Gamers looking to build or buy a gaming PC have been challenged by the cryptocurrency mining craze. As mining moved from predominantly CPUs and ASICs to leveraging GPUs, video card prices soared throughout the first half of 2017. The reason was simple: the most cutting-edge consumer video cards held GPUs, or graphic processing units, that excelled at solving complex mathematical problems. Cryptocurrency mining relies on solving cryptographic puzzles, something consumer-level GPUs happened to be quite adept at.

Whether you have a gaming PC or are looking to build or buy one, there’s a significant cost investment in hardware. High-end gaming computers aren’t cheap. So, if you have one, you may want to consider recouping some of your investment. How? By joining those cryptocurrency miners and letting those pricey video cards earn their keep when you’re not fragging away. As it turns out, most gaming PC’s are great at mining Ethereum, Zcash, Monero and several other cryptocurrencies.

What is video card mining?

If you’re reading this article you probably know what video card mining is. But, just in case you’re gaming and don’t know much about cryptocurrency mining, we’ll cover that, too.

Video card mining involves supplying computing power to a cryptocurrency network. That computing power is most prominently used to validate transactions, but can also be used for other purposes, such as running smart-contract applications on Ethereum’s virtual computing platform.

As we mentioned above, a part of the process involves solving difficult cryptographic puzzles. And, the GPUs in consumer-grade video cards are effective at solving these problems. This is a part of the design of cryptocurrency algorithms themselves as their creators wanted to make participation in the process open to as many people as possible. The reward for providing processing power is the currency itself. At a predetermined interval, coins, or tokens, are released into circulation.

Participants in the mining process have the potential of being awarded these coins. The process is called mining as it is akin to the real world equivalent of mining precious metals or minerals like gold or diamonds.

If you have a gaming PC, you have a mining rig

Of course, there are some nuances. But, any consumer-grade computer can mine one or many cryptocurrencies. That doesn’t mean it will be good at doing so. It may, in fact, be unprofitable. It largely depends on the abilities of one component predominantly, the GPU that is at the heart of they system’s video card.

Differences and similarities: Gaming PCs and mining rigs

Gaming PCs and GPU-based mining rigs share all the same components. The biggest difference between the two computers is regarding which components offer value to their purpose. While having a large, fast SSD drive can play a role in how well a gaming computer performs, it has just about no value when building a mining rig. For mining rigs, a cheap, reliable SSD that can hold the operating system and mining software is all you need. Anything more would be extraneous expense.

Importance of performance by PC component

Component-by-component, here’s a run down on the importance to a great gaming PC and a great GPU mining rig:

ComponentGaming PCGPU Mining Rig
MotherboardHighLow
Video Card/GPUHighHigh
ProcessorHighLow
RAMMedium-to-HighLow
StorageMediumLow
Power Supply (PSU)Medium-to-HighHigh
Case and CoolingHighHigh

Motherboard

The performance characteristics of the motherboard are low, for cryptocurrency miners as the speed that individual components can interface with one another isn’t a performance factor. In contrast, a gaming PC needs high-performance bus speeds and interfaces to ensure the fastest, reliable and stable gaming experience. A mining computer does not. For a miner, any modern motherboard could suffice as long as it can handle the number of video cards the miner wants to leverage. This makes most motherboards that would be used in a gaming PC sufficient as they generally tend to have several PCI-e slots for the graphics cards.

There are, however, certain motherboards that excel from either the total number of GPUs that the can support. Most GPU miners quickly realize the benefit of connecting as many GPUs as possible to a single motherboard as it cuts the cost of buying all the other components necessary. The most popular motherbaords amongst miners support 6 to 8 GPUs. As of late, manufacturers have introduced motherboards that can handle up to 19 GPUs.

Video Card

As we’ve covered earlier, both gamers and miners need top-of-the-line video cards. For gamers, the latest and greatest are generally the best bet. The same isn’t necessarily true for miners. A prime example is Nvida’s GTX GE Force line. Gamers would opt for the latest generation, the 1080 or 1080ti. Miners, however might not make that move. The GTX 1080’s predecessor, the 1070, offers a better total package when you factor not only mining speed, but efficiency into the equation. Unless you don’t have to pay for electricity where you live, the 1070 is the miner’s pick. We’ll talk more about video cards below.

Processor

Processor is another point of divergence. Gamers need a CPU that can handle heavy computational loads. The processor does very little beyond running the operating system and mining software which puts little demands upon it. Miners opt for the cheapest processor they can get their hands on that works in the socket of their chosen motherboard.

RAM

RAM is another area where gamers lean toward the premium end of the market. And, in contrast, miners go for the cheapest they can find, and not much of it. The average mining rig has a paltry 4GB of RAM, and it isn’t fast. It simply doesn’t need to be.

Storage

There’s an argument for putting a high-speed SSD in a gaming computer, and for some, a small SSD to run the OS and applications and a massive second drive to hold everything else. As with so many other components in a mining rig, storage isn’t a factor. A mining rig needs storage for the OS and mining software and little more. A reliable 60GB SSD drive is all you need to get by.

Power Supply

Power supplies are important to both miners and gamers. Gamers need stability and the power to run their systems which can produce more demand than the average desktop. Miners run 24/7, and as mentioned above, might not need a lot of horsepower for most of their components, but the massive amount of electricity required to power 6, 7, 8 or more graphics cards requires them to have highly reliable power supplies that can handle far more demand. A gaming computer might be good-to-go with a gold-rated 400 watt power supply. Miners generally opt for top-of-segment platinum rated power supplies. They also are shopping in the 1000W plus range when running several graphics cards.

Cases and Cooling

This is a similar, but in reality, far different situation. Gaming computers generate a lot of heat. The processor, graphics card or cards, and the power supply all throw off generous amounts of heat. By utilizing fans, and in more advanced systems, water cooling, gaming PC’s are still neatly placed in a moderately sized case. Mining rigs, however, generate copious amounts of heat. It’s those video cards, running full-bore, non-stop that create the extreme heat. It’s so much heat that just about any even semi-serious mining rig is in an ‘open air case’. What that really means is something more akin to a frame than a case where air can freely flow in and out of the setup from all directions. An array of fans is used to dissipate heat off the hungry GPUs.

Mining video cards

The most important factor in how good of a mining rig it is? You guessed it, the GPU, or mining card. Before we get ahead of ourselves, if you’re considering doing any coin mining, here are the cards that are contenders:

Great

  • AMD-based RX570 and RX580 Cards – AMD cards were the class of the field until the 1070’s came to market. The 4GB cards can’t mine every coin making the 8GB cards (which can) the better miners. AMD’s RX 5-series cards aren’t quite as well rounded, but still the go-to card for certain cryptocurrencies.
  • Nvidia-based GE Force GTX 1070 Cards – The best combination of flexibility, power and efficiency for the algorithms behind most coins.
  • Nvidia-based GE Force GTX 1080 Cards – The 1080s have brute-strength, but, depending on the algorithm, can consume disproportionally more energy than their predecessor.

Good

  • AMD-based RX470 and 480 Cards – AMD’s older RX cards were every miner’s go-to card for years. They still mine well, although it should be noted that, like the 5xx series mentioned above, they can be found with both 4GB and 8GB of RAM onboard. Just as with the 570 and 580, the 8GB card is the miner’s choice.
  • Nvidia-based GE Force GTX 1060 Cards – Older 6 GB GTX 1060 cards, while mining slower than newer cards, still provide value at price-to-power-to-efficiency. Yes, you absolutely generate less output per card, but when looking at both initial costs and electricity consumption, they are viable. The 3GB cards can’t mine every cryptocurrency, so be sure to check.

How much money could a gaming PC make?

There’s revenue and there’s profit. Revenue is determine by those GPUs, as they determine how much of a given coin a rig can mine. But, there are several factors outside your control, too. The biggest determinants are the current value of the given cryptocurrency and how difficult it is to mine. We won’t go into the nuances of each, but instead illustrate how systems with different video cards can generate different amounts of revenue.

Single GPU Gaming Rig Mining Profitability

For the purpose of this comparison we’ll use exchange rates and mining difficulty rates from today. We’ll also be assuming that these gaming rigs have a single video card.

Ethereum (ETH) Profitability by GPU

Graphics Card GPUSpeed1 Month Revenue1 Month Profit$/Watt/hr
Nvidia GTX 1060 6GB22.5 Mh/s @ 90W$34.20$27.90$.012
Nvidia GTX 1070 8GB30 Mh/s @ 120W$45.90$37.20$.013
Nvidia GTX 1080 8GB23.3 Mh/s @ 140W$35.70$25.50$.009
Nvidia GTX 1080ti 8GB35 Mh/s @ 140W$53.70$43.50$.012
AMD RX570 8GB27.9 Mh/s @ 120W$42.90$34.20$.010
AMD RX580 8GB30.2 Mh/s @ 135W$46.20$36.60$.011

Monero (XMR) Profitability by GPU

Graphics Card GPUSpeed1 Month Revenue1 Month Profit$/Watt/hr
Nvidia GTX 1060 6GB430 h/s @ 70W$20.70$15.90$.010
Nvidia GTX 1070 8GB500 h/s @ 100W$24.30$17.10$.008
Nvidia GTX 1080 8GB580 h/s @ 100W$28.20$21.00$.009
Nvidia GTX 1080ti 8GB830 h/s @ 140W$40.20$30.00$.012
AMD RX570 8GB700 h/s @ 110W$33.90$25.80$.010
AMD RX580 8GB690 h/s @ 115W$33.30$24.90$.010

Zcash (ZEC) Profitability by GPU

Graphics Card GPUSpeed1 Month Revenue1 Month Profit$/Watt/hr
Nvidia GTX 1060 6GB270 h/s @ 90W$28.80$22.50$.011
Nvidia GTX 1070 8GB430 h/s @ 120W$46.20$37.50$.013
Nvidia GTX 1080 8GB550 h/s @ 130W$58.80$49.50$.015
Nvidia GTX 1080ti 8GB685 h/s @ 190W$73.20$59.70$.013
AMD RX570 8GB260 h/s @ 110W$27.90$19.80$.008
AMD RX580 8GB290 h/s @ 120W$30.90$22.50$.009

In short, you’re not going to get rich mining with a single-card mining rig. But, the calculations above don’t account for a cryptocurrency appreciating (after you’re mined it, which is what a lot of cryptocurrency miners are banking on. To be fair, a cryptocurrency can not only appreciate, but also depreciate. And, you didn’t go out and invest several thousand dollars in a GPU mining rig to do nothing but mine coins.

Note: All data used in above computations is from October 21, 2017. If you want to get current profitability numbers visit whattomine.com.

Mining sometimes versus all the time

To be fair, if these computers were still used for gaming, they aren’t going to be mining 24 hours a day, which is what the computations above would indicate.

To arrive at more realistic results, the percentage of time that the computer would be mining needs to be applied to the revenue and profit above. But, there’s clearly room for gamers to make some money on the side with their PCs, especially when already owning the hardware.

Mining Operating Systems and Software

Mining is most common on Linux and Windows operating systems, but it is possible to also mine on Apple Macintosh computers. As far as software is concerned, the only specialized applications that miners use are the mining programs themselves and overclocking utilities for the graphic cards.

Should you mine coins with your gaming PC?

That is a question left to each individual. If the money the could be earned is attractive, then mining may be for you. There are a few final caveats to consider when deciding if cryptocurrency mining is right for you and your gaming rig. Those include:

  • Cost of Electricity  – The computations above were at $.10 /kWh. It’s critical to know how much electricity costs where you live to determine what your actual returns will be.
  • GPU Overclocking – All of the mining speed calculations above assume some level of overclocking and/or undervolting. While commonplace for gamers, overclocking and undervolting can effect the lifespan of your graphics card.
  • Cooling – When mining a closed case can overheat quickly without proper ventilation. If you decide to give mining a shot, closely monitor the temperature of your GPU as well as inside the case. You may need to introduce additional cooling to mine safely.
  • Risk – Cryptocurrency mining is extremely risky. Market conditions can change, for better or worse, from not only day-to-day, but from minute-to-minute. Further, external forces such as hacking and government regulation could dramatically change the value of any cryptocurrency.

Whichever route you choose, we wish you luck, be it with gaming or with gaming and mining! Have a question? Ask it below!

Image ‘My Watercooled Computer‘ by Mark Williams, used in accordance with its Creative Commons License. Source: Flickr.com

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