Not that long ago, barely anyone (except for computer geeks) had even heard of Bitcoin. After its price skyrocketed in the fall of 2013 and after the spectacular crash in early 2014, more and more people became interested in this “cryptocurrency,” and some of them even started mining it.While it’s becoming more and more difficult to mine - without spending a lot of money upfront - it’s not impossible to turn a good profit if you can afford the hardware. But how does one mine Bitcoins and what is needed to mine them?Getting started with Bitcoin miningLet’s assume, that you already have hardware capable of mining Bitcoins (you’ll find information on that further in the post) – to mine your first Bitcoin, follow the steps below:1. Get a “Wallet”. To start mining Bitcoins the first thing you will need is to become better acquainted with what it is by installing a wallet for your new cryptocurrency. There are many different wallets available, and you can choose between an online wallet in the cloud, a wallet on your PC, or even one on your smartphone.The safest option is getting one on your computer (and the only one if you want to mine), simply because you are the one who is in possession of your coins. Make sure that your wallet has a double-identification requirement or that you store it on a computer that has no access to the Internet. Don’t forget your wallet credentials as they are non-recoverable.2. Join a Bitcoin mining pool. Make sure you choose a quality and reputable pool. Otherwise, there’s a risk that the owner will steal the Bitcoins instead of sharing them among those who have been mining. Check online for the pool history and reviews to make sure you will get paid for your efforts.3. Get Bitcoin mining software on your computer. There are two different types - one which focuses on the CPU power and the other on GPU. The latter is much more powerful and much easier to set up for beginners.4. Go to your Bitcoin mining pool account and fill in your wallet address (the one which you just created).5. After that, it’s time to create sub-accounts in your pool profile. Each of them will be used as a “worker” (you can have more than one running on your computer, depending on hardware resources). Once you are done with creating your sub-accounts, add them to your Bitcoin mining software together with the URL of the pool. That’s it – you are ready to mine.Is it that easy?Although the process of mining Bitcoin is very straightforward and you can start mining in a matter of minutes, because of the increasing difficulty of successfully mining Bitcoins, hardware requirements are now extremely high and unless you can afford a quality setup, there’s little point in starting.There are four main types of Bitcoin mining hardware – the list below will introduce you to the changes which shaped the Bitcoin industry in the past few years:CPUWhen it all started, everyone (the few people who knew about it) was using CPUs to mine. Not only was it the only known way but it was enough to use your personal computer’s CPU to get results. Nowadays it would take years and you’d probably not make a single Bitcoin simply because the difficulty keeps increasing.The huge leap: GPUOnce CPUs became less efficient and it became harder to mine with them, miners started using high-end GPUs which turned out to be much more effective for the Bitcoin network.The beginning of the GPU mining era has been one of the most profitable in terms of Bitcoins mined as GPUs brought a staggering increase in efficiency while using much less power compared to CPU. What’s interesting, the AMD architecture of graphics cards turned out to be much more efficient compared to its main competitor nVidia.The next step: FPGAAlthough the transition between GPU and FPGA wasn’t as spectacular as the one between CPUs and GPUs in terms of increase in mining efficiency it marked the era of specially manufactured hardware used solely to mine Bitcoins. This was also the time of strong Bitcoin hardware commercialization.The biggest change compared to GPU that Field Programmable Gate Array has brought is the reduction in consumed power which decreased 5 times while giving a 30% boost in mining efficiency. This is the time when big players started joining the Bitcoin game.The now: ASICThe final (at least for now) method of mining Bitcoins is using the Application-Specific Integrated Circuit. ASIC chips are created with only one thing in mind - to mine Bitcoins. Unlike GPUs and CPUs, they cannot be used for anything else.Hardware specialization became the only accepted form of existence in the cryptocurrency mining industry and as of now, there’s nothing that could replace ASIC.Because the transition was again not as spectacular as the one between GPU and FPGA regarding boost in mining power one of the most important features of every ASIC-based device is its power efficiency. If its energy efficient enough to cover the energy price with its output and still pay for itself it may be considerably profitable.The problem of energy efficiency is important also because with no alternative ASIC chips are believed to stay and be the sole hardware used to mine Bitcoins in the future.Can I mine bitcoins on my own?If you can afford top notch hardware you could mine on your own without registering with a Bitcoin mining pool. While this would give you independence and save you money on fees (luckily there are zero fee pools), your payout would be infrequent.On the other hand, if you join the pool each block is mined much faster and you will get more frequent yet lower payouts. With the fluctuating prices of Bitcoins, it’s better to have cash at hand as you can sell your coins and buy them back after changes on Bitcoin markets.Should I join the craze?Of course! There are still many Bitcoins to be mined and the Bitcoin industry is huge. The question is not whether you should be mining but whether you should sell what you mine or store it and wait for the price to skyrocket - as you may have seen Bitcoin is capable of breaking $1000 per coin and considering its amount is limited the price will likely rise again in the near future.
Written on 26 Nov 2015.