Cryptomining hardware has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. Due to increased competition and the extra processing power now required to generate hashes quickly, hardware that was considered effective just three years ago, is now obsolete.
However, the emergence of alt coins has resurrected certain type of equipment which can again be used for mining. What follows is a run-down of the most effective kinds of hardware for crypto mining which includes technical information as well as pros and cons.
Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs)
Since 2013, application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) have become the best hardware for crypto mining. Similar in concept to FPGAs, they’re far more powerful and energy-efficient than anything that’s gone before. Initially developed for Bitcoin mining, ASICs are now in widespread use and are essential for large-scale mining operations.
ASICs are non-standard integrated circuits (IC) which have been designed to process a specific task. Although lacking the versatility of standard, multi-purpose ICs, an ASIC chip can perform single tasks much faster and more efficiently than a standard processor.
Consequently, ASICs can mine at a higher hash rate than CPUs, GPUs and FPGAs. In fact, according to some industry experts, the latest ASIC miners are as powerful as 400 GPUs or 12,000 CPUs combined.
Their use in mining for Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is one of the main reasons why blockchain difficulty levels have soared.
This has also led to the development of cryptocurrencies that are resistant to ASICs. Nevertheless, application specific integrated circuits remain the most economical and powerful hardware options for serious miners, despite the lofty price tag.
Advantages of ASIC Miners
- Fastest mining machines on the market
- More economical than CPUs, GPUs and FPGAs
- Ease of use
- High ROI
- Limited availability
- Low re-sale value
Central Processing Units (CPUs)
Standard multi-core CPUs have been used to mine for cryptocurrency since the advent of Bitcoin. In the early days, lower blockchain difficulty levels meant that anybody with a reasonably powerful PC could accumulate a tidy profit – indeed, CPUs were the best cryptocurrency mining hardware for their time – how things have changed.
A CPU is considered the brains of a computer and is responsible for running software calculations and operating programs. It is, in essence, the PC’s control centre.
Most modern CPUs feature multiple core processors which are basically two or more independent processing units.
These allow for higher performance at lower energy. Ten years ago, the use of such hardware was more than adequate for solving the cryptographic puzzles required to validate a blockchain transaction.
However, as mining became more difficult, particularly with regards to Bitcoin, CPU’s started to become impractical. In comparison to the latest GPUs as well as emerging hardware such as ASICs, they just weren’t able to execute hash functions at an acceptable rate.
Nevertheless, it’s still feasible to use CPUs to mine for altcoins due to a lack of competition and lower blockchain difficulty.
What’s more, a growing number of currencies are now ASIC-proof, as developers strive to retain the egalitarian spirit upon which the whole blockchain concept was based.
While only a limited number of cryptocurrencies are anti-ASIC, their increasing prevalence can only be good news for CPU mining in the short to medium term.
Advantages of CPU Mining
- Cost effective
- Specialist hardware not required
- Good starting point
Disadvantages of CPU Mining
- No longer profitable for major cryptocurrencies
- Limited processor power
- High power consumption
Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs)
In 2011, people started to use Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) to mine for Bitcoin, partly because they used the same programming language (Verilog). FPGAs also provided significant performance gains over CPUs and GPUs in terms of hash rate generation while consuming far less power.
FPGAs are integrated circuits which are designed to be highly configurable hence the term, ‘field programmable’. Similar to application-specific integrated circuits (ASICS), they comprise an array of programmable logic blocks which can be wired together and configured to carry out complicated functions.
Because of this flexibility, crypto miners started to configure them to perform the SHA-256 hash function used on Bitcoin blockchains.
However, their use was rather short-lived as more powerful and economical ASICs started to emerge. FPGAs have since become obsolete and are no longer part of the conversation when it comes to crypto mining.
Nevertheless, they remain an important step in the evolution of cryptocurrency mining hardware.
Advantages of FPGAs
- Faster than CPUs and GPUs
- More energy efficient than CPUs and GPUs
- Outperformed by ASICs
- Difficult to Source
- High electricity costs