Since I was planning to build a new mining rig anyway, one dedicated to Nvidia GPUs, I thought I would cover the basics of how to actually assemble and initially configure a computer for mining. As such, this guide will cover each step along the way to assembling a working mining rig and optimizing its performance.
Just to get a bit of jargon out of the way before we begin, I will often refer to this project as a mining rig, or just rig.
Just like a PC that has its components chosen mainly for optimal gaming performance is sometimes refereed to as a gaming rig, so too are PCs built specifically for mining referred to as mining rigs. The main distinction for this article’s purpose is I will refer to PC for a typical PC build that may have a GPU, but it’s main purpose is used for other things than mining (gaming perhaps), even though it may occasionally mine. On the other hand, I will use the term rig (or mining rig) to denote a PC or collection PC components that are assembled for the distinct purpose of mining cryptocurrencies 24/7. So basically anytime I mention mining rig or just “rig” you will know what I mean.
The other slight digression I will make is that I originally intended to write this article in one part and provide step by step instructions as I built it so everything would be based on just that one build. However writing such a comprehensive guide requires a great deal of time, and I ended up building three similar rigs during over the course of writing this guide. The main thing you may notice is some minor component variations may exist, such as brand or size of SSD, amount RAM used, or exact model of the PSU. The basic concepts are still all the same though, but I wanted to point this out in case you spotted any discrepancies between the text and some of the images.
Also due to the shear volume of information I thought it best to break in up into smaller parts, this way people can just skip to the most relevant part for their needs.
- Part 1 will consist of the part you are reading right now, which will cover component selection and thinks to look for when selecting components for a mining rig build.
- Part 2 will cover the basic assembly of of the rig, sort of like a PC building 101, except we will also cover the unique aspects required for a cryptocurrency mining rig.
- Part 3 will cover the initial setup of the OS (Operating System) and all of the settings and adjustments that will need to be made to optimize the rig for mining.
- Part 4 will cover the installation and fine tuning of various mining and related software along with providing additional steps we can take to further improve mining performance, such as VBIOS modding and flashing of your graphic card.
- Part 5 is for any additional information I feel I may need to go over and will act as basically an overflow in case any of the first four parts grow too long.
To begin the build we will need to assemble the basic hardware components that are needed to support multiple GPU’s. We will also need to select the GPUs based on the main coin algorithm we think we will be mining. While both AMD and Nvidia cards can perform mining functions, it usually comes down to for Ethereum and most similar coins you would choose AMD brand cards, and for Zcash and a few select others, Nvidia performs better.
For this guide I will use the following Hardware Components:
- MSI Z170A SLI Motherboard
- Intel Pentium G4400 Skylake (1151) Processor
- GSkill 4 GB DDR4 RAM (can be 8 GB also)*
- Intel SSD 600p Series 128GB (M.2 2280) or Samsung 960 EVO M.2 SSD*
- CORSAIR RM1000i 1000W GOLD PSU or RM1000x*
- 1x to 16x USB Riser
- EVGA GTX1080Ti
*Note: I wrote this article over several builds based on the same motherboard and processor, however the available PSU and SSD options may vary, as well as the amount of RAM I used. The instructions are still valid but I wanted to clarify in case some of the pictures did not match up. I have updated the components list above to reflect any I may have used.
When choosing a motherboard for a dedicated mining rig, there is pretty much one main consideration; how many PCIe slots does it support. Notice I used the term support and not “have”, as although it might be a slight distinction it does have significance. Some motherboards have been known to double up on PCIe slots, meaning a 1x and a 16x slot may actually share the same channel but simply offer two different options for the connector. Basically you can use one of the “shared” slots or the other, but not both as by using one of them its twin becomes disabled.
Also, while some motherboards may have many independent PCIe slots (not shared) they may still limited the amount of GPUs they support. This is becoming better lately as motherboard manufacturers are realizing people do indeed want to run 6,7 or more GPUs on the motherboard, where in the past they may have supported 4 GPUs and the remaining slots could only be used for non-GPU PCIe devices, such as perhaps sound or USB adapter cards..
I chose the MSI Z170A SLI Motherboard as it has 6 available PCIe slots and with the latest BIOS version it can utilize all of them to support 6 GPUs. I have used this board in the past and I am comfortable with using it again. Another plus is that it can often be found on sale for right around the $100 mark.
When it comes to building a dedicated mining rig you want quality components but you also do not want to overpay for features you will never use. Build cost directly affects your ROI period so you always want the best bang for your buck.
A nice feature (for mining) of this particular board is that you can run one of the GPUs on the motherboard itself if you want, as the adjacent PCIe slot wouldn’t be blocked as it often is with some other motherboards. The MSI Z170A SLI supports Intel Socket 1151 CPUs and DDR4 RAM. It also supports a M2 SSD, which I plan to take advantage of with this build.
In general when choosing a motherboard for a dedicated mining rig you will want a motherboard that can support at least 5 or 6 GPUs and ideally doesn’t cost much more than $100 or close to it. I often see posts of people spending $200-$300 on a motherboard and another $200 -$300 on a high wattage PSU to run 7 or even 8 card builds, when the same cost could just as easily be spread over two systems which would give you a 10-12 total GPU capacity for the same amount of money.
One further note, as I write this Biostar is introducing motherboards capable of supporting up to 13 graphic cards. While this may seem like a good idea, getting back to the discussion above it also introduces problems with the need for a higher wattage and more costly PSU as well as the fact that the more GPUs you put on a single motherboard the higher the chance of a single point of failure. If you lose the motherboard or system, 13 GPUs are out of commission versus only 6-7 with a smaller setup.
As of right now, the price premium for the Biostar TB250-BTC-PRO motherboard would just about cover the cost for the extra motherboard. This may change in the future, but for now I would recommend staying a little smaller, especially if it is your first build.
Other good motherboard choices include:
|Model||GPUs Supported||Chipset||CPU Socket||RAM|
|ASRock H81 Pro BTC||6||Intel H81||LGA 1150||DDR3|
|Biostar TB85||6||Intel B85||LGA 1150||DDR3|
|Biostar TB250-BTC||6||Intel B250||LGA 1151||DDR4|
|Biostar TB250-BTC+||8||Intel B250||LGA 1151||DDR4|
|Biostar TB350-BTC||6||AMD B350||AM4||DDR4|
Next on the list is the CPU, short for Central Processing Unit, or also often simply referred to as a processor. Since the board is based on the Z170 chipset and has a socket for an Intel 1151 CPU, you will need to make your selection from this line.
I choose the slightly older Intel Pentium G4400 Skylake processor, as I have heard some reports that some Kabylake processors are not able to support more than 4 GPUs regardless of motherboard. I have not tested this out yet, although I plan to do so with my next purchase, but for now it is best to stick with the Skylake as they are roughly the same price and performance anyway, at least for mining purposes.
Also note that selecting a motherboard and processor mainly go hand-in-hand, at least for socket selection as you need a motherboard that supports a 1151 socket if you choose a 1151 CPU, or a 1050 motherboard to match the older 1150 based CPUs and so on. While this is second nature to old pros, sometimes these subtle details can trip up a first time PC builder.
Again, since mining is not really CPU intensive, you can usually get by with the lowest cost compatible processor you can find, although personally I like to spend the extra $5-$10 and stick with the Pentiums and not use the Celerons. However, many rigs (even some of mine) do use Celeron processors perfectly fine, I just found doing things like the OS installs and updates, driver installs, etc are a bit faster on a Pentium. In any event it is not worth much more than a $5-$10 uptick in price so do not go overboard and break the bank here.
Some people want to try and CPU mine along with GPU mining, but I have found that CPU mining is often a losing proposition as even if a coin is profitable for a little while, Botnet operators who can command thousands of infected PCs will usually raise the difficulty so high it is not worth it for a home miner with a handful of rigs. Plus in many cases you need the top end processor and a lot of system RAM to take full advantage, all of which add unnecessary costs for a rig dedicated to GPU mining.
Most of the lower end retail boxed processors come with a heatsink/fan combination included, but you may want to verify this before ordering. Some of the higher end part numbers exclude the heatsink as most PC enthusiasts will be using a aftermarket cooler anyway, with majority of them opting for water cooling.
While much of the discussion so far as revolved around using Intel processor, AMD is also a choice, although in the past there may have been a bit more limited options available with AMD based systems. Recently Biostar has released a mining motherboard based on the AMD platform, the Biostar TB350-BTC. The TB350 is based on the AMD B350 chipset and will support Socket AM4 AMD CPUs.
RAM (System Memory)
RAM is next on the list, I usually pick whichever name brand of compatible memory is on sale, this week it was GSkill RipSaw DDR4, 8 GB RAM dual channel kit that was on sale. Be sure to double check what type (DDR3, DDR4, etc) your motherboard supports, as with the CPU you need to make sure everything is compatible.
I normally buy RAM in two packs (or dual channel kits) as it saves a bit of money, but for most mining application you will only need 4 GB, so if you do go this route you will have enough RAM for two rigs. If you do not plan to build anymore rigs, than you can of course just buy one stick.
One hint I have found to work well and will pass on is that sometimes I will stick two sticks (or 8 GB) or RAM in for the initial installation including driver install, updates, and system and software setup as it does slightly speed up the overall install process, cutting perhaps 5-10 minutes off just the OS install portion. You can then later reclaim the extra memory and reduce the mining rig back to a single 4 GB stick once you are up and running in production.
If in doubt about this advice, just look at the Windows Task Manager when running a typical mining session and see how little memory it is actually using. We will also be adjusting the page file later on to provide up to an additional 16 GB of memory for the few instances in which it is needed, so you don’t need to worry about the lower amount of physical memory causing problems later on.
In the past I have often used the cheapest 2.5″ form factor SSD I could find, but they do require the use of a SATA power cable as well as a SATA data cable. While not usually a big deal, I found the Intel 600p Series 128GB SSD on sale from only $64 on NewEgg, so I figured I would try it out and have a few less cables and clutter to worry about. As far as size, you can get by with a 64 GB SSD, but the current price differences are narrowing so 120 GB SSDs are usually only about $5-$10 more anyway.
With some mining programs such as Claymore’s recommending a 16 GB virtual memory (swap space) combined with the fact that the OS and driver files can exceed 32 GB pretty fast, I personally would not go below 64 GB in this area.
Although I am using the M2 SSD for this guide, you could also get by with a normal SSD, or even a HDD (although they are slower). If you plan to run Linux you can even boot and run off a USB flash drive, but that is getting outside the scope of this guide.
One digression I will make is that I have pretty much done away with the traditional platter based HDDs altogether. I have a few older rigs near my desk and probably the loudest part of it (or at least the most annoying) is the constant clatter of the HDD heads moving about. Not that this would mater in a dedicated mining space, but the fact that it is mechanical with moving parts will naturally lead to a shorter lifespan than a solid state SDD.
Personally, I think the M.2 cards even take this philosophy a step further and they should be just as reliable and long lived as any other component on the motherboard. Plus the M.2’s will probably be more useful later on if you find you need to recycle your components in the future for other uses.
One last note before moving on, is that here is one of the areas where the guide transcended multiple builds and I also used a Samsung 960 EVO M.2 drive with 256 GB capacity, so if you notice the difference in various pictures. Again my recommendation above stands on 64 or 128 GB drive, I chose the 256 GB as I have plans to run other software on a couple of my rigs.
PSU (Power Supply)
For the final core component we have the Power Supply Unit (PSU). I like the Corsair series since they are dependable and come with 8 6+2-pin connectors. Since my “go-to” RM1000x was sold out, I choose the RM1000i series this time. It is slightly higher in price, but does come with the Corsair Link interface which allows real-time monitoring of the PSU, so it will actually work out good as I can utilize this functionality in the guide for power usage measurements.
You will typically size the PSU based upon the number of GPUs your rig will have and the wattage they will consume. It is recommend to size the PSU to run at 80% of its maximum potential, so in my case I will aim for roughly a 800 watt load when finished. This can vary somewhat, but if your initial calculations start taking you into the 90% or higher range you should go with the next size higher PSU, not only for safety and efficiency reasons, but also for the longevity of your expensive components as an over-taxed PSU can start to deliver unstable power.
Frame or Case
You will also need some type of case, frame, or other mounting arrangement to contain all of the components. The choice usually breaks down into two basic camps; open-air or case based enclosure.
Open Air Concept
Since there are many variants to mining, with dissipating heat being the number one concern many home based miners just mount their rigs in wire storage racks, mount them to a piece of plywood, use a milk crate, and countless other variations. Some miners have used wood frames, but I try to avoid them when possible.
I have used plywood before as sort of a base (example to the left), but even then it is of the fire-rated variety which can become quite expensive. Aluminum based frames are a popular option too as they address the fire hazard issue, but again can become a bit expensive.
However, the concept of getting your components out of a case to address heat makes sense as if you are going to mine with more than just one or two video cards. In most instances for a “home miner” you will want to go with an open-air design due to the need for trying to get rid of the excess heat.
So basically “open-air” in regards to mining and used in this article simply means that instead of putting all of the components into a typical computer tower computer case, you would instead leave them exposed to the open air to allow more effective cooling.
Case or Enclosure
This category would be more typical of rack mounted units inside of a data center or similar environment with specialized airflow and cooling setups than would it be like a normal computer case. While you can use a traditional computer case, as mentioned above for a home based setup that doesn’t have some type of dedicated cooling setup, open air concepts would probably work out the best.
If however you plan to run many dozens, or hundreds of rigs, than you will have no choice but to consider some type of method to eliminate the heat in bulk. This can be via traditional data-center based solutions, or even in a shed, garage, or warehouse modified as to provide plenty of air-flow through the space to eliminate as much heat as possible.
While it is getting outside the scope of this article to go into such arrangements, I bring it up as the example build I am doing for this guide will be using a server enclosure to house all of the components. While the build concepts are the same regardless of which method you chose, there will be certain obvious difference depending on which method you choose.
Since most modern cryptocurrency mining one can do at home involves the use of GPUs, you will of course need to decide on the best GPU brand and model for the particular coins you intent to mine. While there are some algorithms that can still use a CPU for mining, in almost all cases the algorithm quickly becomes GPU mine-able, making CPU mining of it quickly obsolete. And even in the event the coin remained CPU only, various botnets exploit these algorithms so bad it still is not competitive for a home miner. There are of course specialized ASIC devices for some coins, such as Bitcoin (SHA256), Litecoin (Scrypt), DASH () and others, which while a home miner can purchase quickly become too costly and noisy for most.
GPUs basically come down to two flavors, AMD and Nvidia, with AMD cards excelling in almost every algorithm, but Nvidia has had some recent success with the latest generation cards do especially well with GPU intensive algorithms such as Zcash and have a slight hash versus power advantage over AMD. Picking a GPU is well beyond the scope of this guide, and there are plenty of dedicated resources and reviews, including on Cryptoyeti, that will cover specific cards in detail, so I will not spend to much time on this subject here.
For this guide I am using the EVGA Nvidia GTX1080TI SC2 as they have great performance in Equihash (Zcash) mining as well as some of the newer up and coming algorithms, recently Signatum with its Skunkhash algo has been very profitable. Other than the drivers, if you are using AMD cards do not worry as most of the concepts are identical for the basic PC build which this guide focuses on.
When building a non-traditional computer such as an open-air mining rig, there will be a few miscellaneous things you may need that are not normally found in most standard PC builds.
The number one item is probably an extension PCIe riser cable that helps get the GPU up and off the motherboard and allows greater spacing between multiple cards for greater airflow, thus better cooling. PCIe riser cables come in two main flavors, powered and non-powered. While you can use both, with the latest GPUs most people are settling on the powered USB variety as they can safely deliver up to 75 watts of power via the PCIe slot adhering to the ATX specification. The USB portion simply refers to the fact that these riser actually utilize two small circuit boards with a USB 3 cable connecting them. The advantage here, besides the ability to supply full power, is that various lengths of USB cabling can be used (within reason) to help provide more separation between the cards.
A HDMI Dummy plug is optional component, but often desired addition, especially if you manage multiple rigs. You will not need this if you have a monitor hooked up, but if you want to run a headless (without a monitor attached) rig these come in handy. A bit of confusion often surrounds this topic, as earlier OS versions and graphic drivers sometimes needed a “Dummy Plug” to trick the card into thinking there was a monitor attached to run at all. While this is not longer the case as most modern OS’s (Windows 10 and Latest Linux Distros) no longer have this need, there is a limitation on the resolution of remote viewing software such as VNC.
I will talk about software needs later on in the guide, but VNC allows for remote monitoring of a computer without interrupting the current session. While it defaults to 640-480 resolution without a dummy plug, it does make it hard to manage the rig for driver updates, configuration changes, pretty much anything really. These HDMI dummy plugs are usually inexpensive at around $10 or less each, but if you have many rigs I highly suggest picking up a few.
You may also need various PCIe power, adapter, and extender cables. Even with higher wattage PSUs, the provided selection of cables rarely meets the needs of a miner trying to get 5, 6, or 7 GPUs running. If you use USB powered risers you will also need additional power connectors. Fortunately many of these items are becoming much easier to find as supplying miners is becoming a full-time business for some.
Other parts are computer screws, motherboard standoffs, on/off switches, Velcro or cable ties for wire management.
Click here to continue on the the assembly procedure on Part 2 of the guide.