Ethereum Miners Likely Lost Money During the Past Two Years

It’s no secret that cryptocurrency prices have plummeted, and the potential profits from GPU mining have gone right along with them. It’s been a while since we’ve updated our best GPUs for mining because it’s not advisable to invest in new hardware at this point, nor has it been for many months. 

But we were curious about the potential profits miners may or may not have realized over the past two years, so we decided to do some research based on the price of Ethereum versus the cost of hardware and power. In short: if you didn’t sell your currency before the crash, you have probably spent more than you earned.

Below, we’ve selected ten of the most popular graphics cards for cryptocurrency miners. These also happen to match up nicely with the best graphics cards for gaming, assuming you could actually find any of the GPUs in stock for a reasonable price. To keep things simple, we’re only looking at Nvidia’s original non-LHR models to give us the standpoint of people who might have picked up a card right on the day of the GPU launch.

The numbers we’ll present assume 24/7 mining, with no pool fees. We’ve used our own calculations for power draw and hash rates, erring perhaps on the higher end of the profitability spectrum. We’ve also used a price per kWh of $0.10, which may or may not be similar to what you’d pay, but it represents at least an easy starting point. Finally, we’ve calculated things with no selling of mined coins — the “HODL” mindset, in other words.

These are strict numerical estimates, which are almost certainly better than what anyone doing real mining experienced over the past 20 months or so. We’re also not including the cost of the rest of the PC, and prices on GPUs were all over the place so we’ve used a somewhat conservative estimate, meaning most people paid more than what we’re showing in the table. You should probably add at least $750 for the cost of a CPU, motherboard, PSU, RAM, storage and case. We’ll stop there and let the numbers speak for themselves.

Ethereum Mining Since GPU Launch
RTX 3090 RTX 3080 RTX 3070 RTX 3060 Ti RTX 3060 RX 6900 XT RX 6800 XT RX 6800 RX 6700 XT RX 6600 XT
Launch Date 9/24/2020 9/17/2020 10/29/2020 12/2/2020 2/25/2021 12/8/2020 11/18/2020 11/18/2020 3/18/2021 8/11/2021
Hash Rate (MH/s) 119 97 60 60 41 62 62 61 46 32
Power (Watts) 320 240 135 140 110 175 175 170 120 75
Total ETH Mined 2.709 2.294 1.21 1.076 0.492 1.09 1.17 1.152 0.495 0.17
Days Mined 641 648 606 572 487 566 586 586 466 320
ETH Value $3,247 $2,749 $1,450 $1,289 $589 $1,306 $1,402 $1,380 $594 $204
Power Cost $492 $373 $196 $192 $129 $238 $246 $239 $134 $58
Potential Earnings $2,754 $2,376 $1,254 $1,097 $461 $1,068 $1,156 $1,141 $459 $146
Approx. GPU Cost $2,500 $1,500 $1,000 $900 $750 $1,500 $1,350 $1,200 $1,000 $650
Net Profits (Loss) — GPU Only $254 $876 $254 $197 ($289) ($432) ($194) ($59) ($541) ($504)

Depending on whether you’re a miner or someone looking for some schadenfreude, that table ought to make you rethink the value of cryptocurrency mining. The fastest mining GPU on the planet for most of the past two years, the GeForce RTX 3090, would have netted a sum total of 2.7 Ethereum, probably less. Two months ago, on April 1, that would have been worth about $7,425 — not a bad haul for a graphics card that might have cost $2,000–$2,500. Even after paying the nearly $500 in electricity costs for all that mining, you still would have had a nice little chunk of profit.

But today, if you’re still holding? Chances are you barely broke even, unless you got a good deal on the card. We know almost no one was paying MSRPs on the GPUs when they launched, and eBay prices were often double or more the MSRP. Factor in the cost of the rest of the PC (roughly $750–$1000 for a full mining rig) and the time to get things set up and running, and things look even worse.

We’ll get to our second estimate of potential profits (losses) in a moment, for those that didn’t start mining as soon as the various GPUs were available, representing a more likely scenario. But first, let’s go through some of the other popular GPUs of the past year or two.

Factor in $750–$1000 for a full mining rig, plus the time to get things set up and running, and things look even worse.

The RTX 3080 was supposed to cost around $700, but for much of 2021, it sold for $1,500–$2,000, perhaps more. If you got a good variant right around the time the GPU launched and mined 24/7 since then, you might have netted over $800, despite the crash in crypto prices. Maybe. The RTX 3070 and RTX 3060 Ti were also potentially profitable, depending on when you started mining and how much you paid for the cards, while the RTX 3060 that launched in February 2021 fell short even if you got the LHR v1 that was “cracked” by Nvidia’s own driver team within weeks of launch.

What about AMD? All of the Navi 21 GPUs have similar hash rates and power requirements, while GPU prices ranged from as little as $1,000 (briefly) for the RX 6800 to as much as $2,000 for the RX 6900 XT, depending on when in the year you bought them. The RX 6800 XT and RX 6800 launched several weeks before the RX 6900 XT, netting an extra $100 from mining, but all of the AMD GPUs were likely unprofitable if you’re looking at how things stand right now.

The RX 6600 XT is in an even worse position since it hasn’t been available for even a full year yet, with current potential earnings after power sitting at just $146. Hopefully you didn’t purchase a bunch of those cards for mining at $650 each, which would put you about $500 behind on each GPU!

Ethereum Mining Since June 1, 2021
RTX 3090 RTX 3080 RTX 3070 RTX 3060 Ti RTX 3060 RX 6900 XT RX 6800 XT RX 6800 RX 6700 XT
Hash Rate (MH/s) 119 97 60 60 41 62 62 61 46
Power (Watts) 320 240 135 140 110 175 175 170 120
Total ETH Mined 0.882 0.719 0.445 0.445 0.304 0.459 0.459 0.452 0.341
Days Mined 391 391 391 391 391 391 391 391 391
ETH Value $1,057 $861 $533 $533 $364 $551 $551 $542 $408
Power Cost $300 $225 $127 $131 $103 $164 $164 $160 $113
Potential Earnings $756 $636 $406 $401 $261 $386 $386 $382 $296
Est. GPU Price $2,500 $2,000 $1,100 $1,000 $750 $1,500 $1,350 $1,200 $900
Net Profits (Loss) ($1,744) ($1,364) ($694) ($599) ($489) ($1,114) ($964) ($818) ($604)

But what if you weren’t quite able to begin mining right when the GPUs launched? Here’s a different look at the same data, only this time we’re going with mining since June 1, 2021 — we’ve removed the RX 6600 XT from the list since it wasn’t available yet. We used slightly lower prices than we were tracking last year on eBay as the GPU cost estimate. As you’d expect, less time mining means fewer coins mined, and the raw profits in Ethereum have been on a steady decline during most of the past two years.

The RTX 3090 wouldn’t have mined even a single ETH in the past year. Subtract the power cost and we estimate only $756 in the value of mined coins, for a card that very likely cost $2,500 or more. You would still have the GPU, but the balance sheet would be sitting about $1,750 in the red — without factoring in the rest of the PC cost, or for institutional miners the warehouse and infrastructure cost.

Other GPUs that didn’t cost quite as much fared a bit better, at least in terms of how much money you would have lost, but none of these GPUs would be anywhere close to “profitable” if you didn’t start mining until June of last year.

This is likely why many mining groups are now looking to sell off all of their mining equipment. If they can recover a decent chunk of the cost, maybe they broke even. But we didn’t include air conditioning, warehouse space, or infrastructure and personnel costs, either. So it’s not hard to imagine some mining farms being very far in debt right now.

There’s another alternative we should consider: the “sell as you go” mentality for mining. The idea here is to recover initial costs as quickly as possible, and only start holding cryptocoins once you’re in the black.

RTX 3090 RTX 3080 RTX 3070 RTX 3060 Ti RTX 3060 RX 6900 XT RX 6800 XT RX 6800 RX 6700 XT RX 6600 XT
Launch Date 9/24/2020 9/17/2020 10/29/2020 12/2/2020 2/25/2021 12/8/2020 11/18/2020 11/18/2020 3/18/2021 8/11/2021
Hash Rate (MH/s) 119 97 60 60 41 62 62 61 46 32
Power (Watts) 320 240 135 140 110 175 175 170 120 75
Total ETH Mined 1.098 0.914 0.578 0.573 0.378 0.564 0.564 0.557 0.396 0.149
Days Mined 483 483 483 483 483 483 483 483 466 320
Power Cost $371 $278 $156 $162 $128 $203 $203 $197 $134 $58
Approx. Price $2,899 $2,051 $1,209 $1,209 $775 $1,740 $1,400 $1,219 $1,120 $634
Sell As You Go Profit (Loss) ($886) ($386) ($163) ($169) ($81) ($701) ($361) ($194) ($349) ($199)

The above assumes that you jumped on the mining bandwagon on March 1, 2021, when things were still looking pretty awesome from a mining perspective. The prices come from our GPU price index, for the month of March, except for cards that launched after March 1 (like the RX 6700 XT and RX 6600 XT), where we used the first month of pricing data. Then we assume selling off all the mined Ethereum on a daily basis — that’s probably not realistic, but even if you did it once per week the results would be similar to what we’re showing here.

If you did this to try and recover the cost of your hardware as quickly as possible — and again, we’re only looking at the GPU cost; the rest of the PC could easily add another $1,000 if you were building six GPU mining rigs with dual high-end power supplies — a few of the GPUs might have come close to being profitable, but other factors mean pretty much everyone lost money. No one would have broken even, despite mining for 483 days. Unless you got a lower price on the GPUs, naturally, or if you held your coins and sold at the peak of Ethereum’s pricing bubble.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Bottom Line for Cryptocurrency Mining

This almost certainly won’t be the last time we hear or write about cryptocurrency mining. However, it should be a sobering look at what you can expect long-term. If you get in right at the start of the next wave, pocketing the profits as you go, you could definitely make back your investment. Getting a good deal on the graphics card in the first place will go a long way toward putting your endeavor into the black as well.

The biggest factor of course is the gambling aspect of cryptocurrencies. Some people bought a few coins right before the bubble and managed to sell those coins for as much as 10X what they initially paid. And they did all of that without mining. You could also end up making money if you mined coins and sold at the right time. Either way, though, it’s basically speculation and gambling.

For those that didn’t get in early, or overpaid for hardware, or got nervous and sold at the wrong time, or any other number of possible routes, they lost money — some companies lost a lot of money. The real winners were mostly the graphics card manufacturers and scalpers. Both happily took in people’s money, laughing all the way to the bank.

This past cryptocurrency wave had some similarities to the previous waves we saw in 2017 and 2014, but it lasted a lot longer. Perhaps that was due to the pandemic and supply chain issues, and we certainly wouldn’t try to bet on what might happen if or when we see the next cryptocurrency bubble. However, some are still in it for the long haul, and if they can cover the costs for many years and Ethereum shoots back up to its previous high, they’ll all look incredibly prescient. On the other hand, those who can’t hold out for perhaps five or more years of waiting will likely get caught holding the bag yet again.