Either a GPU (graphics processing unit) miner or an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) miner. These can run from $500 to the tens of thousands. Some miners--particularly Ethereum miners--buy individual graphics cards as a low-cost way to cobble together mining operations. The photo below is a makeshift, home-made mining machine. The graphics cards are those rectangular blocks with whirring circles. Note the sandwich twist-ties holding the graphics cards to the metal pole. This is probably not the most efficient way to mine, and as you can guess, many miners are in it as much for the fun and challenge as for the money.
Example: I tell three friends that I'm thinking of a number between 1 and 100, and I write that number on a piece of paper and seal it in an envelope. My friends don't have to guess the exact number, they just have to be the first person to guess any number that is less than or equal to the number I am thinking of. And there is no limit to how many guesses they get.
Let's say I'm thinking of the number 19. If Friend A guesses 21, they lose because 21>19. If Friend B guesses 16 and Friend C guesses 12, then they've both theoretically arrived at viable answers, because 16<19 and 12<19 . There is no "extra credit" for Friend B, even though B's answer was closer to the target answer of 19.
If B and C both answer simultaneously, then the ELI5 analogy breaks down.
In Bitcoin terms, simultaneous answers occur frequently, but at the end of the day there can only be one winning answer. When multiple simultaneous answers are presented that are equal to or less than the target number, the Bitcoin network will decide by a simple majority--51%--which miner to honour. Typically, it is the miner who has done the most work, i.e. verifies the most transactions. The losing block then becomes an "orphan block."
Now imagine that I pose the "guess what number I'm thinking of" question, but I'm not asking just three friends, and I'm not thinking of a number between 1 and 100. Rather, I'm asking millions of would-be miners and I'm thinking of a 64-digit hexadecimal number. Now you see that it's going to be extremely hard to guess the right answer.
Bitmain Antminer S9
The hands-down best Bitcoin mining rig in the world is the Bitmain Antminer S9. Although it has a sequel waiting somewhere in the wings, for now it offers the best performance per watt of any Bitcoin mining rig out there. Bitmain has been at the forefront of ASIC miner development for some time now and the Antminer S9 is the most powerful piece of kit it has ever produced.
Its hash power measures up at 13-14 TH per second, which is nearly three times that of its predecessor, the S7. It also only draws 1,300 watts of power, which is significantly less than some of the competitor ASIC miners out there, making it much more efficient than them too. Although there are some miners which claim to have a higher hash rate, or better power efficiency, nothing comes close to the Antminer S9 when it comes to the mix of the two.
With a projected earnings of around 0.0009804 Bitcoin per day, it holds great potential to earn a good amount for any new owners, though electricity cost is still a major component in that calculation. Make sure you don’t plan to run it in your bedroom either, as the S9 can get quite loud if it doesn’t have access to cool air.
The only real downside with the Antminer S9 though, is getting hold of one at a reasonable price. Current stock on the Bitmain website is entirely sold out and buying from third-party resellers can see enormous inflation over the standard price. You could buy one second hand, but mining hardware can burn out very quickly, so you roll the dice when you don’t know what usage it has seen already.
Bitmain Antminer T9
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Although less powerful and less efficient than the Antminer S9, the T9 is also a popular choice among miners because it is considered the more reliable of the two. It doesn’t push the ASIC chips as hard and features a longer warranty (180 days vs 90 days for the S9). For those wanting a more hands-off mining set up, T9’s offer greater reliability and potentially a more stable investment, at the cost of not as great a return on it.
By the numbers, most T9s are available at around the 11.5 TH per second range, with a power draw of 1,450w. Bitmain’s site suggests that future batches may have a hashrate closer to 12.5 TH per second, though those units will draw as much as 1,576 watts to achieve it.
As with the S9, getting a hold of a T9 is difficult. The Bitmain website doesn’t even list them on the store at the time of writing, so you will need to resort to Amazon or eBay to find yours. Prices are rather favorable compared to S9 listings, with some purportedly “new” units selling for around $2,000, while second hand units can be found for closer to $1,000.
As much as Bitmain hardware is the most popular for Bitcoin mining, it’s not the only company producing it. Canaan is a Chinese company that produces reasonably powerful and efficient mining rigs itself, but getting hold of one is rather difficult. If you want to purchase its latest Avalon 821 or 841 miners, you’ll need to buy them in batches of at least 20 — with a price tag of more than $35,000.
Where their efficiency and power can rival the Antminer S9, their scarcity makes them hard to recommend. Instead, you are likely better off opting to buy an Avalon 741, which is easier to find, though far from as powerful or efficient.
Available new on Amazon for around $1,600 or second hand on auction sites for around half of that, you’ll get a reliable 7TH per second for your money with a power draw of around 1,150 watts.
Pagolin Miner M3X
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The chips that Pagolin Miner uses in its design are much larger than their contemporaries. Where the S9 and others use 16nm ASIC chips, the M3X has nearly 200 28nm chips and they show it through their power draw. The M3X requires anywhere between 1,800 watts and 2,000 watts of power, making it the most power hungry ASIC miner on this list. However, with a hash rate of between 12 and 13.5 TH per second, it’s also one of the most powerful.
Crucially though, it’s also much more affordable. Where the running costs are going to be far higher with a unit like this than many of the others listed here, the M3X can cost you as little as $1,020 if you’re willing to wait until May for it to ship out to you. There’s also a batch that will ship out in early April for just a couple of hundred dollars more.
Although cheap electricity is even more important with a device like the M3X due to its poor efficiency, the lower up-front cost means that you could, in theory, get a faster return on your investment under the right circumstances.