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How a total n00b mined $700 in bitcoins


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We take a Butterfly Labs Bitcoin miner, plug it in, and make it (virtually) rain.


This is the second in a two-part series exploring Butterfly Labs and its lineup of dedicated Bitcoin-mining hardware. In part one, we looked at the company and the experiences customers have had with it. In part two, we share our experiences running a Bitcoin miner for a couple weeks.

There is a whirring, whining presence in my dining room. I notice it every time I walk through. Every day, it sucks down about one full kilowatt-hour of electricity. In a year, it will consume almost $100 worth of juice—and that's on top of the $274 it costs to buy the box in the first place. Oh, and it's hot, too. If I moved it into my office and could stand the noise, I could keep a cup of coffee comfortably warm on top of the thing. Why on earth would anyone want such a disagreeable little machine in their home?

The short answer: every day, that machine magically generates something like $20 in bitcoins.

A newbie and his miner

Ars Senior Business Editor Cyrus Farivar tapped me on the shoulder a few weeks back with a proposition. "I've got a Butterfly Labs Bitcoin mining box," he explained. "There aren't that many in the wild right now. I'm working on a story about the company, but I'm about to go on vacation. Do you want to see if you can get the thing working while I'm out?"

I was intrigued. Bitcoin? That's the electronic currency that's quickly rocketed from lame nerd project to ludicrously valuable hot topic, right? I didn't know a lot about the world of Bitcoin other than the fact that "mining" them involved people building custom PCs with tons of video cards to handle the math. I certainly didn't know how to "mine" bitcoins myself or what to do with the things once I had them. I just knew that people eventually try to trade them in for cash somehow (but how to do that was also a total mystery).

And yet here was the opportunity to take a piece of hardware I'd never heard of and see if I could use it to magically create some money out of nowhere. I told Cyrus to send me the Butterfly Labs miner. As he trekked off to Peru for his vacation, I settled in with the little black box.

Butterfly Labs is a company that has drawn a fair amount of controversy for what the Bitcoin community at large perceives as a string of broken promises. The company sells ASIC-based Bitcoin miners—machines that are built around customized chips that do nothing except compute SHA-256 hashes very quickly. Its smallest miner (the one I had to get working) is codenamed "Jalapeño" and computes a bit over five billion hashes per second (or 5GH/s). The problem is that Butterfly Labs started selling the machines long before it actually had a product to sell. It began taking paid-in-full preorders back in mid-2012, and thousands of customers opened their wallets for Bitcoin miners ranging from the small 5GH/s miner at $274 all the way up to the large 500Gh/s miner, which costs $22,484.

Butterfly Labs promised certain performance targets to customers—it initially felt confident that its application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) designs would deliver one billion hashes per second for every 1.1 watt of power consumed. This proved extremely optimistic. Hardware delivery slipped multiple times. Now, a full year later, the first few real live Butterfly Labs boxes are finally being shipped, though no small number (as many as 30) were sent to journalists to review rather than to paying customers.

But when the little black box showed up on my doorstep, I had no idea about the deep and extremely vocal Bitcoin community or the story behind Butterfly Labs. I didn't really even fully understand what the miner did. I simply knew that I wanted to get this thing working and make some money.

Out of the box

The 5GH/s Jalapeño miner is a black rounded cube with a brushed metal finish. The only connectors on the exterior of the device are on the back: a mini-USB port for data and a power plug. Near the power plug are a series of small red LEDs that the device uses to tell you its status, though there was no documentation in the box to explain what the LEDs meant. The front of the cube contains another red LED to indicate power.

There are two sets of vents, one low on the front and the other high on the rear. The device's internal 80 mm fan draws cooler air up from the front through the fins of the large heat sink mounted on the ASIC chip. It expels the now-warm air out through the top vents.

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I just hate it, this will bring the price of bitcoin really down. I just hope that they don't manage to create a chip for litecoin mining :D

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A good read, thanks.

I'm still no nearer understanding Bitcoin though :lol:

It is just virtual crypto money which got very popular this year when the price of one bitcoin went over 200$. You can buy bitcoins or use your computer to create bitcoins. It requiers a lot of machine power to create bitcoins, people are mostly using AMD graphic cards to mine bitcoins(create bitcoins).

You can buy and trade with bitcoins, for example you buy some bitcoins and exchange them for an alternative crypto currency like litecoin, when litecoin get's more worth they sell it again and get more money :)

I made 100$ in 1 month with my computer and doubled it by buying "feathercoins" with it and reselling it, and now im holding litecoins which will be worth a lot soon, because it will be supported by the worlds most used site for bitcoin trading (mtgox).

But now they have created chips that manage to mine bitcoins at very high speeds and with almost no power consumption. It is like 1000% profit.. This makes mining with any high-end graphic card useless..

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How is this bitcoin mining legal?

I can't understand making your own virtual money legal this way. :mellow:

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Can you trade bitcoins directly for money? Is it worth investing in those machines? What are the risks?

Cheers ;)

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