Bitcoin and Litecoin Mining for PC and Mac

This blog talks about mining Bitcoins, and converting those Bitcoins into Litecoins.

To download this info as a PDF for offline use, click here.

What is a Bitcoin or Litecoin? Litecoin is the silver to Bitcoins gold, and is coming online as a potential legitimate currency (and potential successor). It’s suggested that Litecoin may become as profitable as it was to those who started early Bitcoin mining. In December 2013 the price of 1 Bitcoin soared above ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS. At time of writing Litecoin mining using average desktop computers is still possible but it amounts to cents and pennies (it’ll actually cost you more in electricity). However you can generate small amounts of Bitcoin and trade them for Litecoin and still hold a potentially profitable online currency, should Litecoin inflate in the same way that Bitcoin did. Click here to read more about what exactly Bitcoin and Litecoin is and how it works…

To jump to “Converting Bitcoin into Litecoin”, see the end of the blog. To read how to mine Bitcoin in the first place, read on.

What other digital currencies are around? Similar to Bitcoin and Litecoin, other SHA256 cryptocurrencies can be mined using devices such as a Red Fury USB miner. To see other types of currency, click here.

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How To Mine Bitcoins if you own a PC or Mac

The Software

Download a program called “cgminer” from here: http://ck.kolivas.org/apps/cgminer/ . Red Fury / Blue Fury USB ASIC miners have been tested with version 3.10.0 on a Windows 8 system and 3.9.0 for Mac. If you have trouble finding a precompiled version for Mac, you can download the latest port from here: http://spaceman.ca/cgminer/

Cgminer works perfectly for Mac, however you can download an alternative called Asteroid: http://www.asteroidapp.com

Asteroid

A Bitcoin Wallet

With Bitcoins, you require a “wallet”. This is a place where any mined coins are sent and stored. Your wallet address is a long string of numbers and characters, and will look something like this:

1GV2vb33egmWZsHfturXW3ro6fRf46txEa

You can create a Bitcoin wallet online here: http://blockchain.info/wallet , however, I highly recommend downloading the software application from http://bitcoin.org/en/download where you will store Bitcoins on your own computer. The software application needs to download a HUGE database of all the transactions that have already taken place (millions) and needs to update daily in order for your payments to appear. Initially, this database download can take a few days!

The benefit of using the software rather than an online wallet is that various online wallets have been hacked, and people have lost their Bitcoins. By storing your wallet on your own computer, your Bitcoins are safe.

The Hardware

Mining for Bitcoin is now at a point where purpose-built hardware has been designed to calculate (or hash out the answer) at a faster rate than your computer processor alone. These devices are called ASICs; Application-Specific Integrated Chips. These devices will hash for Bitcoin, and Bitcoin only (or similar crypto currency, based on SHA256).

You can buy ASIC miners on eBay, Amazon and a bunch of other places online. Be sure to buy from a trusted seller as some unscrupulous sites still exist where people will take your money (or your Bitcoins) and you’ll get nothing in return.

In my opinion, the best way to get into Bitcoin mining is to buy a multi-port USB hub and buy separate USB ASIC devices, and slowly build up your “farm” of hardware. You can have up to 127 USB devices connected to one USB port, although you’ll need a powered hub if you want to do that. That way you can spend smaller amounts of money on relatively fast USB devices at your own pace, instead of whacking a huge chunk of money in one go. But get in fast, as by the end of 2014 the difficulty rating will be so high that todays current hardware will mine next to nothing.

Names of USB mining devices to look for are Red Fury, Blue Fury, Ice Fury, Bi-Fury, Block Erupter Cubes, Nano Fury and Antminers.

Windows Drivers

Once you have cgminer and a wallet you need to install a driver in order for cgminer to recognise your Red Fury / Blue Fury USB ASIC miner(s). Use software called “zadig”, which allows you to choose a driver for unsupported hardware and fool Windows into communicating with the device. You can download it free from here: http://zadig.akeo.ie

Alternatively, you can try drivers from here: http://minecoin.net/bluefuryredfury-driver-for-windows/

Mac Drivers

Mac OSX installs default drivers for Red Fury / Blue Fury USB miners which cgminer doesn’t recognise (you’ll get an error message as seen below).

cgminer_initialise

You can temporarily disable these drivers when your computer first starts. The drivers will re-enable when you restart your Mac. To disable the drivers, open Terminal and with the device plugged in, type:

sudo kextunload -b com.apple.driver.AppleUSBCDC

then,

sudo kextunload -b com.apple.driver.AppleUSBCDCACMData

You will be asked to type your password for the first one. The default drivers are now disabled. If you run cgminer and you still see the error message, simply unplug the USB hub/device and plug it back in again.

Alternatively, if you use the Asteroid software for Mac, these drivers will be disabled when the program runs and re-enabled when the software closes.

Pooling Resources

You also need to join a “pool”. A pool is a group of people who are all mining at the same time for the same Bitcoin reward. The difficulty rating of a single user generating a Bitcoin by themselves means it would literally take decades to find a block (find an answer). By pooling resources, multiple people can hash for the same Bitcoin, and split the reward when it is found.

I recommend you register with “Slush’s Pool” here: http://mining.bitcoin.cz which is one of the original pools when Bitcoin mining started. You can expect a Bitcoin payment every 12-18 hours. Alternatively I can recommend BTCGuild.com if you require smaller payments, but more regularly (almost hourly).

An alternative list of pools can be found here: https://en.bitcoin.it/wiki/Comparison_of_mining_pools

You now have the software, you know the hardware, the drivers required, got a wallet address via online or the software, and lastly you’ve joined a pool. Now to put it all together…

Running The Software

When you first run cgminer you will need to configure it. You’ll need your pool URL details, your pool username and pool password:

For Slush’s Pool the URL is: stratum.bitcoin.cz:3333

For BTCGuild the URL is: stratum.btcguild.com:3333

If you’ve joined another pool, your URL address will be similar to the above. Check the website you registered with for those details. Your username is the one you created when you joined the pool. The password is the same, although most pools don’t require a password, and you can just use anything you like.

Now that cgminer is configured you simply plug the Red Fury / Blue Fury / Ice Fury / Bi-Fury USB device into any USB port, cgminer recognises it and starts hashing. Any Bitcoins found as part of the pool will be sent to your Bitcoin wallet, as configured when you registered to join the pool.

BEWARE: Some pools require you to reach a minimum amount of Bitcoin before you can deposit into your own wallet. They may also charge a percentage fee. Take note of what these values are before you start using a pool. Some are better than others.

With everything running correctly, cgminer should look like this:

cgminer running

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NOTE: Once you have cgminer up and running for the first time you should save the configuration you have set up, otherwise if the software crashes or you restart your computer you would need to type all the details in again. The steps to save the configuration are the same on both PC and Mac:

  • Run cgminer, press “S” for Settings, then press “W” for Write Config File, then press Enter. This stores your config.

Now you only need to double-click cgminer and it’ll start hashing with your details as soon as it loads. You can also configure cgminer to have a “back-up” pool. So if your original pool fails for whatever reason (usually because the pool is down for maintenance), it will automatically switch to your back-up pool and won’t lose any mining time:

  • Press “P” for Pool, then “A” for Add, enter the URL of the back-up pool, the username for the back-up pool and the password for the back-up pool.

Now cgminer will switch to your back-up pool if your original pool fails. You can switch between them by going into the same menu (“P”).

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Converting Bitcoin into Litecoin

If your bog standard computer isn’t fast enough to mine Litecoins directly, I recommend using your Bitcoin hardware instead. Generate smaller amounts (0.01 or more) and trade them. Use a website such as CEX.IO which allows you to openly trade your Bitcoin for other currency. You can mine for Litecoin on your own computer using software such as cgminer or Asteroid, but the amounts generated are truly tiny, unless you have expensive graphics cards.

Currently, you can trade 0.02 Bitcoins for 1 Litecoin.

What is a Bitcoin or Litecoin?

It’s confusing at first, so here’s a basic breakdown…

How did it start?

In 2009 a person (or group) by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto created the theory behind Bitcoin. In absolute basic terms, he created a very complicated mathematical puzzle. This puzzle was so complicated that it took the fastest computers several hours to solve. It was designed in such a way that each time it was solved, the puzzle formula changed so that there was another puzzle. This ever-changing problem was also designed to have a final solution, and therefore could only be solved a maximum number of times. There were some other built-in sneaky things too, and I’ll mention them below.

So what’s a Bitcoin?

Bitcoins were the prize for solving this puzzle. In the early days, a person who solved the problem was rewarded with 50 Bitcoins. Satoshi built the puzzle in such a way that by the time a certain amount of Bitcoins had been created (or “mined”, as in “digging for gold”), it would drop the rewards from 50 Bitcoins to 25. They also made the puzzle mathematically harder each time it was solved (the Difficulty Rate).

If a puzzle was solved whilst someone else was working on the same one, and the puzzle therefore got solved again, the second person is seen to have “verified” the answer as correct. Smaller Bitcoin payments were earned for these verifications. Also, the payment of Bitcoins to and from a person (or an “address”, which is allocated when you create a “wallet”) has to be verified.

Tell me more about the “puzzle”

In more detail, the currency of Bitcoin is described as Cryptocurrency. This is because it is based on algorithms and technology used in encryption. Governments (and home users) use encryption to protect their documents, emails, etc. It is very difficult (if not currently impossible) to crack.

The SHA256 algorithm was created by the National Security Agency in 2001 and would require an insane amount of mathematical power to actually solve. A better solution is to hash away, by attempting various answers till one fits. Of course, the slower the computer, the longer it would take.

The ever-changing puzzle answer can only be solved a maximum amount of times. For Bitcoin, the final amount of Bitcoins possible is 21 MILLION. This is “hard wired” into the Bitcoin protocol and therefore cannot be more than that. It’ll likely be less, as people forget passwords and lock themselves out of accounts, or throw away hard drives full of Bitcoins!

So how do you mine?

As the difficulty rating for Bitcoins started to get higher and higher, normal laptops and PC’s with powerful graphics cards weren’t able to solve anything very quickly. The rate of mining Bitcoins started to drop. Companies began to develop hardware specifically designed to do nothing but hash answers thousands of times faster than a simple laptop. These Application-Specific Integrated Chips (ASICs) started to appear as purpose-built computer cases with purpose-built cards filled with ASIC chips designed to hash the Bitcoin algorithm. The first batch of hardware was costly, ran very hot, used lots of electricity and wasn’t very well built.

Other companies spent more time developing smaller accurate ASIC chips. Eventually other more refined hardware started to appear, such as a Block Erupter Cube which contained 6 “blade” boards each running at 5 BILLION hashes per second. These also ran hot and ran at around 200W of power. They also had the added ability to be “over clocked” which basically meant the chips were forced to run with more power and therefore hashed up to 38 BILLION hashes per second (38GH/s), though over clocking used much more electricity and ran VERY hot, and ran the risk of burning out completely.

So what was the best hardware?

By the end of 2013, different types of hardware appeared as much smaller and power-efficient USB devices. Bitcoin forums started placing bulk orders from Korea, Indonesia and China for these USB powered ASIC miners. The first to appear on the scene were Blue Fury USB ASIC miners which ran at up to 2 billion hashes per second (2GH/s). Bi-Fury miners ran at up to 5GH/s, Ice Fury miners ran up to 2GH/s, and the latest version (Jan 2014) were Red Fury USB ASIC miners, which ran between 2.1 and 2.7 GH/s, and were capable of being over clocked to over 3GH/s by replacing a single resistor on the circuit board, or alternatively using a simple lead pencil and drawing a line on the circuit board to decrease resistance across components.

The beauty of the USB devices is that they use less than 10% of the power used by older generation hardware, they can be firmware updated to be more stable and you can build a Bitcoin “farm” (a bunch of hardware all working together) one module at a time, rather than buying one hugely expensive piece of kit.

So what’s a Litecoin?

A Litecoin is a similar crypto currency to Bitcoin, and is described as an alternative. Possibly even successor. It uses a different algorithm (scrypt, rather than SHA256). It is also slightly better designed in that the difficulty rating doesn’t rise as steeply as Bitcoin did, and the “final solution” takes longer to reach. Bitcoin will only ever produce 21 million coins, whereas Litecoin will produce 84 million.