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After reading on the topic of bitcoin for the past few hours I've heard a few terms again and again: mining with the CPU (pointless as of today), GPU mining (lots of people doing this), and then ASIC, and FPGA (field-programmable gate array).

With just a few hours experience in this, and although I've obviously seen the wiki's here and there which compare this hardware to that, the answer to this question could take into account some real-world factors, especially concerning the availability of the ASIC units (which are said to be much more efficient). E.g., there's talk of one particular one shipping, yet orders aren't being filled, doubts as to if they ever will be, etc.

So with that, an ASIC might be worth less consideration than another setup. The answer I'm looking addresses these different types of hardware (excluding CPU which we know are worthless) and which one might be right for someone who wants to join in on bitcoin hobby-wise, and eventually break even in terms of investment (within say, a year). This is only considering hardware and not pools, which I'm aware of.

  • 7950 maybe? Or a used 5870 might be your best bets – eichoa3I May 14 '13 at 8:12
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In order of hashrate:

ASIC >> FPGA > GPU >> CPU

">" meaning "more powerful", while ">>" stays for "completely outclasses".

Currently there are some ASICs out there, but not so many to totally destroy the chances for the other devices to mine anything, so there's still some people mining with FPGAs and some with GPUs.

Of course those using FPGAs and GPUs already have them, and it would be a pretty bizarre business decision to start using one of them right now (might make some kind of sense for the resell value: an ASIC's only purpose is mining bitcoins, while the other devices once obsolete might be used for something else).

Officially there are three ASIC manufacturers:

  • Avalon: first to complete an ASIC, ships big devices, but currently isn't taking new orders.
  • Butterfly Labs: vapourware! Started collecting money almost one year ago, and constantly misleads his customers stating they are going to be "ready in two weeks". Recently shipped a few devices to some selected members (journalists, etc.) and they were very inferior to their specifications.
  • ASICMINER: instead of focusing on selling hardware, they produce their own devices and use them, selling you shares in their company, giving you dividends; recently they also started accepting orders for small USB ASIC miner.
  • To say that BFL's miners were very inferior would be incorrect. They didn't meet the specifications for power use and heat dissipation, but exceeded the hashrate specification. That being said, it'd be nice if they'd actually nail down a date for us, even if it's not what we would have liked. – julian-goldsmith May 14 '13 at 13:44
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All of the statistics you are after are on the Mining hardware comparison page of the Bitcoin wiki.

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In my experience, GPU mining has been the most profitable and the least risky as they can be used to mine other crypto-currencies besides Bitcoin. Also GPU hardware can be re-sold to gamers should crypto currency mining fail. Here are several excellent guides to assembling your own Bitcoin mining hardware.

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