In the beginning, mining with a CPU was the only way to mine bitcoins and was done using the original Satoshi client. In the quest to further secure the network and earn more bitcoins, miners innovated on many fronts and for years now, CPU mining has been relatively futile. You might mine for decades using your laptop without earning a single coin.
About a year and a half after the network started, it was discovered that high end graphics cards were much more efficient at bitcoin mining and the landscape changed. CPU bitcoin mining gave way to the GPU (Graphical Processing Unit). The massively parallel nature of some GPUs allowed for a 50x to 100x increase in bitcoin mining power while using far less power per unit of work.
While any modern GPU can be used to mine, the AMD line of GPU architecture turned out to be far superior to the nVidia architecture for mining bitcoins and the ATI Radeon HD 5870 turned out to be the most cost effective choice at the time.
As with the CPU to GPU transition, the bitcoin mining world progressed up the technology food chain to the Field Programmable Gate Array. With the successful launch of the Butterfly Labs FPGA ‘Single’, the bitcoin mining hardware landscape gave way to specially manufactured hardware dedicated to mining bitcoins.
While the FPGAs didn’t enjoy a 50x – 100x increase in mining speed as was seen with the transition from CPUs to GPUs, they provided a benefit through power efficiency and ease of use. A typical 600 MH/s graphics card consumed upwards of 400w of power, whereas a typical FPGA mining device would provide a hashrate of 826 MH/s at 80w of power.
That 5x improvement allowed the first large bitcoin mining farms to be constructed at an operational profit. The bitcoin mining industry was born.
The bitcoin mining world is now solidly in the Application Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) era. An ASIC is a chip designed specifically to do one thing and one thing only. Unlike FPGAs, an ASIC cannot be repurposed to perform other tasks.
An ASIC designed to mine bitcoins can only mine bitcoins and will only ever mine bitcoins. The inflexibility of an ASIC is offset by the fact that it offers a 100x increase in hashing power while reducing power consumption compared to all the previous technologies.
Unlike all the previous generations of hardware preceding ASIC, ASIC may be the “end of the line” when it comes to disruptive mining technology. CPUs were replaced by GPUs which were in turn replaced by FPGAs which were replaced by ASICs. There is nothing to replace ASICs now or even in the immediate future.
There will be stepwise refinement of the ASIC products and increases in efficiency, but nothing will offer the 50x to 100x increase in hashing power or 7x reduction in power usage that moves from previous technologies offered. This makes power consumption on an ASIC device the single most important factor of any ASIC product, as the expected useful lifetime of an ASIC mining device is longer than the entire history of bitcoin mining.
It is conceivable that an ASIC device purchased today would still be mining in two years if the device is power efficient enough and the cost of electricity does not exceed it’s output. Mining profitability is also dictated by the exchange rate, but under all circumstances the more power efficient the mining device, the more profitable it is. If you want to try your luck at bitcoin mining then this Bitcoin miner is probably the best deal.