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Bitcoin Mining Insights

How to Mine Bitcoin [Beginner’s Guide]

A guide to help you decide if you should start mining Bitcoin and what to do in order to get started.

Published on Dec 15, 2020
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Published on Dec 15, 2020

Table of Contents

Mining Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies is not a simple task.

Competition in the mining industry is fierce and many variables need to be considered when selecting mining rigs and setting up your facility. 

This guide is for anyone who is completely new to mining. If you’re looking to mine at home to make some money or just as a hobby, we’ll tell you everything you need to know so you can start mining Bitcoin as soon as possible. 

Is Bitcoin Mining Worth It?

Profit is the biggest motivation to get into mining. Simply put, if your cost to mine 1 BTC is lower than the current BTC price, then mining allows you to accumulate BTC at a discount. In other words, if the current Bitcoin price is $20,000 and you can mine 1 Bitcoin for a total cost of $15,000, then you have a 25% profit margin. This is effectively similar to purchasing Bitcoin at 25% below the market price.

And certainly there is money to be made in this industry. At the time of writing this article, the daily revenue earned by miners is over $18.8 million, totaling up to about $6.87 billion annually. That being said, the industry is incredibly competitive, and slicing out your piece of the revenue will be difficult.

But did you know there are other benefits to mining?

For one thing, mining enables people to acquire KYC-free crypto. 

Why is that important? Well, purchasing cryptocurrencies through an exchange typically requires that you reveal your identity due to Know Your Customer regulations. This leaves you susceptible to tax liabilities, confiscation of your Bitcoin if it’s stored by a custodial service, and being blocked from using other regulated services. If you mine your BTC directly, it’s not tied to your identity.

Besides that, another reason to get into cryptocurrency mining is as a hobby if you are engineering-minded or simply want to better understand this important aspect of Bitcoin. As we will get into later, there are so many variables in any mining operation that make for a fun challenge. 

There is also a more noble reason to mine, even on a small scale. By mining, you're contributing to Bitcoin’s decentralization — the core tenant that makes BTC revolutionary.

Whether you're mining to make money, starting a new hobby, or simply contributing to Bitcoin’s decentralization, mining is not easy. Regardless of your reason, this  guide will walk you through the entire process. 

Bitcoin Mining Profitability in 2021

Don't expect to make a business out of mining just by downloading some software. Those days are long gone.

However, that doesn't mean you can't make money. Rather, it means it will be very difficult to create a sustainable business unless you have a competitive edge, such as access to extremely cheap electricity or a way to cheaply acquire ASICs (the computing machines built specifically for mining). 

You see, electricity price and hardware (ASIC) costs are the two most important variables in mining profitability. Procuring ASICs is a capital expenditure (CAPEX), which means that you pay the cost before you start mining and use your revenue to get a return on that investment over time. When you consider the daily profitability of mining, it’s important to factor in how much time it will take to pay off the CAPEX of setting up the operation. This is commonly referred to as “days to break-even.” For example, if you purchase an ASIC for $1000 and earn an average profit per day of $10, then your days to break-even would be 1000 divided by 10, so 100 days. 

Meanwhile, your main operational expenditure (OPEX) is electricity to power the ASICs. The cheaper your electricity, the faster you can pay off the CAPEX and start making a real profit. Most miners today pay between $0.03 - $0.06 / kWh (killoWatt hour) for electricity, with some exceptions on either side of the spectrum. If you cannot find electricity in this price range, it will be difficult to mine profitably in the long-term. 

Before we move on, there is a bit more nuance to explain about electricity prices. They can be presented in one of two ways:

  • Isolated price (i.e. pure electricity price, no other costs factored in)
  • All-in price (includes ALL of your OPEX costs besides your own labor)

If you host your ASICs in a 3rd party mining facility (more on this in the next section), it is common to pay more than $0.06/kWh all-in. This is because you as the miner don’t have to pay for the mining facility infrastructure and basic management, so those externalities are included in your all-in electricity price.

Setting your expectations for how much you can reasonably make from mining before investing time and money will drastically change your experience. Like we mentioned earlier, at home mining is mostly done as a hobby with some money to be made as a small bonus.

With that said, let's discuss what you will need to get started so that you can maximize the amount of money you can make from mining.

Required Environment to Mine BTC

Before deciding which ASIC miner to purchase, you need to determine if you have the environment to properly run a mining operation. This comes down to 4 basic requirements:

  1. Power Capacity: Most modern miners require a 220V outlet. However, most residential homes and apartments are only equipped with standard 110V outlets, with exceptions for things like appliances. If you don’t have any 220V outlets available, one workaround is to hire a licensed electrician to install a 220V outlet. Any DIY solution puts your safety at risk and is not recommended. Unfortunately, using a 110V to 220V converter will not work.
  1. Internet Connection: Each miner needs a steady internet connection. This can be best achieved with an ethernet cable plugged directly into the router. Luckily, these cables come in long lengths which means the router doesn’t need to be close to the miner. You can also use WiFi, but it’s typically not as reliable.
  2. Air Flow / Cooling: ASIC miners generate a lot of heat. It’s the 1st law of thermodynamics: the energy consumed by the miner is not destroyed, but rather converted into heat. This means proper ventilation and fans are needed to help circulate the air. Even better, perhaps you can repurpose the heat to keep your garage or basement warm in the winter, killing two birds with one stone. (See an example of repurposing ASIC heat below).
  1. Noise Reduction: Not only do miners generate a lot of heat, they're also very loud. Most miners can reach up to 90db. This is comparable to a lawn mower running inside your home. It’s recommended to put your ASICs in an insulated container to soundproof them, or run them in a room where you and your neighbors won’t be bothered by the noise.

The reality is, running miners at home is disruptive and requires a lot of setup work for most people. It's not as simple as plug and play. So if you want to get into mining at a small scale, you’ll have to keep these factors in mind. 

An alternative option is to purchase your miners and find an industrial location to host them. There are numerous hosting facilities around the world where you can get better electricity prices than the typical residential area. We recommend that you look into this as an option if you want to scale beyond 1 or 2 ASICs. Compass mining is a good resource for finding a hosting provider in your region: https://compass.hashr8.com/.

Choosing an ASIC Miner

The first decision you have to make once you’re committed to becoming a miner is which ASIC or ASICs you’ll mine with. We’ll break down all the factors you should take into consideration when making this decision.

As with most things, you can save a lot of money here by purchasing used ASICs instead of brand new ones. For example, the 2020 generation of miners typically sells for between $3000-$4000 each — a large investment if you are mining on a small scale, be it from home or with a hosting facility.

Luckily there is a thriving peer-to-peer market for used miners. However, they are not easily found on the web. Rather, they often take place in Telegram groups or other chat messaging platforms. You should also be aware that these secondary markets for miners can contain fraudsters, so it is strongly recommended to only purchase from verified sellers.

As for what types of machines you should look for specifically, that depends on your appetite for risk and your environmental factors. 

Miner Specifications 

When selecting the right miner, the most important factors are: 

  1. Unit Price and Shipping Costs:  The newer an ASIC is, the more efficient it should be. However, it will also be much more expensive. Additionally, the shipping, import fees, duties, and taxes are not usually included but should be factored into the retail price. 
  2. Hash Rate: Measured in TH/s (Tera hashes per second). The higher the hash rate, the more BTC the ASIC will mine.
  3. Power Consumption: Measured in Watts (W). This is the amount of energy the miner will consume. The more power a miner consumes, the higher the electricity cost incurred. Converting to Kilowatt hours (kWh) and finding the electricity rate (usually quoted in kWh) from the electricity provider will determine your operating costs. 

Ultimately, these factors come together to determine your cost of production. We have a calculator which shows you this cost to mine 1 BTC for every popular ASIC on the market with the current BTC price and difficulty. For example, here’s the cost to mine 1 Bitcoin with a very popular ASIC in 2020, the Whatsminer M20S.

BTC revenue and USD profit per day with a Whatsminer M20S

You can see that with the price ($19k) and difficulty (18.67T) at the time of writing this article, your electricity price needs to be below $0.118/kWh in order to make a daily profit from mining. With an all-in electricity price of $0.06/kWh, you would have a margin of over $9.5k per BTC mined! This is equivalent to purchasing Bitcoin at a ~50% discount. However, be careful! You need to factor in the cost of purchasing the miner as well. 

For example, with the daily profit of $4.8, it would take you 167 days to pay off the up-front cost of the Whatsminer M20S if you paid $800 for it. If your margin shrinks during that time, it will take even longer. And of course, if you are not making a profit after paying your electricity bills, then the remaining cost of the ASIC will be a loss.

Bitcoin ASIC Manufacturers

An Antminer S9, manufactured by Bitmain

Currently, miners manufactured by Bitmain and MicroBT far outpace any other competitor in terms of hash rate, efficiency, and reliability. The Antminer S9 from Bitmain has thus far been the most dependable ASIC, with many still operating today after the original release took place in 2016. However, the lead engineer who designed the S9 later worked at MicroBT and helped design the Whatsminer M20S, which is widely regarded as the next-in-line for the title of most dependable ASIC model long-term.

Other manufacturers exist such as Canaan, Innosilicon, and Ebang. However, they are considered lower quality than Bitmain and MicroBT, so manage your expectations if you see these devices being sold for cheaper prices on a secondary market. 

Many other models exist and may be more suitable for your operations. See this chart for a comparison between miners on the market.

Mining Pool Selection

Mining pools are a critical part of the modern cryptocurrency mining business. The reason that they are called “pools” is that they pool (i.e. aggregate or combine) the hashrate of many miners together. This is done in order to increase the frequency that the miners find blocks and thus earn revenue, making it more stable. 

Nowadays, joining a mining pool isrequired to earn consistent payouts. There are only about 144 blocks mined per day on the Bitcoin blockchain, while there are many thousands of miners. This means that any miners who don’t have HUGE operations will not earn revenue very frequently if they try to mine on their own. It wouldn’t be a stable business operation.

Mining pools enable miners to work together by combining their hashrate. This gives miners smaller but more consistent payouts. 

Our pool,  Slush Pool, is the 1st mining pool ever created, with more than 1.25M BTC mined since 2010. We are also the largest pool outside of China, with a strong track record of contributions to the mining space including the original stratum protocol in 2012 and the new Stratum V2 protocol that improves efficiency and security while also addressing Bitcoin’s mining centralization concerns.

It’s extremely easy to join a mining pool. You simply set up an account with the pool of your choosing and then copy the pool’s URL into your ASIC miner’s web interface. Don’t worry if it sounds complicated! Below is a video tutorial walking you through the ASIC configuration where you can see how to set your pool URL.

Mining Software

Finally, once you have your operation set up and your ASICs in-hand, one last thing you can do to improve your mining profitability is use a custom firmware to optimize ASIC performance. At Braiins, we develop a specific type of firmware that does autotuning, called Braiins OS+. The simple description for this is that it automatically tests different frequencies and voltages for your ASIC to find the settings that will mine most efficiently.

For example, you can optimize Antminer S9 efficiency with Braiins OS+ to achieve an uplift of approximately 20%. While the stock firmware for the S9 would have these stats:

Stats for an Antminer S9 with stock firmware, 13.5 TH/s and 1160 W consumption

The S9 with Braiins OS+ would instead have these stats, with all other variables like price and network difficulty held equal.

Stats for an Antminer S9 with Braiins OS+, 15 TH/s and 1160 W consumption

The efficiency increase from 85.9 W/TH to 77.3 W/TH which is provided by autotuning may not seem like much, but mining is a business with very small margins. That efficiency increase uplifts the profit per day from $0.23 to $0.44, nearly double!

Bitcoin Mining Profitability Calculator

Last but not least, we have a tool that can help you estimate  your long-term profitability if you do start mining.

Keep in mind, this will always be a very rough estimate because it is so dependent on Bitcoin’s volatile price. Besides price, profitability also depends on your hardware cost, hash rate, power consumption, electricity cost, and the network difficulty. 

This is why we built the Mining Profitability & Cash Flow Calculator. This is the most sophisticated yet user friendly app for making long-term projects. We’ll provide an example to show you how to use it.

Hypothetical Bitcoin mining cash flow for 100 TH/s of hashrate over 2 years

Input descriptions:

  • Hashrate of 100 Th/s and Power Consumption of 5000 W would be similar to having purchased 2 Whatsminer M20S machines. 
  • The CAPEX (remember: one-time cost, typically paid up front) of $1500 would account for buying the 2 machines, paying for shipping, and setting up your mining environment, while the $1050 Starting Assets value would be the resale value of the 2x Whatsminer M20S. Then the -2% Asset Appreciation / Depreciation value indicates that the hardware will lose 2% of it’s value per month.
  • The Electricity Price of $0.06/kWh is typical of what you might find if you host your ASICs at a hosting facility, or if you repurpose the heat in your home to lower your heating bills.
  • The 4% Difficulty Increment means that it will get 4% more difficult each month to mine BTC, while the 2% Price Increment means that BTC will go up in USD value by 2% per month. If difficulty increases faster than price as shown in the example, your revenue per terahash ($/TH/s) of hashrate goes down each month. Meanwhile, price increasing faster than difficulty means that $/TH/s goes up over time.

The end result, as you can see, is that after 2 years you earn a cumulative profit of $1443 and the hardware is worth $647. This gives a final cash flow of $1443 + $647 - $1500 = $590 ROI for two years of mining. The magnitude of the ROI should give you a good idea of how difficult it is to make a living professionally as a miner. If you’re still eager to start mining even with this understanding of how difficult it is, then it will be a fun challenge!

With all of this information, your next step is to take action. For some of you that may mean simply buying BTC and forgetting about the dream to start mining. For the rest, we hope your mining endeavors are successful and we’ll see your hashrate on Slush Pool!

You can view the changelog also in our documentation.
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About Braiins

Bitcoin mining software company: Slush Pool, Braiins OS+ & Stratum V2.

By miners, for miners.

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