You’ve made the decision to mine Ethereum. You’ve research Ethereum mining pools, know which mining software you’ll use, and then you went down the video card selection rabbit hole and hit a magic number: 3GB. Mining Ethereum with a 3GB card such as a GTX 1060 3GB can be far cheaper than an 8GB card like a GTX 1070. The price of a 1070 is just about twice that of the 1060 3GB. So, what gives?

A GTX 1060 with 3GB of RAM like this one can mine Ethereum just fine…

Nvidia GTX 1060 3GB

a 3GB GPU, the Nvidia GTX 1060 3GB

 

…but, so can this GTX 1070 with 8GB of RAM. Which should you choose?

Nvidia GTX 1070 8GB

an 8GB GPU, the Nvidia GTX 1070 8GB

 

First, know that you’re not alone. One of the most frequently asked questions by new Ethereum miners is if you can mine ether with a 3GB card. The short answer: Yes. The longer answer: It’s complicated.

Continue reading and we’ll outline the pros and cons of mining ETH with 3 GB GPUs.

For those new to Ethereum mining

3GB of what?

For those new-to-mining and computer hardware, when talking about a 3 GB, 4 GB, 8 GB or any GB video card, what is actually being referenced is how much video RAM the graphics card has. This can be a limitation for miners which is why this question is asked so often. To understand why it is a limitation, let’s dig a bit deeper into Ethereum mining and something called the DAG.

Ethereum mining at a (very) high level

When mining Ethereum, or any other cryptocurrency for that matter, the video card, or GPU, or graphics processing unit, is doing the heavy lifting. The work being done can be simply explained as guessing the answer to a puzzle. The more computing power the mining computer has the faster it can guess, and hopefully find the correct answer. When it does, it is awarded in ether.

While this work may sound trivial, it’s more involved than our simpleton explanation, but not by all that much. And, believe it or not, this so-called mining is integral to how Ethereum and most other cryptocurrencies work. What’s important to know for our purposes is that mathematical puzzles are being solved to make Ethereum a secure and reliable network.

The DAG

The last piece of the puzzle we need to talk about is the DAG. DAG stands for Directed Acyclic Graph. If that doesn’t immediately mean anything to you don’t worry. It doesn’t to most, and we’re willing to be most miners really don’t know what it is. Our explanation once again will fall far on the simple side.

The DAG can be thought of as a necessary piece of the puzzles being solved. In solving a puzzle when mining, parts of the DAG are referenced and used in calculating answers. To allow a miner’s GPU in a video card to provide solutions as fast as possible, the DAG is stored in the cards video ram.

DAG hardware limitation

Putting everything above together you may be about to ask, “well, what is the size of the DAG then?” If so, you’re on track to why 3 is a critical number when considering video RAM in video cards for a mining rig.

Ethereum’s DAG size

Ethereum’s DAG started out at 1GB. It increases at roughly .73GB each year. Ethereum’s DAG size is, as you likely may have guessed by now, approaching 3GB. The date when the DAG will be larger than 3GB is a moving target due to a variety of factors. It’s safe to say that the DAG will eclipse 3 GB some time in the second half of 2018. And, when it does, those 3GB cards will have lost their ability to mine ETH.

The DAG will simply no longer be able to be held in the 3 GB of video ram on those cards.

You can mine Ethereum with 3GB cards today

So, the easy answer is that yes, today you can mine Ethereum using video cards with 3 GB of video ram. There will come a tomorrow some time in the second half of 2018, however, when you won’t.

Should you buy 3GB cards to mine ether or not?

Maybe. That might surprise you, but there are a few reasons why kitting out an Ethereum mining rig with 3 GB cards might not be a bad way to go. Here’s why:

  1. 3GB cards are significantly cheaper than 4, 6 or 8GB cards
  2. Ethereum’s DAG won’t rise over 3GB for nearly a year
  3. 3GB cards will be able to mine scores of other coins with DAG sizes of 3GB and below

Do the math

Finally, be sure you understand the performance tradeoff between a 3GB or higher mining rig. Yes, a 1060 GTX 3GB can mine ether, but so can a 1070GTX 8GB. Both cards will work, but knowing which is the best for your situation requires due diligence. A great tool to leverage is What to Mine. Get familiar with the cost of mining rig components, performance and price of electricity to figure out ROI for your unique situation.

Now build that mining rig – 3GB cards or otherwise!

We hope we’ve armed you with enough information to make a good decision on the mining cards for your Ethereum rig. If you’re still struggling, leave a comment below and we’ll do our best to help!

Image ‘Crypto mining rig‘ by Nathan11466, used in accordance with its Creative Commons License. Source: Flickr.com

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