- Mark Setlock was called into his friend’s dorm room to help build an ethereum mining rig.
- He eventually inherited the rig and began to build on it to maximize its earning potential.
- He also mines helium and PLANETS tokens, all in his 396-square-foot studio apartment.
In 2016, Mark Setlock, who was only 14 years old, heard about crypto through his entrepreneur cousin.
“He was starting a business and when he bought his products, he’d actually get a discount if he bought in bitcoin,” Setlock said of his gig selling batteries.
His cousin didn’t know what the crypto was at the time but wanted the discount since he was buying in bulk. Being young, Setlock didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until 2020, when his friend asked him to help set up a mining rig, that he took interest in crypto.
Setlock was attending the University of Michigan at the time and his friend called him into his dorm room to help construct an ethereum mining rig. Mining ether, like various other cryptos, supports the Ethereum blockchain by processing transactions and producing blocks. In exchange for supporting the network, miners earn rewards in the form of ether. The payout can be profitable if the gains exceed the costs of hardware and electricity.
“He realized that the dorm has free electricity at our college,” Setlock said. “So he bought a couple of cheap graphics cards and set up a mining rig himself.”
The setup consisted of three AMD 580 graphics cards, which had limited capacity. Setlock recalled that they only earned a couple of dollars a day.
“He wasn’t too serious about it. And he ended up having to move away and he couldn’t ship his mining rig, it was too big,” Setlock said.
Since he had helped his friend build the rig, he was allowed to keep it. Setlock took the opportunity to continue running it while building it up to make it more profitable.
“And of course, I jumped on this opportunity, especially because I make content. I think it’d be a great video topic idea,” Setlock said.
He runs a TikTok account under the username, Financeunfolded which has amassed more than 787,000 followers. His videos consist of content mainly focused on investing and saving, including his experience with mining crypto.
By December 2021, he had transported the bare bones of the mining rig to his studio apartment but felt it wasn’t worth running if the profits remained too low. So he invested in new cords and a few more higher-performance graphics cards.
Getting his hands on new graphics cards wasn’t easy at a time of chip shortages. So he turned to Facebook Marketplace, a secondary platform where he was able to gradually scale by buying additional cards.
He said he purchased two more used AMD 580s at $250 each for a total of five. He also bought two Nvidia RTX 3070s for $800 each, one Nvidia RTX 3070 Ti for $700, and three Nvidia RTX 3090s at $1900 each. The latter three models were new and unopened, but they were also a few hundred dollars above retail value. All in, these upgrades cost him $8,500. He said he used money earned from being a content creator on TikTok to pay for the upgrades.
“I was okay paying the premium in order to get my hands on quality equipment I know I could count on working without any issues and get them immediately,” Setlock told Insider in an email. “Also, because I still have all of the original boxes and packaging, there is higher resale value for my GPUs if I wish to sell them in the future.”
Below is a table that breaks down what each card can earn based on data from the website Minerstat as of April 14, and based on BTC’s trading price of about $40,046.37 and ETH of about $2,999.35. These rates can shift around depending on bitcoin’s trading price. The latest numbers can be seen by plugging in the GPU hardware model number in Minerstat’s calculator.
These rates closely match Setlock’s daily rewards, seen in screenshots sent to Insider, of over $29.56 a day or $887 a month. Setlock doesn’t earn his rewards in ETH. He’s plugged into a pool called NiceHash, which mines in ether and pays him in bitcoin because that’s what he wants to hold long-term. NiceHash charges a fee of 2%.
He also purchased risers, which are cords that allow additional GPUs on the motherboard. And he added a second power supply because not all of the GPUs could run off one power unit.
As for his electricity bill, the rig uses about 213 kWh per week, Setlock said, citing data from his smart plug that measures energy consumption. This averages 30.43 kWh per day, and at a rate of $0.14/kWh, it brings his estimated electricity usage costs to about $4.26 per day or $128 a month. He told Insider he offsets some of these costs by taking advantage of the heat the rig generates in his 396-square-foot apartment.
“In the winter I was able to heat my whole apartment with the graphics cards from the heat that was being created while mining cryptocurrency. So I didn’t have to run my heater,” Setlock said. “And then also if the graphics cards were getting too hot and I needed to cool them down, I could just open my window because my mining rig is right next to my window. And then that cools the mining rig for free without having to pay extra for heating or cooling.”
Right now, ether miners are gearing up for the proof-of-stake shift that would make the platform faster and more secure. But this means mining ether won’t be tangible anymore. In preparation for that transition, Setlock recently switched his pool to HiveOS because it allows him to mine other altcoins. He can also avoid the 2% fee charged by NiceHash because this pool allows a user to plug in up to four rigs for free.
“I’m not too concerned because I’ll just mine the second most profitable cryptocurrency,” Setlock said. “And I can even start mining some altcoins that obviously are a higher risk but could pay off a lot more than mining the blue-chip.”
As other miners sell parts from their ether rigs, Setlock said he’s buying them up for cheaper prices to continue building his up so he can continue to mine altcoins.
Mining options with a lower barrier to entry
In February, he decided to try helium mining, which uses proof of coverage (PoC) rather than proof of work. This means rewards are granted for verifying coverage and confirming the locations of other hotspots within one’s vicinity. These rewards are paid out in the blockchain’s native crypto, HNT.
“It’s a much lower barrier of entry, a lot cheaper to get, and I like being able to diversify what I’m mining,” Setlock said.
A helium miner isn’t as pricey or as complicated to set up as an ether miner. There are about 20 manufacturers that sell models. Depending on what region the device will operate in, the manufacturer will vary and so will the price. Retail prices range from about $400 to $800.
Setlock resorted to Facebook Marketplace, where he paid $750 for a Bobcat 300. This device retails for about $429, but the retailer was shipping them out in six to eight months. He was willing to pay the premium to get his hands on it faster. He calculated that the additional six months of mining would pay off the premium.
“In my opinion, paying the premium on the helium miner to get it up and running faster definitely paid off,” Setlock told Insider in an email. “Waiting six months at the rate of $3 per day would mean $540 of missed earnings when the Helium miner itself retails for $450. Plus, it was important I got my hands on it quickly so I could make videos regarding the miner for my followers.”
The small, quiet miner connects to an internet router with an ethernet cable. The device needs to be placed by a window so that its antenna is not blocked.
The downside is that this operation is difficult to scale because miners can’t be placed in close proximity to one another. This means only one device can operate in each household. And the profits per unit vary vastly depending on the number of other devices it’s monitoring as well as the strength of the antenna and surrounding terrain. Barriers such as buildings or mountains can impact the signal and limit the device’s ability to reach maximum performance. Setlock lives on a high floor and believes this helps his antenna’s reach.
Setlock’s helium miner earned him about 2.1 HNT in the past two weeks, a screenshot of his earnings showed. As of Friday, HNT was trading at around $20.52, according to CoinMarketCap. These earnings can fluctuate in dollar value based on HNT’s trading price. At its peak, in November of 2021, it was as high as $52.71.
The third miner Setlock experimented with comes from a project called PlanetWatch. It’s a small device that tracks the air quality and sells that data to weather companies. It rewards the holder with PLANETS tokens. The miner retails for about $600 and requires an annual license for $270.
“This is honestly a high-risk project. And what it’s doing is aggregating air quality data with the goal to then sell that to like weather stations,…