This DIY project probably won’t make you rich, but it will help you understand how Bitcoin works
Photos courtesy of the author
Earlier this year, I wrote an article about mining Bitcoin on any PC and also shared the details of a cryptocurrency mining PC I built in 2018. In mining a little Bitcoin of my own, I developed a much deeper understanding of how cryptocurrencies and the blockchain work (and made over $1,600 in the process).
What if you want to graduate to the next level, though, and build your own basic cryptocurrency mining PC using modern parts in 2021? I decided to find out, so I enlisted the help of my friend Adam, a computer engineer at a security company. (When I asked how he wanted to be identified for this piece, he requested “Adam the Magnificent,” but let’s just stick with “Adam”).
Adam designed a comprehensive “bill of materials” for a modern, home-built cryptocurrency mining PC using only parts available through major retailers like Amazon or Newegg. I bought all the parts, built the PC, and have been testing its mining capabilities. Here’s exactly how I did it and how you can build your own modern mining PC, too.
Mining refers to the mathematical process a computer performs in order to help create new cryptocurrency coins and to register transactions on the blockchain. Most cryptocurrency mining PCs use a graphics card, or GPU, to perform their mining operations. You can mine with a CPU, but it’s not nearly as efficient.
Here’s the bad news about building a mining PC in 2021: With crypto’s insane price spikes, finding a GPU today can be incredibly challenging, and in the words of The Verge, GPU prices are “utterly out of control.” Prospective miners now pay up to $850 for a GPU that once cost only a few hundred dollars. This guide, therefore, assumes that you’ve either finagled a GPU through some back-alley transaction (don’t tell Debugger the details) or that you already have a GPU sitting around (perhaps from an old gaming PC) and want to put it to use mining crypto. In my case, I had an NVIDIA 1070 GTX from my earlier crypto experiments, which cost me $349 in 2018.
A mining PC is basically just a wrapper around the GPU, which does the actual work of mining. Your goal is therefore to build the non-GPU bits of your mining PC as cheaply as possible using the simplest components that will get the job done. The good news is that the parts required to build the basics are vastly better, cheaper, more efficient, and easier to obtain than they were even a few years ago. That makes building a basic mining PC much easier and more accessible today than it’s ever been.
Here is the bill of materials (BOM) that Adam the Magnificent (sorry) came up with for my basic mining PC:
At the time that I purchased them in March 2021, the parts cost a total of $249. As I write this in May of 2021, they’re just a bit more expensive at around $332 on Amazon. Even as prices fluctuate, though, you should be able to purchase this whole BOM — minus the GPU — for around $300.
There are several modifications you can make to the BOM to tweak your mining PC for better performance or make it even cheaper. If you have a SATA drive sitting around, you can cannibalize it and save yourself the cost of the M2 stick. I either got a bad M2 stick or ruined mine (more on that later), so I ended up cannibalizing an old SATA drive from an unused PC anyway.
You could also skip the case. Lots of miners create their PCs as “bench builds” with all the components exposed. Some even build DIY cases for their rigs out of wood or other materials. Skipping the case would save you around $20 on your BOM — just make sure not to touch or otherwise damage your components.
You can also tweak the BOM to make your mining PC slightly more efficient. I had an old EVGA platinum-rated power supply from my previous mining experiments, so I ended up subbing it for the Raidmax power supply in my final build. Platinum-rated power supplies are more efficient, which means they potentially use less electrical power in order to mine crypto, which helps to keep operating costs down.
You can get creative with your BOM in any number of other ways, too, swapping out the basic components for cheaper (or alternatively, more powerful) versions, adding in parts you have on hand, etc. That’s part of the fun of building a custom mining PC — you’re creating it from the ground up, so you can take whatever direction you want. These are the parts that worked for me, though.
I started out by laying all my parts out on my workbench. Touching a metal surface first to discharge static electricity, I unboxed and checked everything. I then installed the port plate for my motherboard in the Rosewill case.
Next, I aligned and installed the motherboard itself. The first time, I forgot to add in the motherboard standoffs first, so the board was right against the metal case. I ended up going back and putting them in so it was properly elevated.
I removed the AMD processor and its fan and heating from its case, ensured that it was facing the right way, and installed it in the processor socket on the motherboard, engaging two levers that locked the fan in place. I plugged the fan into the CPU fan jack on the motherboard.
Next, I snapped in the RAM stick, pressing it straight down to engage the levers which lock it in place.
I then inserted the M2 stick. M2 solid-state drives were originally designed for use in laptops. They’re extremely compact, which means they can sit right on your motherboard yet still give you hundreds of gigabytes of storage. The M2…