The one truth of pretty much every gold rush in history is that the people who made out like bandits weren't the adventurous suckers looking for gold, but the ones selling the shovels and mining pans.
More than a century since the last great gold rush, not much has changed. These days, modern-day prospectors are looking for Bitcoins instead of gold, and trading shovels for application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) rigs and GPU-loaded motherboards.
But just as before, all kinds of companies are rushing in to sell them the latest and greatest mining gear. Even mainstream PC makers are getting into the business.
Taipei-based ASRock recently released two completely insane motherboards specifically designed for Bitcoin mining. ASRock's H61 Pro BTC and the H81 Pro BTC are supposed to be a Bitcoin miner's dream, coming loaded with six PCIe slots, and extra four-pin power connectors to support up to six graphics cards simultaneously. The H61 supports up to Ivy Bridge-era Intel Core processors, while the H81 works with the latest Haswell Core chips.
The ability to harness the power of graphics processing units is a key component of Bitcoin mining. Prospectors need the power of GPUs to crunch complex mathematical problems that have to be solved in order to create new Bitcoins.
Or at least that's the way it used to be. These days, ASIC rigs capable of processing billions of hashes--the end result of those aforementioned complex math problems--per second are becoming the preferable way to mine for the digital currency.
If you're not familiar with it, Bitcoin is a digital, peer-to-peer currency gaining popularity in technology circles. Bitcoins are created at a fixed rate and mining for the digital currency will cease after 21 million Bitcoins exist. There are currently about 12 million Bitcoins in existence. (Our Bitcoin primer has even more information about the digital currency.)
With the cost of a single Bitcoin recently surging past $600, there's never been a better time to be crunching numbers to create new Bitcoins, but competition is also increasing as Bitcoin mining becomes serious business. So instead of investing in a mining rig, perhaps you're better off buying some stock from the companies selling the digital shovels.