As consensus algorithms increasingly become ASIC-resistant, GPU mining cards appear to be going the way of the dodo. While GPUs struggle at this technological crossroads, Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) mining cards are seeing a groundswell in popularity because of lower costs, algorithm customization, and increased efficiency.
The Flexibility of FPGA Miners
Currently, there isn’t a mainstream mining option that gives users more freedom by allowing customization. Although FPGAs have been around for years, they haven’t been met with the excitement shown by ASICs and GPUs. Not until recently have miners stopped to look at the benefits that FPGA cards offer.
FPGA mining rigs offer users the flexibility of programmable arrays. These cards are capable of running any high-end computational algorithm, including those for cryptocurrencies. Since these arrays are programmable, users are left to set up their systems in the most effective way possible.
FPGAs lack the convenience of GPUs that are ready out of the box and require technical know-how to set up. Although there’s an added layer of difficulty, the user will feel an increased sense of autonomy.
FPGA miners allow their end users to sequence custom-built chips to more effectively search for the correct hash of a given cryptocurrency. As CPUs and GPUs are bottlenecked by slow speeds or the necessity to own dozens of graphics cards, FPGA offers users a level of flexibility that allows them to outperform ASICs, GPUs, and CPUs in various categories.
When compared with ASIC miners, FPGAs aren’t as capable of the high hash rates performed by specialized ASIC systems. Where FPGAs shine against ASICs is by allowing users the freedom to switch between algorithms to mine different cryptocurrencies quickly. This means that one FPGA system can mine as many algorithms as are supported.
On the other hand, ASICs are tethered to a single algorithm, and to change this, miners must purchase an entirely new and different ASIC miner. So although ASIC miners are incredibly powerful, they lack the fluid movement between mining one cryptocurrency to another.
GPUs have been the standard in home mining since CPUs have become obsolete for intensive cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. For GPUs to provide the power to have a chance at mining the Bitcoin algorithm effectively, dozens or more GPUs need to be purchased. Although you can switch algorithms in a similar way to FPGAs, the costs required to mine via GPUs effectively can quickly add up into thousands of dollars.
In general, FPGAs produce 5-10 times the hashrate of leading GPUs. To add to this, FPGAs also run at a fraction of the cost of GPUs. FPGAs have integrated hardware that allows them to run far more efficiently, thus saving money on electricity bills.
CPUs are no longer relevant when it comes to mining intensive algorithms like those for Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Monero. There are little-known algorithms that blockchain projects implement to allow the participation from CPU miners, but these are uncommon.
Downside of FPGAs
Aside from lacking the firepower of ASICs, FPGA mining is costly. All those benefits come at a cost – ~$4,000. That’s the general quote for one card, and if we begin talking about pricing for a complete rig, then you’re looking at $16,000-20,000.
The reason some miners have made the switch is because of long term vision. Miners assume that over time these rigs will pay themselves off due to the smaller electricity bills and added rewards.
Pairing FPGAs with Clean Energy
As the difficulty of Bitcoin and other leading mineable cryptocurrencies increase, miners must pay attention to their increased costs in power. Many mining groups are thinking ahead of the curve, such as the Veritas Mining Company that focuses on harboring sustainable energy for the mining operations.
Integrating FPGA mining rigs with renewable resources such as solar, wind, and biofuels can significantly increase revenue while decreasing costs. Companies willing to be at the forefront of mining resources and hardware will reap the overall benefits of the efficiency of FPGAs.
Miners might not come flooding to FPGAs until they realize that their profits are decreasing due to increased electrical costs. Bitcoin’s network difficulty is going to grow as more miners and users join the system. The same goes for all other popular cryptocurrencies that are currently being mined. Awareness is spreading with each day, and soon the only profitable way forwards is through efficient means of mining and validating the network.