Build a Modern Crypto Mining Computer in 2021
This DIY project probably won’t make you rich, but it will help you understand how Bitcoin works
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).
How to Mine a Little Bitcoin on Nearly Any PC
How to experiment with Bitcoin without the risk of losing your house
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.
The bill of materials
Here is the bill of materials (BOM) that Adam the Magnificent (sorry) came up with for my basic mining PC:
- Gigabyte GA-A320M motherboard ($45.99)
- Rosewill SRM-01B case ($19.99)
- Oloy 8GB RAM stick ($37.99)
- SEKC 128GB M2 Solid State Drive ($25.99)
- Raidmax 500W power supply ($33.98)
- AMD A10–9700 CPU ($85.99)
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 slot on the gigabyte motherboard was so small that I couldn’t find it at first, so I messaged Adam for help. After we located it, I snapped the M2 stick in place and secured it with a screw.
I then installed the power supply and plugged it into the various power sockets on the motherboard. There’s generally a large connector for the motherboard itself and a smaller one for the processor.
I also attached the wires for the power button on the Rosewill case to the corresponding plugs on the motherboard so the button could power the computer on. At this point, my mining PC had all its basic components, so I plugged it into a monitor and fired it up. This is always a critical point in a new PC build. Did you get your BOM right? Will it run?
In my case, the PC would boot up, run for a bit, and then shut down at random. After some troubleshooting (including removing all the components from the case and running them as a bench build), I realized I had forgotten the motherboard standoffs, and the board was shorting out against the case. I added them in, and the PC booted to its BIOS and ran with no problems.
Next, I plugged a USB stick with a Windows installer into the PC’s USB port and booted to it (you can make your own or use an open-source OS like Ubuntu Linux). When I went to install Windows, the installer couldn’t find my M2 stick, so it didn’t have anywhere to install the OS. It’s possible that my stick was bad or that I fried it by mistake when my motherboard kept shorting out on the case. It’s also possible that the specific M2 stick I bought wasn’t compatible with my motherboard’s BIOS (keep this risk in mind if you purchase my exact BOM). Either way, it was an easy fix. I took a SATA drive from an old PC, connected it to my mining PC, and installed Windows on it.
Once Windows was booting up and running well, I installed the drivers for the NVIDIA 1070, shut the PC down, plugged the 1070 into the PC’s PCI slot, and connected it to my power supply.
When I booted back up, Windows installed the GPU and it ran well. My basic mining PC was ready to go!
Mining and profits
As a final step, I installed mining software. I chose to use NiceHash, which I described in detail in my original piece about mining on any PC. You could also use software like WinEth to mine a currency such as Ethereum directly. I like NiceHash because it’s a one-click mining operation and because it automatically optimizes its mining algorithms based on the hardware in your mining PC. With the software, you’re not mining directly — you’re selling your computer’s mining power (called “hashing power”) to others, who combine it with many other computers in order to mine at scale.
Mining with the NVIDIA 1070, my mining PC earns between $2.20 and $4.28 in gross revenue per day (prices fluctuate based on the price of various cryptocurrencies and the overall demand for hashing power). On average, it earns a bit more than $3.00 per day, or around $100 per month. That’s gross earnings, though. To calculate my actual profits, we have to take into account the cost of electricity, which mining PCs use in droves.
There’s good news there. My original mining PC — built with 2018 parts—used 220 watts while mining. My new one uses only 150 watts, even though it’s built around the exact same NVIDIA 1070 GPU. That’s a substantial difference—about a 46% reduction in power consumption for the same mining performance. That’s likely due to the newer, more efficient components in my modern PC.
Using 150 watts, my mining PC consumes 3.6 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per day. Here in California, we pay a lot for power; my marginal rate is $0.32 per kWh. That means I’m paying $1.15 per day for the electricity to run my rig. Still, mining is profitable for me; even with high electric costs, I’m earning profits of around $1.85 per day. Since my mining PC cost $599 to build (including the cost of the GPU), I’d earn back its cost in 323 days—less than a year. After that, any earnings from mining net of electric costs would be pure profit.
Of course, there are things that could push the needle of profitability in either direction. The price of cryptocurrencies could crash, and my computer’s hashing power could be worth substantially less. They could also continue to surge, and I could break even on my equipment much sooner. Again, I have no idea what will happen next with crypto markets nor does anyone else. The Bitcoin I mined during my first cryptocurrency experiment in 2018, though, ended up growing from around $100 to more than $1,000, so the possibility of future growth does exist.
If you choose to duplicate my build (or create your own similar mining PC), your numbers could look very different. For example, if your electric costs were much lower or you ran your rig on excess solar power, your input costs would be much lower than mine. Where I grew up outside Philadelphia, electricity costs only about $0.06 per kWh. Mining there, my PC would break even in just 214 days—less than eight months.
There are also tons of ways you could scale up my build, too. You could ditch the case and swap out the motherboard for a mining motherboard. These dedicated boards allow for up to 10 GPS in a single PC. No serious miner would use only one GPU, and these special motherboards accommodate the much more powerful mining rigs favored by professionals. You could also use a more powerful GPU. According to NiceHash, a top-of-the-line card like the NVIDIA RTX 3090 would earn as much as $13 per day.
Ultimately, though, the biggest value you get from building a mining PC probably isn’t monetary. I found that the best thing about building mining PCs is that I’ve developed a much deeper understanding of how cryptocurrencies work, how they’re created, how their prices rise and fall, and how they can be held and used. I’ve also learned a ton about different GPUs, mining algorithms, PC components, and the like.
If you’d like to deepen your knowledge of crypto—and you’re one of the lucky few who can get your hands on a GPU — I encourage you to experiment with building a mining PC of your own. I can’t promise you Bitcoin riches. But you’ll absolutely gain a better and more complete understanding of these world-altering crypto technologies.