The notification caught me by surprise. The final minimum payout was scheduled for around two in the morning, and I'll admit I wasn't fully awake when it came through. I scrambled to my laptop, shut my well-worn desktop program off, and checked the stats on both monitors. There was no room for ambiguity -- I had officially mined fifty Ravencoins using only a GTX 1060. And not the good kind with 6GB to spare, either.
The grand total wasn't objectively that valuable, but it was significant to me. I figured that the most appropriate course of action would be to place the currency in cold storage for safekeeping in a humble sort of a way. A particularly tiny paper wallet was called for -- one secured in packing tape and stored in a fireproof box. Even if this was going to be an itty-bitty wallet for an itty-bitty currency, I believe all cryptocurrencies deserve the highest of reverence when it comes to their long-term storage. That's the entire point of encryption after all, isn't it?
Ravencoin isn't exactly a foremost currency at the time of writing -- the fifty tokens I received currently amount to a little less than ten US dollars. It's relatively new, with a whitepaper that's only this very month celebrating its third anniversary. But it's led by what I consider a trustworthy group of developers who have met each of their goals on the timeline so far. And as a medium of exchange, I'm fond of what the currency represents.
Ravencoin is an example of a currency that was designed to be resistant to ASIC miners. It's original hash algorithm, X16R, was build from the ground up for this very reason. Ravencoin has since upgraded to a new algorithm -- KAWPOW -- which addresses some of the previous shortcomings of X16R. In short, the goal of this currency was to ensure that the most effective way to mine it would always be through consumer hardware. One could not simply gather a boatload of ASIC miners, camp out in some location in the middle of nowhere with a truckload of solar panels, and isolate the rest of the market with their computational abilities.
But Ravencoin isn't the only currency out there that's made easy to mine on a desktop computer. And my specific approach certainly isn't unique. So why don't we take a minute to go through a step by step process for how to mine cryptocurrency on your personal hardware, and why it is so vitally important for the integrity of the cryptography community.
Step 1: Acquire Hardware
Virtually any integrated circuit is capable of mining some form of cryptocurrency. We have seen successes in turning Game Boys, Nintendo Entertainment Systems, Raspberry Pis, Arduinos, and even Playstation 2's running Linux into mining rigs. If you have any digital hardware laying around and a little bit of technical know-how, you have yourself a crypto miner.
But of course, there are some mining combinations that are more profitable than others. While it's possible that your Game Boy will get insanely lucky on its first hash and net you your block reward of a cool 12.5 BTC, it's not looking too likely. In fact, to call the odds a quadrillion-to-one bet is being extremely charitable. And while Bitcoin makes for an extremely accessible example, there are other cryptocurrencies -- each following their own hash algorithm -- that may be more suitable for your hardware.
Step 2: Dedicate Your Hardware To A Currency
Just as Ravencoin is designed from the ground up to be mined on consumer GPUs, each cryptocurrency runs its hash function more optimally on some specific hardware. And while it is case specific, there are no shortage of excellent resources out there that can point the way to which currencies are most suited to the hardware you have. For GPU mining, I developed a fondness for 2CryptoCalc. It provides a handy table that allows users to input the numbers of each card in their rig dedicated to a coin, crunches the numbers on electricity costs, and provides you an ordered list of currencies best suited for your setup. It's not the only resource out there by far, of course -- MinerStat gets an honorable mention, and there are countless others out there for you to choose from. But it's what I went with.
Step 3: Install Your Mining Software and Join a Pool (Optional)
There are plenty of specialized software protocols to turn the processes power of your GPU into legitimate ratings. In my case, it wasn't looking like I'd be getting anything worthwhile out of a six year old GPU all by myself, so I elected to enroll in a mining pool.
When miners pool their computing resources together on a network, they each work to tackle a block one at a time using appropriately divided computation. Rather than individually seeking block rewards, each participant narrows down possible hash values and contributes to the probability of finding a valid block before a competitor can. It's still possible for a user to attain a block reward, but miner rewards are evenly distributed across the pool in the form of shares. This incentivizes many users to combine their processors together to form an effective global supercomputer dedicating its effort towards mining cryptocurrencies effectively, so as to compete with major solo-mining competitors, such as professional industries.
There are plenty of pools out there for virtually any currency, each with their own terms and benefits. And rightly so -- in the better interest of decentralizing a cryptocurrency, mining pools are discouraged from attaining a majority of the total hashing power. Other pools may create perks to insentience newcomers: minimum payouts might be lowered, enrolling might be made easier, or the pool might take a smaller percentage of the mined currency in order to remain competitive.
In my case, I gave nanominer a go, along with its native pool, nanopool. The two worked hand in hand to run the KAWPOW algorithm nicely enough on my hardware of choice, with a minimum payout of 50 RVN. Without further ado, I loaded the software, typed in my Ravencoin address and my email address to notify me if a system failure occurred, and ran the process.
Step 4: Let the Miner Run
Let's not beat around the bush -- mining any cryptocurrency is a time-intensive process. No matter how powerful your hardware is, no mining rig is capable of instantaneous payout. That aside, the formality of enrolling in a pool, monitoring your progress, and accumulating tokens for your eventual payout is always going to be labored prospect. Cryptography isn't exactly renown for being an expedient process -- it's renown for being a thorough one.
The best you can do for yourself is to give your hardware ideal environmental conditions. Keep track of your hardware's temperature, fan speed, and the humidity of the air in the room around it. Make sure its internet connection is stable -- both for your security and for the reliability of the miner, I recommend an Ethernet cable over wifi. Let it do its thing. As a first timer, I wanted to ensure that my busted old GPU had plenty of downtime. While this affected profit over the long run, I think it was the right decision. I still care about being able to play Kerbal Space Program on it, after all.
Step 5: Payout
Self explanatory. Once agreed minimum payout is attained from a pool, or a block's hash value is identified, the reward gets sent to your address. It's as simple as that, ladies and gentlemen.
Why User Mining is an Important Responsibility of the Crypto Community
I think it's a bit of an oversimplification when naysayers argue that it's "not profitable to mine on a GPU anymore" or that "you're wasting more money on electricity" than you'd be getting back in the form of your cryptocurrency. Cryptocurrencies are a dynamic field. Token prices are volatile, electricity costs vary, exchange rates fluctuate, and computational power develops with time. Every passing day presents a new change that ultimately forces us to look at mining as a case-by-case basis.
I think it's important to remember that way back in the pioneering days of cryptocurrency, it wasn't unheard of for a miner to net their 50 BTC block reward from work performed on their CPU alone. In fact, for the very first couple of blocks to ever exist, there were no shortage of miners who verified early transactions and then forgot about them entirely. It was simply no big deal.
For conventional cryptocurrencies, mining difficulty is directly tied to the number of people who have an interest in making and verifying transactions. When a currency is new, there's an incentive to decrease the computational work required to verify transactions so as to encourage newcomers to provide an early safeguard. Likewise, there's an incentive to increase the mining difficulty of an established currency, since there are more people inclined to misuse it.
In Short: if a currency is too difficult to mine, then nobody will find it worth their time or electricity to pay it any attention. If a currency's too easy to mine, it's feasible that a nightmare 51% hashing scenario can happen -- threatening a collapse in the currency.
We need not turn to our imaginations to picture the ramifications of such an event -- history has already illustrates an example for us. In May of 2018, Bitcoin Gold along with two other cryptocurrencies were hit with a rare 51% hashing attack from a mysterious actor. Overnight, and for the next three days straight, the combined computational power that transactions depended on for verification were dwarfed by a singular monolithic entity. Some person or persons, in some unknown place in the world, had amassed enough ASIC chips to write up transactions from other addresses on a ledger and then immediately verify them before anybody else could contest the results. Oddly, end users never saw their funds stolen -- the double spending was only taken from trading platforms. But the damage was catastrophic for everybody nonetheless. $18 million dollars worth of tokens were double-spent. Exchanges dropped Bitcoin Gold as a currency. Bickering erupted between users and exchanges. And he value of the token plummeted dramatically. Worse still, this wouldn't even be the first time that the currency was abused: a similar attack happened again in January of 2020.
When you volunteer your own hardware for cryptocurrency mining, you are partaking in a democratic process of trustless verification. If a bad actor were to emerge and attempt to double spent a cryptocurrency, they are effectively taking on the challenge of talking louder and faster than the truthful proclamations of every single other active device on the currency's network. For larger cryptocurrencies populated with massive miner pools and enormous solo-mining ventures, this is a herculean effort rendered unthinkable by even the most powerful governments of the world. But for smaller cryptocurrencies with fewer users, it has historically been shown to be surprisingly feasible to completely drain balances, verify false transactions, and plummet the value of a currency. By partaking in cryptocurrency mining -- no matter your hash rate -- you are not only taking a small slice of the profit, you are acting as one voice among many in the endeavor of verify truthful transactions and maintaining the integrity of cryptocurrency as a whole.
I think it's important for every cryptography enthusiast to mine some currency at least once in their life. Regardless of profit, it is incumbent upon the community to be the ones that legitimize a currency. We're quick to scoff at currencies like Facebook's Libra for little reason beyond "Fuck Zuckleberry Finn" without fully digesting the ramifications of such a currency. The point of decentralized finance is that no one power can abuse a currency, provided its properly maintained by the people who care about it. No one bank can verify transactions, yes, but that's only true so long as there are people who are willing to commit to verifying the transactions themselves. If you're not going to make that commitment, somebody else will be more than happy to grab the brass ring.
Plus, you get to nab currency from it! Goodbye, Bitcoin! I just printed money with my desktop!
(I kid, of course. None of this is financial advice. You should only burn your Bitcoin after consulting multiple financial advisors.)