In order to successfully conduct Bitcoins mining, you’ll need a working “miner” that will make good use of your hardware (more about that later). There are a handful of miners out on the Web, but many of them have a narrow window of hardware it can work with, or it is difficult to (easily) control because it only runs via a command line.
No need to fear, though, because there’s a great program that comes with a GUI that does all the dirty work!
What are Bitcoins About?
Before we start, we need to understand a little better what Bitcoins are and what the mining process consists of. Bitcoins are pieces of virtual money that can be traded around just like regular money, but with extremely low transaction fees (paid in Bitcoins). Bitcoins can also be exchanged for other currencies such as the US Dollar, Euro, etc.
Their value changes based on demand, which can be tracked at Mt. Gox or BitcoinCharts. At the time of this article the BTC to USD exchange rate is $10.90/1 BTC, but this rate can change every 5 minutes. Bitcoins are created by solving a puzzle that involves getting a certain result with random hashes, which is effectively what mining is all about. Another important feature of Bitcoin is that everything is done anonymously.
More information about Bitcoin can be found in this well-written article.
guiminer is essentially a GUI interface that can control multiple different mining applications at the same time, which come bundled with the program on download. It is available for Windows, and also offers early support for Linux. If you’ve never used Bitcoin before, you must install the official Bitcoin client to have a wallet and Bitcoin address (where you can send and receive Bitcoins from). Once you’ve done that you can go ahead and launch guiminer.
Interface and Miners
The interface is pretty simple. The default miner that opens will use your GPU’s OpenCL capabilities (if it’s from AMD). Otherwise, you can choose to create a new miner. Here you can also choose “Phoenix” (a miner from a different developer), a CUDA miner (meant for nVidia cards), a CPU miner, and a custom option.
I highly recommend you choose OpenCL for AMD cards and CUDA for nVidia cards. You should probably leave the CPU miner alone because the hash rate will be very low compared to your GPU, which is capable of doing many parallel computations at the same time.
For example, my AMD Phenom II X6 1100T processor gets roughly 3.5 Mh/s (megahashes per second) while my AMD Radeon HD 6950 graphics card gets on average 320 Mh/s.
Whom to Mine For
Once you have your miner selected, you can choose where to mine for. You can try doing things solo, where if you manage to land a block, you’ll get a total of 50 Bitcoins, all to yourself. That’s, at the time of this writing, about $545! However, you’ll either have to be very lucky to get a block, or you’ll either have to spend many months running 24/7 before you finally get one. You could also increase the horsepower and add multiple GPUs or even additional mining rigs to get the number of megahashes higher so that it won’t take months and months.
Another choice is to choose to enter a mining pool. Mining pools combine the efforts of all the members involved in order to get blocks a lot faster. The resulting Bitcoins then usually get split proportionately among all the involved and active contributors. It will most likely take you just as long to get 50 Bitcoins through a mining pool, but you’ll get paid after every couple hours of work you contribute instead of waiting until you get a lump sum of 50 BTC. guiminer comes with a number of preconfigured mining pools, so you can choose any of them, register beforehand, make sure you entered your Bitcoin address in your profile so you can get paid, and then start mining for that pool.
Extra AMD Graphics Card Settings
If you’re an AMD/ATI graphics card holder, you’ll want to be aware of the AMD Overdrive feature in your Catalyst Control Center software. This feature allows you to overclock as well as underclock your graphics card, to give you either more performance (and more megahashes) or more power and heat savings (and less megahashes). If you feel safe to do it, you can play around with the settings on that page, but please stay on it for a while and monitor the stats about graphics card, especially the temperature. If it starts climbing too high, you’ll either need to change your settings or manually adjust the fan speed if you can (should be on the same page).
For more information, you can check out this article.
Despite all it’s criticisms, Bitcoin seems to be picking up speed at a rapid pace. There are also an increasing number of online stores that accept Bitcoins as a valid way to pay, so keeping some in stock may be a good idea. However, if you have the time and resources, getting Bitcoins from almost nothing through mining is quite a reward. If you stick to it (and possible add some extra omph to your hardware), you’ll have a nice sum of money at the end.
What do you think of Bitcoin? Are you interested in or do you already do Bitcoin mining? Anything else you want to address on this matter? Let us know in the comments!