Harvester 1 – The Birth of an Ether Mining Rig

How we built and configured our mining rig. Progress report illustrated with photos and general hints about what to take care of. Now with an extra video!

Prologue

Once upon a time, the baby cried… sure, I won’t start from scratch, but I hope I can give you a general idea on how to start building your own mining rig by giving you a collection of tips and useful hints. I will also provide links to all of those interested in this crypto mining thing.

Until 3 weeks ago I followed this topic only from a rather distant view when my brother found me with the idea. You know, the rig… mining with GPU and the rest. I used to be a curious geek and luckily I’m in a situation now that I can afford to give it a try without any direct threat of a financial disaster, so I thought: why not?

out-of-stock_stampWith this naive approach we immediately started to scan through the shops to find 6 pieces of graphics cards with an affordable price and fair enough performance: RX480/RX580 or GTX1070. Eeeeee!!! No way! Where the hell have those VGAs disappeared to? Uuuh!!! We couldn’t beleive our eyes! Most probably the whole World has just decided to go for the same gold as none of these popular cards were available on the market or they cost at least a fortune. After recognizing the situation, we decided not to order anything else until we find the graphics… I mean mining cards.

So it was not an easy run, but by an inexplicable accident we found a shop with GTX 1070s in stock for exceptionally fair price in the middle of this crazy “miners’ Black Friday rush”: €406,-. We ordered 6 pieces immediately and as soon as the order was confirmed the whole project was about to begin!

The following is a memoir of a beginner miner, so please take this into account reading the article.

The Machine

Okay, let’s see what kind of components do we need for digging in the dirt.

Motherboard

The importance of the motherboard is out of question if you think of that every other component connects to it, so it can easily affect the general stability. In this particular case it’s essential to have as many PCIe slots on it as it can. This lets you to increase the calculation power of your excavator by adding more VGA cards to it. Sure, there are monsters in this aspect, but to stay on the beginners field, a traditional board with 6 PCIe slots should be enough. However you should pay attention to that board also have to deal with such an amount of GPUs as it’s not guaranteed by default. Other people’s experience can help you a lot here, but below I’ll give you a few quick hints, so don’t run away. If you consider buying the same MSI board we have, z.cash forums is a good place to get informed, however I can extract you the main points:

A cute attention on the miners

  1. Enable the “Above 4G Memory / Crypto Currency mining” option in the BIOS setup before(!) installing the OS.
  2. Switch the “PCI Latency Timer” option to “96″.
  3. Set “PEG0 Max Link Speed” to “Gen2″
  4. I had to enable Windows 10 OS installation option too.
  5. Also I had to connect my display to the DVI port on the first dedicated card instead of using the CPU-integrated graphics.

Credits go to drx3brun, skrijelj, tipanic.

VGA cards

ArmorVGAThis give you the horsepower, defines the size of your excavator’s shovel. The bigger, the faster, but, in long term the word “efficiency” comes in the scope. Without digging too deep in the topic, currently the cards that have the best performance/consumption ratio in the affordable market segment should be the GeForce GTX 1060 / 1070 from NVIDIA and RX480 / 580 from the AMD corner. You can dig using faster cards too, but building a six-card rig won’t be a silly joke. Also, a cheaper set of cards with a slower GPU on them can lead you to another efficient mining (in the power consumption aspect) but, it also means fewer coin mined in a given time frame. If you think in long-term, then over the electricity bill the amount of coins in your wallet can mean a great deal of money depending on the exchange rates. In short, try to go for a GTX 1070 / RX 580, but the issue here is that everybody does that… 8pinVGA2so you must be a lucky son of a… to get 6 pieces at a fair price. If you are in a position to cherry pick from the market supply, go for the single 8-pin power connector versions. Don’t forget that you have to give them something to eat, and that food requires tons of cables, you’ll see.

System RAM

Everybody told me to go for a single 4 GB module, but to be honest, I’m a bit skeptic staring at the future. We decided to use Windows 10 on the machine, so I don’t think we hurt our karma by inserting an extra 4 GB on the motherboard. Now, as we are (99%) ready, I can see that the CPU-RAM couple is not bothered with too much load, practically the CPU is under 10 percent usage. However I don’t want to manage such things on the miner, that I can avoid today with a reasonable expense. So it’s up to you, we put 8 gigs in there.

CPU

Use a Skylake or Kaby Lake based CPU that has an integrated graphics processor. My favorite Intel CPU lookup site, the ARK can help you out well. The most recent generation CPU lineup provides you fine power consumption bills thanks to its manufacturing process, and the integrated graphics ensures that you can see the desktop even if you have no picture rendered on any of the dedicated VGA cards or you just soft bricked your Radeons by hacking their BIOS.

PCIe Risers

This is a special stuff that you don’t need normally in a usual desktop workstation. Computers that use multiple GPUs for mining need this component to connect those VGA cards housing the GPUs to the motherboard, more specifically to its PCIe slots. If you take a quick look on the supply, you meet PCIe 1x solutions. Don’t afraid of them. During GPU based mining those graphics processors don’t communicate with the CPU too much and such miners use the system RAM as rare as possible. Thus, they don’t need high bandwidth on the GPU-CPU line, they use the dedicated VGA memory (VRAM) by far the most. This means 2 things: 1. The VRAM frequency and bandwidth will be as much important as the speed of the GPU if not more, 2. PCIe risers don’t need to provide wide connection, a simple 1x channel should be enough.

Older risers use ribbon cables but more recently they migrated to USB 3. That not just looks fancier, but way more handy when you want to align your cables and also allows better draft to your coolers.

Another specification that you should pay attention to is the power cable connector. There are different versions, such as Molex or 6-pin PCIe. We went for the 6-pin version, as this suited the best for our chosen power supply. Most of the risers come with power cable converters, e.g. SATA power cables. It is said to use the Molex and 6-pin as much as you can, but in our case 2 risers are connected with those SATA converters with no stability issues. I suppose the overall stability of the excavator highly depends on that how do you organize your power cables and here we arrived to the PSU.

Power Supply Unit

When we started the project, we wanted to get in the game as quick as we could, so we went for the best PSU in 1200W+ league that was available in stock. Well, it turned out that it wasn’t the VGA market only where we can meet empty shelves. We found only smaller 5-600W units or 1200-1500W PSUs for extremely high prices. Seeing this and as we were in a hurry, we decided to go for the 1700W Platimax for no extra cost compared to the smaller brothers. It’s overkill in the performance aspect, but after taking a look at the number of connectors we can easily find enough reasons to chase our doubts away: we have 5 pieces of double 6-pin cables, so we’ll need only 2 extra power source conversion. Well, whichever PSU you buy, in the long term I strongly suggest to go for the platinum rated pieces or at least the gold ones considering that your only cost will come from the power consumption. Moreover you can ease organizing the distribution of the power cables if you choose a PSU with a single rail. Phaedrus2129 explains it for you what this “rail thing” is.

Storage

Just put a 40-50 GB stuff there you might already have laying in your shed gathering cruel dust bunnies. If you don’t have one, go for the cheapest, but still reliable storages. We went for an M.2 SSD, that is not the cheapest solution for sure. Again, here we’ve chosen the balance between the cost and energy efficiency and also won a bit on the complexity side too: minus one cable, better energy efficiency and, of course, faster boot ups. In ideal case you’ll start your rig once after you put it together and you can forget it, so the latter is just a rather small win.

Input

Also you’ll inevitably need a keyboard and/or a mouse for the first few steps, but later on you can return them to your everyday desktop machine or to your kind neighbor who has a desktop config with keyboards on this rude, notebook-oriented World. Ehh. The built-in remote desktop feature or other remote management solutions can give you full access when you are finished installing your machine.

The final config

Harvest1_019

I cannot tell you the current prices for these components due to constant change on the market (you can check them by clicking on the links), however our final purchase reached €3100,-. acbAs you may noticed, we chose Amazon to be our resource as we have really good experiences with them, and trust is not the last notion when we are dangling that sturdy stack of chips in the air.

The Frame

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And you should not forget about the housing for all those nice stuff. It’s a rather important part of the whole project as it was never an obvious task for a usual consumer to put 6 pieces of power hungry VGA cards next to each other. Luckily there’s a plenty of guides (even on YouTube) and hints on the Net how to build one, so with a grain of enthusiasm it should not be a problem to create your own open air frame, just like we have built ours. First we followed this great video guide by HighOnCoins, but later, when the risers arrived, it turned out that we have to change the structure a bit to give enough space for the risers and for the cables connected to them.

Be prepared for such surprises as the construction may need similar alignments depending on the direction and the type of the cables connected to the risers, the dimensions of your VGA cards and the thickness of your wooden bars. The key here is the distance of the horizontal bars on those prancing pillars. Harvest1_034Also you can find versions with the frame made of metallic components. We also ordered a piece of a metallic plate that we are going to put under the PSU, but we are still waiting for the delivery. For something, like these. We plan to face the fan downward so we removed the original fan grill from the PSU. Also, as the plate arrives, we put a piece of a simple weared black tights under it to filter out the dust and keep it running cool and silent. Our frame ultimately got the following overall dimensions: 560 x 425 x 260 mm (W x D x H).

We used 28 mm bars, that’s a bit more robust compared to the most you might find on the Net, 24-25 mm should do it well too. Quick hint: if you use thicker screws, don’t forget to drill narrow holes at their places before using them to avoid cracking your bars.

As you can see on the pictures, the whole machine is opened, but beware putting it into a small room. 1000W of thermal dissipation can easily warm up a closed place, ventilation is crucial considering the safety and for the stable operation. Avoid placing the rig close to combustible objects and near wet surfaces.

The Currency

We scanned through the Internet in the topic while we were waiting for the postman: What should we mine? There are two trendy coins currently but don’t expect from me that I will tell you the big truth here, don’t forget, I’m also a beginner. ZCash and Ethereum are the favorites now, but there are countless exotic altcoins waiting for your transistors. We also wanted to find out which way to go, and during our research we stumbled upon this handful video from Cliff. These popular calculators can help you to find out your choice:

As I issued a preliminary test with the Claymore’s Ethereum miner on my RX 480, and it worked flawlessly, we decided to start with Ethereum. Don’t be confused: Ethereum Classic is a different currency, on CoinDesk you can learn the difference.

The Software

OS

Now as you most probably know what would you like to excavate, you have to choose the software you trust in. The miner will be that application running on your machine that gives calculation tasks for your dear GPUs. As I had a spare Windows 10 license, we went for that OS and this also specifies the palette you can choose your mining software from. Some use linux on their machine. Both OS will serve you well.

Miner

ClaymoreAfter a few hours of research we found EWBF’s miner is the current favorite for ZCash, and Claymore and Genoil are two popular for Ethereum. As I mentioned above, we started with Ethereum after I tried out Claymore’s Ethereum Miner. Also I read about stability problems from Genoil users. To download the Claymore miner, just click on the link. Who find the ZCash coin more attractive, EWBF’s miner is the preferred way to go. Both miner has a pretty neat description to how to use them. We use the following command line:

EthDcrMiner64.exe -mode 1 -epool eu2.ethermine.org:4444 -ewal 0xb3f095c58ccefe4a596350fbf1397720857f3971.Harvest1 -epsw x -allpools 1 -allcoins 1

For this miner, there’s a simple but useful Android app to monitor the state of most important parameters: GPU temperatures, reported hash rate and the uptime. Here you can download and install it to your phone: BCMob’s Claymore Monitor. Please note that Claymore’s miner is capable of mining two different coins the same time. There are a few options for the second currency such as Pascal, Decred and so on. It is stated that digging for the second one does not (or barely) affects the main Ether mining. This is especially true for the AMD Polaris cards, so it’s up to you to give it a go.

Pools

PoolYou might noticed a URL in the miner command line above. You can see the address of a mining pool. I give you just a short summary and you can look this topic up if you are interested in the further details. So, for some currency it’s recommended to join a team of other miners to earn money before the end of this century, as it’s really really time consuming to finish with a block of calculations that results in a few coins in your wallet. Thus, when you join with your calculation power to others teamed up in a pool, the total power earns money much faster. This money is spread among the pool members by the rate of the calculation power provided. Most of the pools have around 1 percent of fees. When you have a mining farm packed with tons of GPUs or ASICs, you can avoid joining a pool without sacrificing the benefits. On Bitcoin WorldWide you can learn more. We chose ethermine.org. There is a useful android app in the Play Store for the pool too, so you have the chance to check your miner on-the-go.

A Wallet

Some might say, the whole thing is about making money. I suppose they are right. So you need a wallet to put your earnings in. You have to visit a digital wallet “provider”, and register an account there. These sites most often give you exchange services too, so you can put your money in a different currency there. Sure, there are transaction fees even for deposits, so it’s up to you to find the provider you like the best. We use Kraken now. A few of the similar services:

After you opened a digital wallet, its ID, or address should look like this:

0xb3f095c58ccefe4a596350fbf1397720857f3971

Keep in mind that a wallet defines the currency too, so for every each currency you need to open a separate wallet with unique address. If you mix them up when you configure your miner, you might end up with scoreless hours of mining.

Let’s dig

After putting all the components together, installing the necessary software set and configuring them, with an anticipated confidence, we named it Harvester 1. With the raw setup we started to dig and saw a 26 MH/s calculation speed per card. We also used a consumption meter to check how much will we pay for the electricity. The total consumption typically was 950W during calculation. Hmm, we read on different pages and forums that we can easily increase the operational efficiency by decreasing the TDP limit of the cards and also increasing the VRAM frequency. Harvest1_030Using MSI’s Afterburner we ended up with a decent performance increase of 13% and we also succeeded to decrease the consumption by an appealing 19%. Wow! In numbers, this means, that from the default 26 MH/s on 950W (36.5W / MH) we got 30 MH/s on 770W (25.7W / MH)! This great article by Nathan helped us a lot to reach a 30% increase in the overall efficiency. We reached these values with the following settings:

  • GPU: 1750 MHz
  • VRAM: 2200 MHz
  • TDP: 60%
  • Average temperature: 59°C

After 3 days of uninterrupted operation, this computing performance  promises around 2 Ethers per month. That’s not so much compared to the initial investments, but in long term hopefully it’s going to earn its price.

Quick howto

Let me summarize it all to give you a very short step-by-step guide:

  1. Build your rig.
  2. Choose your coin.
  3. Register on an exchange site.
  4. Open your digital wallet.
  5. Choose a pool.
  6. Download a mining software.
  7. Configure the miner (currency, wallet, pool).
  8. Optimize the efficiency.
  9. Excavate the gold!

Summary

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With my brother we are staring at the future to see what is going to happen. We hear complainant words saying that in a few months it won’t worth the effort/risk/electricity cost/investments to mine, because of the trends in the exchange rates/difficulty/etc, but for us it’s not about earning immediate money. We don’t plan to touch it for a while. Also it’s an exciting experiment, a step ahead to a new world that may evaporate by the time, like a hallucination, or may mean the actual future itself: virtual currencies, the money of our children. For the latter case it’s never a bad idea to have a few bucks in that form.

We’ll see.

Donate

If you think this story helped you building your own stuff or just let you take pleasant moments, your kind donation is always welcome on any of these addresses:

  • Bitcoin: 3LLzWCTCiLGnj5WT127BduHaCehbZUJdwT
  • Ether: 0x57A0ac917775D1dfEe5D7e551BE145bb57b49724
  • ZCash: t1TccE92FHfLQXaZnJBssXgMSE5nNNh2HBa

Video

10 thoughts on “Harvester 1 – The Birth of an Ether Mining Rig”

  1. Hey Juke! This is a well written and humorous article. It was a joy for me to read it throught. People is surely going to take a liking to do something similar. Personally I can feel the pressure to dig into this whole crypto currency thing, which is almost completley unknown to me at the moment. The topic is popping up regularly in front of my eyes recently. Also this article must be a sign…!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Based on this article i made some modding and got some suggession…
    and TA – DAAA!! My RX580 went up from 26MH/s to 29Mh/s !!!

    Like

    1. I’m glad to hear it. You can also play with the tdp slider to increase efficiency by moving it down just until it does not affect the performance. Small dirt and great gold…

      Like

  3. I’m thinking about it. I would like to build my own rig, and this article is my favorite. I’m waiting for lower price. Now is more than 500 eur 😦

    Like

    1. Favorite? Oh yeah! 🙂 Unfortunately the supply was not prepared for this high demand on the GPU market. I hope this will be normalized soon. Thanks for reading my thoughts…

      Like

  4. A quick hint to all the Radeon’ers: use a dummy plug or an actual monitor on one of your VGA to have all the monitoring capabilities if you’d like to see the temperatures, fan RPM and other GPU parameters otherwise the Catalyst driver does not initialize these…

    Like

  5. I am curios from where did you buy the MSI 1070’s for 400 euro. I also managed to buy 2 (for temporary mining after which they will be going as gaming cards) for similar price( 404 euro after discount on 24th of june). They do mine 30.5 MH/s with 56% power, 100+ core, 500+ memory.

    Cheers,

    Like

    1. You can find the shopping links for all the components in “The final config” section, just click on their name. Of course, most of them are far more expensive now. I guess the +100 MHz on your GPU is unnecessary, moreover it just makes your electricity bill higher for nothing in change. I could decrease mine without sacrificing the hash rate, you should try it out if you haven’t tried it yet. You can check the “Let’s dig” section for details. Cheers! 😉

      Like

      1. Hi,

        Yes I have tried and indeed it reduces power without much hashrate loss (30.5 to 30 MH/s) with a decrease of 30W at the wall. When I did my initial tests I ended up using 80-100+ on core (which meant 1730 Mhz) because it had an impact. Now with the release of Claymore dualminer version 9.7 things are more efficient and it seems core frequency has a lesser impact. Now my rig uses 270W with 2 Nvidia gtx 1070 and pulls 60MH/s.

        Like

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