Cryptocurrency mining is the process by which new cryptocurrencies enter circulation. Mining also facilitates the validation of cryptocurrency transactions without a central authority or intermediaries. Mining crypto on a blockchain like the Bitcoin network has a high barrier to entry. Not only do Bitcoin miners need to invest in specialized equipment, but they also incur increasingly-expensive energy costs. Plus, they have to deal with their incomes being slashed every four years or so. However, several different types of crypto mining techniques exist that lower the barrier to entry for participation. Furthermore, several prominent blockchain networks opt for alternative consensus mechanisms that bypass the energy-intensive processes of the Bitcoin network and other legacy blockchains in favor of a more sustainable approach. 

In this article, we’re going to dive deep into the world of cryptocurrency mining. We’ll discuss the various types of crypto mining available today and how they differ. Also, we’ll explore some of the benefits and drawbacks of the different types of crypto mining and how you can identify the best options to suit your needs. Plus, we’ll discuss the importance of crypto mining within a self-regulating payments network. Additionally, we’ll explore consensus mechanisms and how they influence the creation of crypto assets.

What is a Blockchain?

Before we discuss the various types of crypto mining, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the architecture underpinning cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin (BTC) operate on public blockchain networks. A public blockchain is a decentralized database shared across a network of nodes. It serves as a ledger of transactions for cryptocurrencies. Unlike traditional databases, public blockchains have no single point of failure or central authority. Instead, they rely on each node in the network to ensure the validity of each transaction.

Furthermore, blockchain databases are immutable and facilitate trust between parties without intermediaries. One of the things that separate blockchains from traditional databases is the way they structure data. Each transaction is entered into a block of transactions that is interlinked with every other block before it. This creates a full timeline of transactions that cannot be altered. This system works because every node in the network shares a copy of the same ledger, meaning any attempts to manipulate ledger entries are instantly identifiable by other network participants. However, most blockchains require a framework that enables nodes to agree on the validity of transactions and ledger entries. This is where consensus mechanisms come into play. 

Consensus mechanisms ensure that all nodes can agree about the validity of transactions on a blockchain network. When nodes validate cryptocurrency transactions and add them to their block, they earn or “mine” the relevant block rewards for their contribution to the network. This financial incentive stops bad actors from manipulating or altering transactions because doing so could result in them losing out on block rewards.

What is Crypto Mining?

Mining is the process that facilitates the creation of new cryptocurrencies and the verification of cryptocurrency transactions. Although each type of crypto mining is different, it generally entails downloading a node client and running a computer or “mining rig”. Because blockchains don’t have a central authority overseeing transactions and maintaining the ledger, they use crypto mining to ensure everyone acts in the interest of the network. However, there are several different types of crypto mining with varying levels of efficiency and complexity. Moreover, we can broadly categorize each type of mining according to the hardware, software, and consensus mechanism it uses.

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Different Types of Crypto Mining

GPU mining relies on one or more graphics processing units (GPUs) to mine cryptocurrencies. This generally entails a substantial upfront cost. Plus, due to the energy requirements of mining the number-one cryptocurrency, GPUs are not suitable for mining Bitcoin. Another option for crypto mining is CPU mining. CPU mining relies on the central processing unit (CPU) of a computer and has a much lower barrier to entry than other types of crypto mining.

There was a time when miners could create Bitcoin using CPUs. However, the introduction of application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) miners has rendered CPU mining obsolete on the Bitcoin network. ASIC miners are extremely powerful machines that give Bitcoin miners the best chance of competing for block rewards. As such, they are the most popular hardware for mining Bitcoin. Nonetheless, ASIC miners are extremely expensive and use substantial amounts of electricity.

The different types of crypto mining we’ve mentioned so far tend to require upfront hardware costs. However, it’s possible to mine Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies without setting up your own hardware. Cloud mining allows participants to hire mining equipment from third-party providers while sharing the profits they generate. Furthermore, miners can join a mining pool to increase their chances of being selected for block validation.

Bitcoin Mining and Proof-of-Work (PoW)

The Bitcoin blockchain uses the Proof-of-Work (PoW) consensus mechanism to enable network participants to agree on the validity of transactions and generate new BTC. PoW miners on the Bitcoin network and other blockchains use specialized computers called “mining rigs” to compete against one another to solve cryptographic puzzles. This involves guessing a 64-digit hexadecimal number called a “hash”. The first miner to solve the cryptographic puzzle and find the target hash gains the right to validate a transaction and earn the subsequent block rewards.

On average, it takes around 10 minutes to add a new block of transactions to the Bitcoin blockchain. Also, Bitcoin block rewards are cut in half every 210,000 blocks or roughly every four years. This mechanism makes it increasingly difficult for Bitcoin miners to make a profit. Plus, it ensures that BTC becomes scarce as the network matures.

These days, Bitcoin mining hardware is extremely expensive and requires vast amounts of energy. Also, as the Bitcoin network grows, it requires an ever-increasing amount of electricity to power it. However, there was a time when anyone could mine Bitcoin with a relatively modest setup. Nonetheless, the Bitcoin network has grown to become the largest computing network in the world, consuming as much electricity as a country like Sweden or Argentina. 

Digital Gold

Bitcoin is often compared to “digital gold” as it shares several properties with the precious metal. Like gold, Bitcoin can be broken down into small parts, transported over long distances, and is in scarce supply. PoW is a nod to the process of extracting gold from the earth. However, it also addresses the “double-spending problem” whereby a bad actor can spend BTC they don’t own or spend assets twice.

Physical currencies prevent double-spending in traditional transactions. However, blockchain networks require consensus mechanisms like PoW to ensure that all transactions are legitimate and prevent counterfeiting. 

Bitcoin and PoW are great examples of how crypto mining works. However, there are several other ways for blockchain networks to validate transactions and generate new cryptocurrencies. In Proof-of-Stake (PoS), network participants who create new cryptocurrencies are called “validators”. They work differently from PoW miners. However, they serve a very similar purpose. So, now that we’ve covered Bitcoin and PoW mining let’s look at some of the other types of crypto generation you’re likely to come across in the Web3 space. 

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Proof-of-Stake (PoS)

The growing costs and environmental impact of PoW mining have prompted many newer blockchain networks to consider sustainable alternatives to crypto mining. One such alternative is the Proof-of-Stake (PoS) consensus mechanism. Whereas PoW requires validators to expend energy (work) in order to compete to solve cryptographic puzzles, PoS consensus relies on network participants locking up crypto assets to secure the network and validate transactions. 

PoS consensus mechanisms allow blockchain networks to scale without increasing their energy consumption as much as PoW consensus requires them to. Also, PoW blockchains only tend to be secure when they are expensive to attack. Some smaller PoW chains like Ethereum Classic have been the subject of various exploits whereby attackers gain 51% of the network’s hash power and can manipulate transactions. However, PoS consensus makes attacking a blockchain network less profitable and is well-suited to smaller chains that hold less value.

Generally speaking, PoS validators are selected according to their stake size. This creates a lot of competition among PoS validators which helps to generate further support for the network. One example of PoS is the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum began as a PoW chain. However, the network recently transitioned to PoS to allow it to scale without friction. Ethereum validators must stake a minimum of 32 ETH to earn PoS staking rewards. Also, PoS validators earn transaction fees rather than block rewards.

Liquidity Mining

Though liquidity mining is not mining per se, it’s something you may have heard about. Liquidity mining, also known as yield farming, is an investment strategy that uses liquidity providers and liquidity pools to maximize profits. Liquidity pools are an essential component of decentralized exchanges (DEXs). They allow traders to swap tokens without the need for order matching or intermediaries. Liquidity providers deposit token pairs of equal value into liquidity pools for others to trade against. For example, you could deposit $100 worth of ETH and 100 USDT. In return, liquidity providers earn trading fees and liquidity pool (LP) tokens that represent their portion of the liquidity in a pool. LP tokens can then be reinvested into other liquidity pools or protocols to generate additional yield. 

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Which is the Best Type of Crypto Mining?

Different types of crypto mining exist to suit a range of different needs and circumstances. What works for one individual in one country may be completely infeasible for someone else in a different region. One of the biggest factors that determine PoW mining profitability is access to cheap electricity. Mining Bitcoin is only profitable when both cheap energy and startup capital are abundant. As such, mining other cryptocurrencies or staking could be better options. 

On the other hand, joining a mining pool or participating in cloud mining could be more suitable for anyone with low starting capital or high energy costs. Moreover, selecting the right cryptocurrencies to mine and methods within your budget and expertise are the best ways to maximize mining profitability. 

The Different Types of Crypto Mining – Summary 

Mining is a process that allows blockchain networks to validate cryptocurrency transactions without the need for a central authority or third parties. Different blockchains use various types of crypto mining techniques to incentivize honest behavior and maintain the security of the network. Although Bitcoin mining has a high barrier to entry with substantial upfront and ongoing costs, there are multiple ways to participate in crypto mining without the need for a warehouse full of energy-guzzling ASIC miners, including cloud mining and mining pools.

Furthermore, PoS consensus is quickly becoming the norm for modern blockchain networks. The PoW mining model is losing favor among many blockchain projects and making way for staking models that allow blockchains to scale while reducing the environmental impact of transaction validation and asset creation. 

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