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So just from the listing at coinmarketcap.com, there seems to be 954 cryptocurrencies right now. I imagine it's a bit like a startup, in that most of them will not survive.

It's too late to mine the big ones - like bitcoins, ethereum and litecoins - you probably need dedicated rigs with ASIC to mine them. But is it possible to just mine the smaller ones? The ones that are in the beginning stages in the hope that maybe one day they will take off? Would it be like mining bitcoin in 2009?

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Yes, it is possible. Most altcoins are setup with low enough difficulty that you can CPU or GPU mine them, like you could with Bitcoin in the early days. However there are so many of these small obscure altcoins and almost all of them are just useless clones of some other coin or pump and dump scams, so you are likely going to just end up wasting electricity.

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