A Practical Guide to Blockchains & Ethereum Mining


I recently started hearing a lot about Ethereum which takes the cryptocurrency concept from Bitcoin, and expands it even further.  The underlying technology is very interesting, and if you believe the hype it could revolutionize many aspects of the internet.  I decided to build a mining rig to see if it’s possible to actually make money by tying into the Ethereum blockchain and also to learn more about how it actually works.

This guide will touch on some high level topics and give some suggestions on how to build a practical rig on a limited budget if you’re curious about how to do it.

WTF is Ethereum, Mining and a Blockchain?

The overly simplified answer is that Ethereum is similar to Bitcoin – it is a cryptocurrency (plus much more).  Both are built on a technology called a blockchain which is basically a public ledger.  Mining is the process of using your computing power to verify the transactions being added to the ledger.  Digital coins (Ether, Bitcoin, etc) are distributed as an incentive for performing the verification work.

For the full explanation, check out the links below – they cover the basics & address some of the questions I had when getting started.  The blockchain concept itself will likely be integrated into more and more platforms, so I’d recommend checking these articles out even if you have no interest in actually mining.

Blockchain Potential

Currently the most well known uses for blockchains are financially related – transferring money, etc.  But the technology could be used anywhere you want to decentralize data and make it more difficult to hack.  Some possible examples:

  • Distributed cloud storage – no single failure point
  • Eliminating identity theft – no single source to hack & steal credentials from
  • E-commerce – transactions could not be falsified since it would be immediately noticed by all other nodes on the network
  • Decentralized notary – a transaction or document can be hashed & timestamped to prove it took place.  It could never be falsified, or the block would be altered & automatically rejected.

Now Onto Mining – Does It Really Earn You Money?

Yes, with the right hardware you can make a small amount of money from mining.  Once you earn a coin (or fractions of a coin) it is deposited in your “wallet” and it’s yours to keep.  You can hold on to it (maybe it will increase in value), you could trade it for a different type of coin (for example, Bitcoin), or you could sell it to recoup some of your costs for the mining rig.

Unless you have a very high end home computer, you probably want to build a dedicated computer (rig) just for mining.  Normal computers aren’t powerful enough, and you’ll spend more on electricity than you’ll gain from mining.  To prove that point, I’ve measured the mining speed on my rig with 2 GPUs and it is over 500 times more powerful for mining than my normal home computer.

Your monthly profit will depend on the current exchange rate, how much electricity your rig is consuming and most importantly your hashing rate.  A very rough estimate is that a single high end GPU could earn roughly $40-60 a month (after subtracting ~$15 for electricity costs).  I’d suggest aiming for a hash rate of at least 20 Mh/s when looking at GPU’s.

At this point, you’re probably thinking, “what’s the catch?”  There are a few complications you need to consider:

  • The coins get progressively more and more difficult to mine over time, so your profits will likely slow down
  • The Ethereum mining algorithm will change – this likely means at some point you won’t be able to mine Ethereum any more, but there could be other currencies to switch over to.
  • Cryptocurrency prices are very volatile – Ethereum was at $400 a few weeks ago, and now down around $200.  So you’re looking at probably 6+ months to make back your original investment, maybe more if the prices fall.
  • Hardware can fail – you’re running high end GPU’s 24/7, possibly pushed beyond their originally designed limits.  If you make $50 or $100, but then fry your GPU, you didn’t even make enough to cover it’s cost.

If you understand & can live with those risks, then you might want to try mining!

Disclaimer – I’m not an expert on this & there are still a lot of aspects that I am still researching.  An incorrectly designed rig could be a fire hazard, so be careful!  

The Hardware

Most of the mining rig can be assembled with very basic components.  An average motherboard & processor (LGA 1150 or similar), 4GB RAM and small hard drive would likely only come to a total of ~$200-225 – maybe even less if you have any spare components.

There are only 2 areas where you’ll want to invest money for high quality components:  the power supply and GPU(s).

  • Power Supply – it takes a decent amount of electricity to run a mining rig, so you want to be as efficient as possible.  A common rating system for PSUs is “80+” which has Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum tiers.  Gold or Platinum is recommended for mining.
  • Surprisingly, the processor does very little work in a mining rig because it isn’t optimized for the type of calculations using in mining.  It’s the GPU which is best suited for mining & you’ll need a very powerful one.  The GPU will be the most expensive component, and will probably be more expensive than your motherboard, processor, ram and hard drive combined.  More on the GPU’s later…

When building a rig, you generally want to maximize the airflow since the GPUs are running 24/7 and generate significant heat.  So instead of using a computer case, most rigs are completely open and look more like a rack to prevent heat from building up.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you should be able to power a single GPU directly from the PCI slot on the motherboard, but once you go to 2+ GPUs you’ll want to use PCI risers for a few reasons:

  • the motherboard may not be able to safely supply enough power to 2+ high end GPUs
  • there won’t be enough airflow around GPUs so close together on the motherboard to keep them cool
  • the PCI slots may be too close together on the motherboard for 2 GPU’s to fit

My suggestion is to skip the PCI riser for the initial build with a single GPU, any worry about installing them once you decide to install more than 1 GPU.



Evolution of my mining rig.  First photo is using a spare shoe rack – single GPU which is plugged directly into the motherboard (no PCI riser).  Second photo is using an actual storage rack – 2 GPUs, and they are lifted off the motherboard & using PCI risers.  The blue cables are USB cables which connect them into the motherboard.

The Software

There isn’t much software you need:

  • Operating system – you can use Linux which is free, Windows, or even custom OS’es specifically designed for mining.  I first tried Linux, but eventually used Windows because it’s easier to adjust the GPU’s for overclocking, etc
  • Mining software to run – I’ve used Claymore Dual Miner which is very popular, but there are many others


A little blurry, but here I’m running Claymore with a single GPU.  Notice the hashing speed at ~30 MH/s, and diagnostic info showing the GPU temperature at 56C and fan at 67% of max speed.

  • You’ll also need to sign up for a digital “wallet” and optionally a mining pool:
    • A mining pool allows you to combine your mining power with others – you’ll get smaller, more frequent payouts.  In general, this is probably a good idea for you unless you’ve built an incredibly powerful rig.  There are many different pools to join – I chose nanopool since it has lower minimum payouts.
    • A wallet is one of the most important decisions you’ll make.  Security is extremely important and you’ll also want to pay attention to minimum transfer balance.  Keep in mind that if you build a small rig with 1 GPU, you’ll be earning fractions of a coin per week or even month.  So a wallet that requires a deposit of at least 1 full coin probably isn’t a good fit for you.

Which Power Supply Should I Use?

This depends on your long-term plan.  Most tutorials suggest a power supply of 1200 Watts or more.  This is not needed unless you’re planning to hook up 6-8 GPUs, which you’d also need a specialized motherboard for.  Assuming you’re starting with 1 GPU, I’d suggest sizing the power supply to be able to add a couple more if you want to.

You’ll probably want a device like a Kill-a-Watt to know exactly how much power you’re drawing.  For example, going with a 650W power supply may be overkill for 1 GPU, but it allows you to easily add a 2nd and possibly a 3rd GPU.  And remember to design in a margin of safety – you probably don’t want to draw more than 80% of what the power supply is rated for.

Which GPU Should I Use?

If you do some research, you’ll see that everyone recommends AMD cards, and claims Nvidia cards are total crap.  Two of the most popular AMD cards right now are the RX 570 and RX 580 – good luck finding them in stock!  They are sold out everywhere and the prices have skyrocketed from the original price of around $200-250 to now closer to $400.

Since this is meant as a practical guide to mining, I think Nvidia cards are an acceptable 2nd choice.  Something like the GTX 1060 with 6GB of RAM will be easier to find and less expensive.  They will have a lower hash rate, but they also consume less power than the high end AMD cards, so you’ll have lower electricity costs.

Whichever card you end up with, you’ll probably want at least 4GB memory on the card itself.  Here’s one compiled list showing some of the popular GPUs and the estimated hash rates.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully you learned a bit about the power & potential of blockchains even if you have no interest in actually building a mining rig.  This only skimmed the surface, and didn’t get into the details of how to configure a miner, how to overlock, etc.  Maybe that’ll be in Part Two!

Was this article helpful?  If you decide to actually build a rig and start making money, feel free to send a small Ethereum donation to the address below!

Ethereum address:


And finally, if you want to see what a super high powered mining rig looks like, you’ll definitely want to check this out!


Home Arcade with a Raspberry Pi & RetroPie (with trackball)


Build a home arcade with a joystick, trackball & buttons wired through an I-PAC to a Raspberry Pi running RetroPie!

Before attempting to build my arcade cabinet, I spent weeks and weeks researching how to do it.  I put this overview together to cover the key points & to help answer common questions.  If I skipped over any critical details you’re still curious about, leave a comment and I’ll try to improve this post!

Disclaimer: This is for educational purposes only. I am deliberately not covering the details of how to install the games (ROMs).

10,000 Foot Summary

I used a Raspberry Pi and installed the RetroPie operating system.  For the physical cabinet, I went with 6 action buttons, plus an additional 2 buttons for Start & Select/Insert Coin.  All controls (joystick, buttons & trackball) get wired into an Ultimarc I-PAC2.  The I-PAC2 plugs into the Raspberry Pi and emulates a USB keyboard so it makes the configuration a little easier.

I broke this project into several phases because I had zero experience using a Raspberry Pi before this project, and I honestly had no idea whether this would be successful.  I didn’t want to buy all the components and then get stuck at the very first step of trying to install RetroPie.

  • Phase 1 (~$75) – Raspberry Pi & USB Nintendo controller for initial testing
  • Phase 2 (~$120) – joystick, buttons, I-PAC and cabinet hardware
  • Phase 3 (~$100) – Ultimarc U-Trak trackball

How to Get Started

Here’s a few questions you’ll need to answer that will help scope out the project:

  1. Is your main interest the games or the physical arcade controls?  If you skip the arcade cabinet it will save you a lot of time and money.  A working system for the old home consoles such as Atari, Nintendo, etc can be fully set up in an hour or two and for well under $100 – this Raspberry Pi kit and these USB Nintendo controllers are about all you’d need (plus a micro SD card, maybe from an old phone?).
  2. If you want the physical arcade controls, what games are you looking to play & what layout do you want?  I went with 6 action buttons, but some games require more.  There are a ton of button layout options – this slagcoin page lists some good options.    You’ll also need to be comfortable with basic electrical wiring.
  3. Do you want a trackball for any games?  This was the toughest part for me – the configuration is tricky, only certain emulators support a trackball, and it significantly increases the cost.   

My Cabinet Design

There are lots of awesome designs out there that are full sized arcade cabinets or a 2 player tabletop cabinet.  But they’d be more expensive and take up more space, so I decided to go with a smaller design for 1 player that can easily be put away in a closet when not in use.

I wanted to make sure there was plenty of room for the components & wiring, so I used a width of 22”, height of 8” and a depth of 10” using 0.5” thick MDF.  You could shave 1-2” off each dimension if you want to get it as small as possible, but wiring in a smaller enclosure might be more difficult.

I used the Japanese style layout for the 6 action buttons where the left column is slightly lower than the middle and right columns – this seems to better line up with how you comfortably position your fingers.

How To Setup RetroPie On A Raspberry Pi

The First Installation page on the RetroPie site has a good explanation of how to configure your Pi. The video tutorial seems WAY too long (over 30 minutes!), so my advice is to follow the text instructions further down the page. You’ll likely need to download the Win32DiskImager program and possibly a utility like 7-Zip to unzip the downloaded image.

I was expecting this to be one of the most difficult parts since I was unfamiliar with Raspberry Pi’s, but it was surprisingly easy to do.

Why Use The I-PAC?

Depending on what you want do you, the I-PAC may not be necessary and it would save you ~$50 to not use one.  If you just want to use USB controllers (Nintendo style, Super Nintendo style, etc) then those can plug directly into the Raspberry Pi.  I used an I-PAC for 2 reasons – 1.)  I’m pretty sure all of the inputs I had (8 buttons, plus trackball wiring, plus joystick wiring) would be too much to wire directly into the Raspberry Pi, and 2.) it emulates a plain old USB keyboard & mouse so I figured that would be easier to get configured.

arcade ipacNote: The I-PAC should not be placed directly on the bottom of the cabinet because you’ll likely damage the solder joints.  The photo above shows the 3D printed supports I designed & used, but even simple wooden supports at the corners would probably work.

Electrical Wiring & U-Trak Trackball Installation

The buttons and each directional switch on the joystick will have 1 wire going directly back to the I-PAC, and the second side will be “daisy chained” to the Ground terminal.  See the sketch below to get a better idea of how it should be wired.

(sketch coming soon)

Since my design is meant to be portable, I took the extra step of tightly wrapping the wires and wire nuts together with electrical tape to reduce the possibility they’d come undone if cabinet was moved or bumped.

arcade insideNote: Inside of the finished cabinet. If you decide to use a trackball, the positioning is extremely important otherwise the X & Y readings will be incorrect. The screws should line up along the vertical and horizontal center lines, and the hole with an arrow next to it should point directly towards the “back” of the cabinet.

Emulators and Games

RetroPie supports a HUGE variety of game systems, and each system has a different emulator.  The arcade games caused me quite a bit of confusion because there are apparently multiple versions of the arcade game files (ROMs), and multiple arcade emulators.  So this means you need to know which ROMset version a particular emulator uses and make sure your game ROMs match that version.  My advice is to start with the other emulators (Atari, Nintendo, etc) which are MUCH easier to configure, then do some research on the arcade configuration and tackle that later.

The RetroPie site has helpful information which explains the different arcade ROMsets and how to convert a ROM from one version to another, but it is complicated and somewhat tough to follow.

Misc Tips & Advice

  • The RetroPie site contains a lot of very useful information, read through it!  There were several times I wasted time trying to find an answer through Google only to realize it was already on the RetroPie site.
  • Raspberry Pi’s are amazing!  Everything runs on a microSD card, so you can use a single Raspberry Pi for multiple purposes.  I have 3 different SD cards that I swap in and out so that lets me use the Pi as an arcade system, control interface for my 3D printer, and as a media center.
  • For some of the more advanced config & troubleshooting you may need to exit the UI and run Linux commands.  This can be intimidating for someone who’s unfamiliar with it, but there is a section on the RetroPie site which gives a good starting point.
  • For the wiring, leave yourself some slack in the wires.  At some point a button will fail, or a wire will come undone and it’ll be much easier to fix if you have enough slack to move the top panel out of the way to troubleshoot.
  • If you don’t plan on using a trackball, then you can reduce the width of cabinet quite a bit – down to maybe 14-16”.
  • You may want to practice cutting/drilling the wood and stripping/daisy chaining the wiring before starting on the actual cabinet.  For the trackball hole, I used a hole saw, and for the button holes I used a spade drill bit.  Place a piece of scrap wood below the panel you’re drilling into, so the bottom doesn’t splinter as you finish the cut.

Check out www.joshcaplin.com to see my other content & projects.