Before you read further, please understand that most bitcoin users don't mine! But if you do then this Bitcoin miner information is probably the best deal. Bitcoin mining for profit is very competitive and volatility in the Bitcoin price makes it difficult to realize monetary gains without also speculating on the price. Mining makes sense if you plan to do it for fun, to learn or to support the security of Bitcoin and do not care if you make a profit. If you have access to large amounts of cheap electricity and the ability to manage a large installation and business, you can mine for a profit.
If you want to get bitcoins based on a fixed amount of mining power, but you don't want to run the actual hardware yourself, you can purchase a mining contract.
What is Bitcoin mining?
Bitcoin mining is a lot like a giant lottery where you compete with your mining hardware with everyone on the network to earn bitcoins. Faster Bitcoin mining hardware is able to attempt more tries per second to win this lottery while the Bitcoin network itself adjusts roughly every two weeks to keep the rate of finding a winning block hash to every ten minutes. In the big picture, Bitcoin mining secures transactions that are recorded in Bitcoin's public ledger, the blockchain. By conducting a random lottery where electricity and specialized equipment are the price of admission, the cost to disrupt the Bitcoin network scales with the amount of hashing power that is being spent by all mining participants.
If you've ever wondered where Bitcoin comes from and how it goes into circulation, the answer is that it gets "mined" into existence. Bitcoin mining serves to both add transactions to the block chain and to release new Bitcoin. The mining process involves compiling recent transactions into blocks and trying to solve a computationally difficult puzzle. The first participant who solves the puzzle gets to place the next block on the block chain and claim the rewards. The rewards incentivize mining and include both the transaction fees (paid to the miner in the form of Bitcoin) as well as the newly released Bitcoin.
Security of the Bitcoin Network
Bitcoin mining is decentralized. Anyone with an internet connection and the proper hardware can participate. The security of the Bitcoin network depends on this decentralization since the Bitcoin network makes decisions based on consensus. If there is disagreement about whether a block should be included in the block chain, the decision is effectively made by a simple majority consensus, that is, if greater than half of the mining power agrees.
If an individual person or organization has control of greater than half of the Bitcoin network's mining power, then they have the power to corrupt the block chain. The concept of someone controlling more than half of the mining power and using it to corrupt the block chain is known as a "51% attack". How costly such an attack would be to carry out depends largely on how much mining power is involved in the Bitcoin network. Thus the security of the Bitcoin network depends in part on how much mining power is employed.
The amount of mining power that gets used in the network depends directly on the incentives miners have, that is, the block reward and transaction fees.
The amount of new bitcoin released with each mined block is called the block reward. The block reward is halved every 210,000 blocks, or roughly every four years. The block reward started at 50 bitcoin in 2009, and is now 25 bitcoin in 2014. This diminishing block reward will result in a total release of bitcoin that approaches 21 million. According to current Bitcoin protocol, 21 million is the cap and no more will be mined after that number has been attained.
As of today, block rewards provide the vast majority of the incentive for miners. At the time of writing, for the previous 24 hours, transaction fees represented 0.3% of mining revenue.
As the block reward diminishes over time, eventually approaching zero, the miners will be less incentivized to mine bitcoin for the block reward. This could be a major security problem for Bitcoin, unless the incentives provided by the block reward are replaced by transaction fees.
Transaction fees are some amount of Bitcoin that are included in a transaction as a reward for the miner who mines the block in which the transaction is included. Transaction fees are voluntary on the part of the person sending a transaction. Whether or not a transaction is included in a block by a miner is also voluntary. Thus, users sending transactions can use transaction fees to incentive miners to verify their transactions. The version of the Bitcoin client released by the core development team, which can be used to send transactions, has fee minimum rules by default.
How hard is it to mine Bitcoins? Well, that depends on how much effort is being put into mining across the network. Following the protocol laid out in the software, the Bitcoin network automatically adjusts the difficulty of the mining every 2016 blocks, or roughly every two weeks. It adjusts itself with the aim of keeping the rate of block discovery constant. Thus if more computational power is employed in mining, then the difficulty will adjust upwards to make mining harder. And if computational power is taken off of the network, the opposite happens. The difficulty adjusts downward to make mining easier.
The higher the difficulty level, the less profitable mining is for miners. Thus, the more people mining, the less profitable mining is for each participant. The total payout depends on the price of Bitcoin, the block reward, and the size of the transaction fees, but the more people mining, the smaller the slice of that pie each person gets.
Bitcoin Mining Hardware
In the beginning, mining with a CPU was the only way to mine bitcoins and was done using the original Satoshi client. In the quest to further secure the network and earn more bitcoins, miners innovated on many fronts and for years now, CPU mining has been relatively futile. You might mine for decades using your laptop without earning a single coin.
About a year and a half after the network started, it was discovered that high end graphics cards were much more efficient at bitcoin mining and the landscape changed. CPU bitcoin mining gave way to the GPU (Graphical Processing Unit). The massively parallel nature of some GPUs allowed for a 50x to 100x increase in bitcoin mining power while using far less power per unit of work.
While any modern GPU can be used to mine, the AMD line of GPU architecture turned out to be far superior to the nVidia architecture for mining bitcoins and the ATI Radeon HD 5870 turned out to be the most cost effective choice at the time.
As with the CPU to GPU transition, the bitcoin mining world progressed up the technology food chain to the Field Programmable Gate Array. With the successful launch of the Butterfly Labs FPGA 'Single', the bitcoin mining hardware landscape gave way to specially manufactured hardware dedicated to mining bitcoins.
While the FPGAs didn't enjoy a 50x - 100x increase in mining speed as was seen with the transition from CPUs to GPUs, they provided a benefit through power efficiency and ease of use. A typical 600 MH/s graphics card consumed upwards of 400w of power, whereas a typical FPGA mining device would provide a hashrate of 826 MH/s at 80w of power.
That 5x improvement allowed the first large bitcoin mining farms to be constructed at an operational profit. The bitcoin mining industry was born.
The bitcoin mining world is now solidly in the Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) era. An ASIC is a chip designed specifically to do one thing and one thing only. Unlike FPGAs, an ASIC cannot be repurposed to perform other tasks.
An ASIC designed to mine bitcoins can only mine bitcoins and will only ever mine bitcoins. The inflexibility of an ASIC is offset by the fact that it offers a 100x increase in hashing power while reducing power consumption compared to all the previous technologies.
Unlike all the previous generations of hardware preceding ASIC, ASIC may be the "end of the line" when it comes to disruptive mining technology. CPUs were replaced by GPUs which were in turn replaced by FPGAs which were replaced by ASICs. There is nothing to replace ASICs now or even in the immediate future.
There will be stepwise refinement of the ASIC products and increases in efficiency, but nothing will offer the 50x to 100x increase in hashing power or 7x reduction in power usage that moves from previous technologies offered. This makes power consumption on an ASIC device the single most important factor of any ASIC product, as the expected useful lifetime of an ASIC mining device is longer than the entire history of bitcoin mining.
It is conceivable that an ASIC device purchased today would still be mining in two years if the device is power efficient enough and the cost of electricity does not exceed it's output. Mining profitability is also dictated by the exchange rate, but under all circumstances the more power efficient the mining device, the more profitable it is. If you want to try your luck at bitcoin mining then this is probably the best deal.
Mining rewards are paid to the miner who discovers a solution to the puzzle first, and the probability that a participant will be the one to discover the solution is equal to the portion of the total mining power on the network. Participants with a small percentage of the mining power stand a very small chance of discovering the next block on their own. For instance, a mining card that one could purchase for a couple thousand dollars would represent less than 0.001% of the network's mining power. With such a small chance at finding the next block, it could be a long time before that miner finds a block, and the difficulty going up makes things even worse. The miner may never recoup their investment. The answer to this problem is mining pools. Mining pools are operated by third parties and coordinate groups of miners. By working together in a pool and sharing the payouts amongst participants, miners can get a steady flow of bitcoin starting the day they activate their miner. Statistics on some of the mining pools can be seen on Blockchain.info.
The main operational costs for miners are the hardware and the electricity cost, both for running the miners but also for providing adequate cooling and ventilation. Some major mining operations have been purposely located near cheap electricity. The largest mining operation in North America, run by MegaBigPower, is located on by the Columbia River in Washington State, where hydroelectric power is plentiful and electricity prices are the lowest in the nation. And CloudHashing runs a large mining operation in Iceland, where electricity generated from hydroelectric and geothermal power sources is also renewable and cheap, and where the cold northern climate helps provide cooling.
Earlier this year, the IRS issued tax guidance regarding Bitcoin and said that income from mining could constitute self-employment income and be subjected to tax. FinCEN, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, is a bureau of the U.S. Treasury that collects and analyzes data on financial transactions with the aim of fighting financial crimes, especially money laundering and terrorist financing. FinCEN has issued guidance saying that bitcoin miners are not considered Money Transmitters under the Bank Secrecy Act and recently clarified that providers of cloud mining services are also not considered Money Transmitters.
Bitcoin Cloud Mining
By purchasing Bitcoin cloud mining contracts, investors can earn Bitcoins without dealing with the hassles of mining hardware, software, electricity, bandwidth or other offline issues.
Being listed in this section is NOT an endorsement of these services and is to serve merely as a Bitcoin cloud mining comparison. There have been a tremendous amount of Bitcoin cloud mining scams.
Hashing 24: Hashing24 has been involved with Bitcoin mining since 2012. They have facilities in Iceland and Georgia. They use modern ASIC chips from BitFury deliver the maximum performance and efficiency possible.
What is Bitcoin Mining?
Bitcoin mining is the process of adding transaction records to Bitcoin's public ledger of past transactions. This ledger of past transactions is called the block chain as it is a chain of blocks. The block chain serves to confirm transactions to the rest of the network as having taken place.
Bitcoin nodes use the block chain to distinguish legitimate Bitcoin transactions from attempts to re-spend coins that have already been spent elsewhere.
Bitcoin mining is intentionally designed to be resource-intensive and difficult so that the number of blocks found each day by miners remains steady. Individual blocks must contain a proof of work to be considered valid. This proof of work is verified by other Bitcoin nodes each time they receive a block. Bitcoin uses the hashcash proof-of-work function.
The primary purpose of mining is to allow Bitcoin nodes to reach a secure, tamper-resistant consensus. Mining is also the mechanism used to introduce Bitcoins into the system: Miners are paid any transaction fees as well as a "subsidy" of newly created coins.
This both serves the purpose of disseminating new coins in a decentralized manner as well as motivating people to provide security for the system.
Bitcoin mining is so called because it resembles the mining of other commodities: it requires exertion and it slowly makes new currency available at a rate that resembles the rate at which commodities like gold are mined from the ground.
What is Proof of Work?
A proof of work is a piece of data which was difficult (costly, time-consuming) to produce so as to satisfy certain requirements. It must be trivial to check whether data satisfies said requirements.
Producing a proof of work can be a random process with low probability, so that a lot of trial and error is required on average before a valid proof of work is generated. Bitcoin uses the Hashcash proof of work.
What is Bitcoin Mining Difficulty?
The Computationally-Difficult Problem
Bitcoin mining a block is difficult because the SHA-256 hash of a block's header must be lower than or equal to the target in order for the block to be accepted by the network.
This problem can be simplified for explanation purposes: The hash of a block must start with a certain number of zeros. The probability of calculating a hash that starts with many zeros is very low, therefore many attempts must be made. In order to generate a new hash each round, a nonce is incremented. See Proof of work for more information.
The Bitcoin Network Difficulty Metric
The Bitcoin mining network difficulty is the measure of how difficult it is to find a new block compared to the easiest it can ever be. It is recalculated every 2016 blocks to a value such that the previous 2016 blocks would have been generated in exactly two weeks had everyone been mining at this difficulty. This will yield, on average, one block every ten minutes.
As more miners join, the rate of block creation will go up. As the rate of block generation goes up, the difficulty rises to compensate which will push the rate of block creation back down. Any blocks released by malicious miners that do not meet the required difficulty target will simply be rejected by everyone on the network and thus will be worthless.
The Block Reward
When a block is discovered, the discoverer may award themselves a certain number of bitcoins, which is agreed-upon by everyone in the network. Currently this bounty is 25 bitcoins; this value will halve every 210,000 blocks. See Controlled Currency Supply or use a bitcoin mining calculator.
Additionally, the miner is awarded the fees paid by users sending transactions. The fee is an incentive for the miner to include the transaction in their block. In the future, as the number of new bitcoins miners are allowed to create in each block dwindles, the fees will make up a much more important percentage of mining income.
the bottom line:
Bitcoin mining is the means by which new Bitcoin is brought into circulation, the total of which is to be capped at 21 million BTC. Miners are in an arms race to deploy the latest bitcoin mining chips and often choose to locate near cheap electricity. As more computing power is used in mining, the difficulty of the puzzles increases, keeping profitability in check.
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