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GPU Cracking: Rebuilding the Box

A little over two years ago, we built our first GPU cracking box. At the time, there was pretty limited information on what people were doing to build a decent cracking box, especially if you were trying to do so without breaking the bank. As with any piece of technology, things go out of date, things get upgraded, and documentation needs to get updated. Since it’s now two years since I wrote about our first system , I figured it was time to write an update to show what we’re actually using for cracking hardware now.

The Case

We currently have two cracking systems, Development and Production. Our development system is seated in a really nice (and relatively cheap) case that we picked up from MiningRigs.net. The big downside of this case is that we can’t immediately buy another one. The group making the case had recently switched to a Kickstarter model (we were one of the only backers), but they secured outside funding for the cases and are now building more. As soon as they have them ready, we’re planning on picking up another one.

Dan Case

Our production system is currently housed in a much lower-tech case… Three Milkcrates. As you can see, we’ve graduated from server shelving to an arguably crazier option. After seeing a number of Bitcoin miners using the milkcrate method for cases, we moved our cards over. This has actually worked quite well. The only issue that we’ve run into (outside of noise) is high temperatures on some of the cards. We’ve been able to keep the heat issues away by manually setting the fan speeds on all of the cards to 100%.

Cratecase E

*Update (5/19/15): We actually got another rack-mount case for our production system. Goodbye milk crates.

B E C E C Dde Dae E Da C E

The Motherboard

One of the big changes that we were happy to see over the last two years was the move by hardware manufacturers to embrace Bitcoin miners (even though most have moved off of GPU mining). ASRock now makes a Bitcoin specific motherboard (H81 PRO BTC) that is specifically geared towards running multiple GPUs. With six PCI-E slots, it’s a very inexpensive ($65) choice for creating a cracking box. Five of the slots are PCI-E 1x slots (and mounted pretty closely together), so you will need to use risers to attach your cards.

The Risers/Extenders

Another Bitcoin focused product that we’ve been using are the USB 3.0 PCI-E risers  (or extenders). These little devices allow you to put a PCI-E 16x card into a PCI-E 1x slot. The card then attaches to the motherboard with a USB cable. Basically, these extend your PCI-E slots using USB cables. These are much cleaner and more reliable than the ribbon riser cables we started using.

The Cards

I will say that I really like the newer cards (R9 290) that we are currently running. They have decent cracking rates and I really haven’t had too many issues with them so far. The biggest issue has been heat. This can mostly be mitigated by having decent airflow around the case and setting the fan speeds on your cards to the max. The fan speeds can be set using the aticonfig command  (pre-R series cards) or od6config for newer cards. One of the biggest pains that I’ve dealt with on our systems is getting all the fans set correctly for all the cards, specifically when you have a mix of older and newer cards. For simplicity’s sake, I would recommend going with one card model for your cracking box. The newer cards are nice, but if you can find someone trying to offload some older 7950s, I would recommend buying those.

The Power Supplies

Our recommendations on power supplies haven’t changed. Only running one to three cards? You will probably be fine with one power supply. Going any higher and you will want two. Shoot for higher wattage power supplies (800+) and get a Y-Splitter.

CPU/RAM/Hard Drive

All of these can be generic. It doesn’t hurt to max these out, but they don’t really impact cracking performance. If you’re going to throw money around, throw it at your cards.

Here’s a pretty general parts and pricing list if you want to build your own.

ComponentModelEst. Price
Case6 GPU Rackmount Server Case$495
MotherboardASRock Motherboard H81 PRO BTC$64
Risers (6)PCI-E 1X To 16X USB 3.0 Riser Card$24
GPUs (6)XFX Black Edition R9 290$1,884
Power Supply (2)CORSAIR AX1200i 1200W$618
Power-SplitterDual PSU Adapter Cable$9
RAM8 GB – Any Brand$50
CPUIntel Celeron G1820 Dual-Core (2.7GHz)$45
HDD1 TB – Any Brand$50
Total $3,239

If you have any questions or better parts recommendations, feel free to leave a comment below.

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