Cryptocurrency Mining Hardware Overview

TL;DR

Generally, there are 4 types of hardware to mine cryptocurrencies:

  • CPUs are the least powerful and they are very general purpose. Things like your laptop and phone run on CPUs.
  • GPUs are more powerful than CPUs because they are meant to process graphics such as videos and video games.
  • FPGAs are like a mix between CPUs and GPUs. They’re like CPUs in that they’re general purpose because they can be programmed to run different types of software. They’re like GPUs in that they’re powerful.
  • ASICs are like a mix between GPUs and FPGAs. They’re like GPUs in that they’re for a specific purpose. They’re like FPGAs in that they’re extremely powerful.

Mining: A Very Brief Overview

If you’ve heard of mining cryptocurrencies, you’ve probably heard a definition along the lines of, mining is the process through which transactions are verified and recorded on a distributed ledger in order to maintain consensus and security on a decentralized network. If you’re like most beginners, you’re probably like WTF does that mean?! And who the heck are miners?!

4 Types of Mining Hardware

Generally, there are 4 types of hardware that can be used to mine cryptocurrencies:

  • CPU. Central Processing Unit. This is what your average desktop or laptop computer uses. You can think about a CPU as an all-purpose mission control. It executes all the software running on your computer. In other words, it interprets the code that runs applications like your web browser or word processor, and interprets it in a way that you, the human, can understand and interact with.
  • GPU. Graphics Processing Unit. GPUs have a more specialized purpose than CPUs do; GPUs are meant specifically to process graphics data, such as images and video. That’s because things like video take more processing power than simpler applications such as word processors. GPUs are especially prevalent in the world of video games, which tend to be extremely graphic-intensive. If you’ve ever experienced pixelated images and/or slow buffer speeds while watching a video saved on your computer, that probably means your computer’s GPUs were insufficient.
  • FPGA. Field-Programmable Gate Array. FPGAs are sort of like “if-this-then-that” decision trees on steroids. As the name implies, the user is able to program FPGAs for specific purposes using complex logic. They’re used in all sorts of ways from helping airplanes navigate to performing ultrasounds. This flexibility is one of the reasons FPGAs are so appealing. In other words, the same piece of hardware can be programmed to do many different things.
  • ASIC. Application-Specific Integrated Circuit. ASICs are similar to FPGAs in that they’re like “if-this-then-that” decision trees on steroids. But ASICs are more like if those trees were also on steroids. That’s because ASICs are intended for a particular use. That means that the hardware itself (i.e., the circuit) is designed to run software for a specific application. One helpful way to think about it is that a FPGA is a generalist, while an ASIC is a specialist.

How This Relates to Mining Cryptocurrencies

Cryptocurrency networks, such as bitcoin, have a long history and lots of transactions. That translates to lots of memory and lots of processing power. That means miners need to be powerful computers.

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