Crypto mining is booming in 2021, and for lots of people that may be interested, they might feel like they missed the boat. I'm here to tell you they're wrong! Thanks to the power of the cloud, and the power of your aging gear (for any of you techies out there that don't throw away your old gear when you get new stuff).
So I'm going to publish a kind of 'shortcut' to crypto mining for the early 2021 era. This field changes drastically overnight, which is why I'm specifying that timeframe. But right now, as of February 2021, there are some great values and great systems you can leverage that'll get you on the fast track to earning crypto steadily, on any budget.
I would recommend holding on to all the currency you mine though and not to look at it with an "I'm spending $50 a day on electricity (or cloud rigs) to mine, but my earnings are only $20 a day" type mindset, because unless you plan on instantly selling the currency you're mining for cash, it's pretty irrelevant in the grand scheme of crypto mining. If you mine with the intent of holding for long-term profit in the market, you can easily end up with massive profits over the initial mining investment you made when you wait a few years to sell.
Where To Get Started
Best/Most Profitable Currency
Ethereum. That's all there is to it right now. In terms of ability to hash, the foundation of the currency being rooted in legitimacy and smart thinking, this is the currency to invest in even if you don't mine. But it just so happens you'll make the most for your money by mining for it vs any other currency out there right now as well.
You don't need ASICs (as you do with certain algorithms), the mining world isn't saturated right now like it is with Bitcoin, you'll make a handsome amount of Ethereum by going for it in the current market. Other currencies are more of a gamble, in that their stability and long-term survival may be more questionable, making it more likely you may never see a profit even if you hold out.
NOTE: All recommendations ahead are based on Ethereum mining (reasoning is in the above two paragraphs).
This is what you'll need to use for any rig you've got. Most software makes it really easy on you, plug in your mining pool and wallet info, start the app and it'll do everything else for you. But there are plenty to choose from.
Best for beginners with an easy GUI interface: NiceHash. This is a front-end interface that simplifies everything, takes configurations out of the commandline into an easy graphical UI, and even compares current hashrates of each mining app out there against each other so you can tell NiceHash to use the best one behind the scenes for you.
My choice: PhoenixMiner. It's quick, straightforward, simple and compatible with all Nvidia (and AMD) cards I've used from the GTX 10xx through RTX 20xx and Tesla V100 model lines. However it's getting long in the tooth...
Best (lightweight, easy) for users who don't mind using the commandline: Trexminer. Same as Phoenixminer really, just actively updated whereas Phoenix is not anymore.
Unless you have the means to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in your hardware and hashing power, you'll do far better contributing to a mining pool. There, the winnings of each mined block are distributed to each miner who contributed based on how much power they were responsible for during that block mining period.
However, the (exceedingly rare) possibility of mining a block yourself does exist, and if you mine for yourself, you would receive 100% of the earnings. It's around 5 Ethereum per block, which is... a nice haul but nothing to write home about. In almost all circumstances, slow and steady wins the race and contributing to a pool is smarter in most cases.
Recommendation: Flexpool.io. There is no other, better choice out there right now. It's custom-engineered for Ethereum only, it has a beautiful web interface that shows you your stats and makes everything so easy to start mining quickly. You can even choose how much you donate to the pool, down to 0% if you feel like it- so there are no fees. Check out any other mining pool out there and between the algorithms they implement to distribute shares to each miner, to the basic interfaces they have, to the fact that most of them are jack of all trades pools that don't deal only in Ethereum but tons of other currencies with no primary focus, they just aren't worth the time in my opinion.
Plus- because Flexpool is far, far smaller than many other mining pools, and built to be much more efficient with confirming blocks than other pools, the pool 1. mines more blocks successfully (aka is 'luckier') than many pools much larger than itself, and 2. nets its miners (like myself) MUCH more in terms of earnings than many pools simply because there are less of us it's being distributed to.
^This is flexpool.io. Just look at that beautiful interface!
The best cards to get started with are the ones you already have laying around. Finding anything at a fair price right now is pretty tough, but looking up local sellers on Craigslist is the best bet to find a good deal locally. Through that route, I acquired a few GTX 1060's of modest but substantial enough power- and the good thing about them is they come in compact ITX form factor variants so they take up less space and less power in your case. Otherwise, below is a rundown of cards and their relevant Ethereum hashing power I think are worth considering.
Mobile GTX 1060- ~15Mh/s
GTX 1060- 20Mh/s
GTX 1080- 20Mh/s (due to the GDDR5X issue mentioned in the beginning of this article in 'GPU hardware to avoid')
RTX 2070- ~35Mh/s
Quadro K80- 15Mh/s (~2014 era GPU, has impressive VRAM but if you find one for cheap on ebay don't be fooled, there's a reason- these just don't have the horsepower to get you anywhere with mining)
Quadro P5000- ~20Mh/s
Quadro RTX4000- ~36-37Mh/s
Quadro V100- 94Mh/s
Quadro A100: 150+Mh/s (theoretically) These are tough to come by in the cloud and only available in certain regions, but they theoretically trounce the Volta-based V100 by a factor of 3-4x. I haven't gotten to spin up an A100 yet, but be aware there may be an issue with the mining software you use in that it may not be optimized or even able to use A100's yet depending on the application of choice.
Vega 56- ~30Mh/s These are cheap and easy to come by with small GPU cloud providers, and offer pretty good bang for the buck and can apparently be optimized to push 40-50Mh/s... but I'm unaware of how true or possible this is.
Vega 64- ~35-40Mh/s
Of course you can go for any services that you can provision GPU-based VM's on, but sadly they're aaaaalll pretty wise to the market value and you'll pay more for running any given rig than you'll make in crypto even if the price of Ethereum is great that day. That's why you really need to thing in the long-term for this, and quite possibly consider just investing up front and buying crypto outright (but where would the fun be in that?).
What you CAN do though, is do what I did and use services that are meant primarily for gamers to rent a VM to game on. Gaming services don't really expect you to do anything other than game, and most are wise to this and lock down their platforms to only allow you to access their hardware through a front-end application with no direct administrative access to the hardware itself from your end. BUT, one platform is just provisioning a Windows 10 VM for you to use and install whatever gaming platform you want! And this is the diamond in the ruff.
It's called Shadow gaming (or shadow.tech if you google it). Not only do they give you direct access to a full Win10 VM with a Quadro P5000 GPU, but they're currently upgrading to even nicer hardware (RTX 4000's and V100's) you can get on a waitlist for. This service is only $15 a month for the P5000, and $30-$40 for the RTX4000 or V100 respectively when they begin to roll them out to customers. Which is insanity!
Only one catch- it's one VM per customer... so if your name on your credit card is already in their files, you can't create a new account with a new name and use any credit card with your original account's name. And one more catch, you have to agree to be put on a waitlist before they give you access to the rig, and right now in February 2021, the waitlist is making you wait until June 2021.
But patience is a virtue, and I've been using the platform for over a year and for $15 a month for full access to a Win10 VM with that kind of hardware, it's MORE than worth it! Provision an AWS-based P5000 machine and you'll be looking at minimum $200 a month. So many cool things you can do with that power other than mine, too. Folding@Home, decrypting hashes if you're into hacking, or... this is a stretch I know... even gaming.
#1 Shadow Gaming - This is what I mentioned right above. Quite honestly, I'd recommend you just sign up for this service regardless of mining, it's such a freaking good deal.
#2 Amazon AWS - Of course, this is just your baseline standard cloud service. An EC2 instance, specifically the P3.2xlarge instance, which is a single V100 GPU, is your best bet. But you can up that to a P3.8xlarge or 16xlarge instance, which gives you 4x V100's or 8x V100's, respectively (if you have deep pockets).
AWS has all the options you want, with the warmth and friendliness of a dead body wrapped in a UI like Cisco's if its color scheme was yellow and white. In other words, it's ugly, it's rough, it's AWS. But its pricing is fine, it has every option and feature you could ever want from a service, and its reliability/trustworthiness is unmatched in the cloud arena.
^This is the rough cost of running a single P3.2xlarge V100-based AWS spot instance for a day (on a good day). Total hashing power ~94Mh/s.
#3 Paperspace - It's a simple, user-friendly cloud service with reasonable pricing that allows you to spin up V100's and RTX 4000's which are both great GPU's, without the cold, unintuitive AWS UI we all have to trudge through.
^This is the rough cost of running dual RTX 4000-based Paperspace instances for a day. Total hashing power ~70Mh/s.
#4 GPU Eater - Similar to Paperspace, with a bunch of AMD options like the Vega 56 and 64 (Frontier Edition). Just another option out there for you, not a bad service, not good or bad prices. It's just right- and if you prefer AMD-based rigs, here's your best bet.
GPU hardware to avoid:
-Cards with GDDR5X. This memory configuration is not optimized for mining, even high-end cards will mine much slower than you expect them to compared to lower-end cards without GDDR5X)
-Cards with 4GB VRAM or less. The DAG for most cryptocurrencies have become larger than 3GB at this point, and when you start to mine, your GPU will fail to cache the whole DAG into local VRAM and mining jobs will be unable to start. There is no good workaround for this issue, so this is one of the most important factors when choosing GPU's you want to mine crypto.
Factors to avoid:
-Electricity when mining with physical (non-cloud) hardware. When I used to mine in California for Litecoin in 2013-2014, I reached ~$800 electric bills monthly just trying to run 3 rigs with 6 total GPU's from my apartment. This is mostly due to it having been California, and electric being nonsensically expensive there in the first place... but this is a huge factor for people that do have electric bills that can quickly climb in their area.
-Hourly costs when running cloud rigs 24/7. Pricing for cloud systems are... well, it seems intentionally complicated to calculate for beginners. The main issue is how quickly an hourly rate can eat through your wallet.
You can very, very easily eat up $1000 or more per month for just a single powerful rig running a high-end GPU. The hourly rates seem palatable, but when you're running them all day everyday, whatever budget you have can be quickly exhausted and usually the plan to mine for sustained periods (like months) make buying GPU's outright a more attractive option in the longrun.
Only problem is, in 2021 GPU's are not only ridiculously hard to come by but when you do find them, their costs are so hiked up that you may need to compare a GPU investment and the accompanying electrical cost against several months of Cloud usage, whereas in a normal market (where mining and COVID and bots hadn't brought the manufacturers to their knees), you'd be easily recouping your investment when compared against a single month of cloud use of a similarly performing rig.
Hopefully this help set you on the right track, let me know if you'd like any more info. Happy mining!