at a given time, but this changes frequently.

For example, if you have a single FHR/NHR/non-LHR NVIDIA RTX 3060Ti or RTX 3070, 60-62MH will be easy to maintain, and worst case you should use 200 watts for the entire system. You’re probably looking at around $73 a month in revenue as of the writing this post. If your power is free, or if you’re not in California, you will probably make a bit more.

Go grab HiveOS (referral link, or use promo code ANDROMEDARY) and give it a try. Your first rig is free. You can boot from a USB 3.0 flash drive and not lose your Windows or Linux installation. It will help you manage overclocking and monitor your rig and GPUs pretty easily, and they have support on Discord, Telegram, and their own forums.

I would recommend running your minimal rig for at least a week on the pool of your choice. I recommend flexpool.io, which is the pool I work for, but I was a satisfied miner for months before I was on staff. See how the mining system works, make sure it has family acceptance factor, and then decide if it’s worth continuing and/or expanding.

But Ethereum is dead and is going away, right?

Yes but no. Ethereum is moving from Proof of Work (i.e. mining) to Proof of Stake (i.e. centralized holdings and not much mining) sometime in the future. The current estimated time for this change is June 2022, but that could slip (I think it was originally scheduled for January 2019 and we see how that went). But I would not count on Ethereum revenue at current levels for much longer, if you plan to buy new or more GPUs.

There are a lot of alternate coins that people are looking at as possible successors to Ethereum for mining. Some of the leading ones include Ergo, Ravencoin, and Ethereum Classic. Nobody knows what will be the best future coin, and it will probably depend on which GPUs you pick, so that’s an entirely separate bag of worms and Google searches for you to consider.

It won’t necessarily help you use your GPUs, but CPU mining is making a bit of a comeback, so if your gaming PC has a nice Ryzen processor and 32GB of RAM, you can look at Monero, Raptoreum, and a few others.

And whether you’re on GPU or CPU or both, there are a couple of profit-switching miner programs out there that will benchmark what you’ve got and automatically mine the most “profitable” (highest revenue) coin. You can also use GPU or CPU with a mining pool called Unmineable, which lets you use the best algorithms for your rig(s) and get paid out in other coins. I have been known to CPU mine the RandomX algorithm and get paid out in ZIL, but you can cross-mine several coins with GPUs and CPUs using their mining software or the native software for your platform.

Shouldn’t I just buy the dip?

Maybe. If you’re not interested in touching hardware, or generating extra heat, or spending thousands of dollars on equipment, you might just watch for prices of your favorite coins to drop and buy low/sell high. And of course there’s no reason not to do both if you like.

The mining option is a bit more predictable – you can’t count on another July dip to $1800 or a December 3 dip to $3500 or spikes to $5000 at any given time, but you probably will bring in $100/mo per 3070 before hardware and power costs. So it comes down to your budget, how much money you are willing to lose, and whether you want to consider doing something else with the hardware when you’re done mining (if that ever happens). GPUs will probably still be good for AI/ML, games, display functionality, and maybe even selling to people with firmer hands than you have in the mining world.

Where do we go from here?

I’m still mining along; my RX580 rig from 2018 is still mostly intact, with one 4GB GPU replaced with an 8GB one, and I have an NVIDIA rig running a 1080 and a couple of 30-series GPUs.

I got moderately into Chia, as you can read about here. And I’m exploring Chia forks, as well as CPU mining options to run on my Chia plotters. Watch for an update on the Chia world later this month.

How are you feeling about crypto mining these days, and how are your rigs doing? Join the comments below, and feel free to ask any questions you have.

Disclosure: “Quick Take” refers more to the velocity of the post creation, not the time it takes to read. This isn’t the first post I’ve made in Quick Takes that was longer than I expected by the time it was finished.

Header Photo: One of my old rig bases, featuring an ASUS P6T with a Xeon processor and an S-Union 1-to-4 riser board that comes in and out of stock. This used to run my RX560/570 cards, and later some NVIDIA cards, and now has a RTX 1660SUPER and a pair of 1080s. It’s overkill for mining but it was cheap and handy. The 1000 watt PSU isn’t too bad either.

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