Let me put this in big, bold letters:
USB mining is highly unlikely to make you any money. Period.
If you’re thinking about trying to make a buck or three bitcoin mining, this is not the way to do it. Yeah, I suppose it’s theoretically possible to get lucky solo mining, (or use a solo pool like CK’s) but if I’ve done my math right, you’re probably better off spending the money on actual Powerball tickets. All that having been said… What is USB mining?
A USB miner (also known as a stick miner or block erupter) is an ASIC on a USB pluggable circuit board. Back in 2013, when they cost $3.00 or so apiece and the both the bitcoin difficulty and hashrate were much, much lower you could make a little bit of money if you ran enough of them. They’re simple, easy to use, dedicated processors that are very nearly plug and play. People built farms of them on powered USB hubs to maximize the amount of hashing they could do. You can find some pictures of some of them here, here, and here. Today, they’ve been completely superseded by larger, dedicated mining rigs and really only serve as a novelty or educational device.
Me being me… I had to have some. I love a science project, even if it’s a fool’s errand.
So doing a little research, I discover that the state-of-the-art (ha!) USB miner these days is the Gekkoscience 2Pac, shown here:
This bad boy (ha again!) has not-one-but-two ASICS on it, and is advertised to run at an impressive (for a USB miner) 15 Ghz.¹>
So I bought three.
I got them off of Amazon but truth be told, you can find them brand new and for a little less money on ebay. They came, neatly packaged and in perfect condition and I got going on making myself a little stick mining operation.
The first thing I did was take an old Toshiba laptop and load it up with lubuntu linux. Why lubuntu instead of a more common or feature rich linux distribution? Because I wasn’t kidding about the old part regarding that laptop. I originally purchased it back in 2005 and what was one hell of a sweet laptop then, is barely more than a boat anchor these days. So I wanted a linux distro designed for older hardware. (Sidenote: I’ve always been a big fan of Toshiba laptops. I’ve had/worked with several that have lasted well past the decade old mark and keep on ticking. I am not affiliated with them in anyway but am perfectly willing to share my positive experiences with them). Just because I used an old laptop and linux doesn’t mean you have to. You can run your USB mining operation off of anything from a raspberry pi to your home computer. The whole point of the ASICS is to offload the work from your computer onto them, so it doesn’t take much in the way of horsepower.
Once lubuntu was up and configured I just followed the instructions on the official support thread. It was all pretty easy.
Two things I’ve glossed over a little bit– running any significant number of these involves buying a powered USB hub. Partly because your computer is likely to run out of USB ports and partly because each of these does draw some electricity– hence the need for a powered hub. I went with a pretty typical choice: The Sabrent 13 port powered hub. Also, you may have noticed from the pictures above and below, that there is a very obvious heat sink attached to the miner. Ergo, you know they’re going to get a little warm when in operation. Therefore, like lots of other folks, I went ahead and got an ARCTIC breeze mini USB fan to circulate the air around the heat sinks.
After that it’s basically a matter of plug and play. I plugged in my 2Pacs, I plugged in the fan, and I plugged in the hub. Like so:
Everything lit up, the fan started and my laptop recognized that I had a USB hub plugged in. At that point it was a matter of opening up a terminal window and following the instructions to get my mining software, cgminer, working. I pointed my little miners at my favorite mining pool and let ’em rip. You can see from my user stats below that at least in the one minute, five minute, and one hour hash rates, I’m getting right about the 15 Ghz advertised. One day and seven day averages are a little lower because I’ve taken the operation down a couple of times this week for various reasons, but overall, they perform exactly like they’re supposed to.
The completed project looks like this:
You may be able to see in that picture that it’s hashing on GSD 0, 1, and 2. Each of those is one of the stick miners. I have played with the frequency settings on the stick miners a little to try to tweak their hashrate, but noticed that if I set them too high, cgminer didn’t recognize all three all the time.
And that’s it. I just leave that sitting there on the shelf and periodically use ssh to check on everything remotely. Easy and a nice discussion piece. Just don’t expect to make any money.
1: The ‘ha’ and ‘ha again’ are not for a second intended to disparage the work that Gekkoscience has done in creating these, as they really are the best of breed. But if you go back to the top of this page and look at the bolded text, you are highly unlikely to make any money mining Bitcoin with one–or even a dozen– of these.