What Is a USB Bitcoin Miner in Crypto, and How Does It Work?

Erika Rasure is globally-recognized as a leading consumer economics subject matter expert, researcher, and educator. She is a financial therapist and transformational coach, with a special interest in helping women learn how to invest.

Bitcoin can be purchased using dollars or other currencies, by selling goods or services and receiving payments via bitcoin or by mining. Bitcoin mining is performed using dedicated electronic devices called miners that have high computing capacity. In the early- to mid-2010s, USB connection type mining devices were developed to allow ease of use, seamless connectivity, and lower power consumption at a lower price. But network hashing rates rose too quickly for these devices to keep up, so they were quickly abandoned by users for faster equipment. Rx 580 Gaming Graphics Card

What Is a USB Bitcoin Miner in Crypto, and How Does It Work?

A USB Bitcoin miner, when connected to a computer with suitable software, performs the mining function at a certain hashing speed. To enhance the hashing output, multiple miners could be plugged in together. When they first came out, a stack of six USB miners that offered 335 megahashes per second (MH/s) could generate a cumulative two gigahashes of mining power.

Since a standard computer usually has only two to six USB ports, USB hubs are required to be used to plug in the multiple USB miners. The USB hubs would be connected to a computer with software capable of controlling the USB miners and their mining operations.

Instead of connecting to a standard PC or laptop, the USB Bitcoin miner setup could also be connected to other smaller, low-cost computer devices like Raspberry Pi, which offered suitable capacity to run the miners at the time. However, they were still not fast enough to keep up with other miners.

In 2023, you can purchase a USB miner that hashes at 220 gigahashes per second. You would need to stack more than 61 of these USB miners (at $198 per unit) to equal the hashing rate of an older Antminer S9 mining at 13.5 terahashes per second (found used on eBay for about $100). And that's only if your USB connection speeds and multiple hubs can handle the amount of information being processed.

Bitcoin mining started with the standard Central Processing Unit (CPU), an integral part of a standard computer. The mining efficiency was enhanced with the use of comparatively faster Graphic Processing Units (GPUs).

Then came the Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs), which scored better than both CPUs and GPUs at performing the hashing function, an essential element of blockchain management in cryptocurrency.

FPGAs turned the concept of concentrated mining farms into reality and were also the first kind of mining devices that supported USB connectivity. FPGAs are now superseded by Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), which consume less power and offer faster processing speeds compared to the former three.

The rapidly evolving technology has made Bitcoin mining nearly non-profitable on home computers. However, it is possible to use top-of-the-line graphics cards and processors to net a few dollars per month.

A USB miner can be used to assist the network, but these devices barely do enough work to earn rewards in a mining pool.

USB Bitcoin miners do not have the computational capacity to effectively mine or even generate any profit as of November 2023, so they are not worth it if you want to mine for income. If you want to participate in the network and learn more about it, they can be a good purchase, albeit an expensive one.

In many jurisdictions, Bitcoin mining machines are legal, but some countries have made it illegal. There are regulations being discussed globally that might eventually put restraints on the practice because it uses energy extensively when the world is attempting to become more aware of energy use and sources.

With lower setup costs, USB miners offered an easy and fun way to learn the nuances of cryptocurrency mining. However, it is currently financially unfeasible to use these devices, as it would take several decades to recoup their cost if a computer could even make the entire setup work.

The comments, opinions, and analyses expressed on Investopedia are for informational purposes only. Read our warranty and liability disclaimer for more info. As of the date this article was written, the author does not own cryptocurrency.

ASIC Miner Value. "Bitmain Antminer S9 (13.5Th)."

What Is a USB Bitcoin Miner in Crypto, and How Does It Work?

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