If your anything like me you probably didn't even know PCIe risers were a thing until you got into mining.
One of the hardest decisions I made when building my mining rig trying to figure out the differences between all the PCIe risers.
I've seen this question come up on countless forums and similar queries like what version of riser should I buy?
In this post, I'll be revealing what the main differences between all the PCIe risers are.
And why version 006c (Ver 006c) is the smartest choice.
Bonus material- I'll also be revealing a little trick some genius has come up with using a 3D printer to help keep your PCIe riser firmly in your motherboard (they tend to slip out after time).
Why use a riser
If it's not obvious most motherboards have limited space and you can't physically plug more than 2 graphics cards into most common motherboards.
From a gamers perspective, you'd be rocking it out with an SLI / Crossfire set up of two graphics cards in your PC.
However, in the mining community a 2 card set up is rather limited.
Most miners start small with the plan to expand to at least 6 graphics cards for their first mining rig.
You just can't fit that many cards into a PC case. As such the mining rig frame was born. However, there was an evolution to the PCIe riser.
PCIe risers have not always been available and the first generation of crypto miners had to use workarounds.
First, there was the PCIe ribbon cable extender. This worked well but you were limited to the amount of 16x slots you had in your motherboard.
There were also power concerns about mixing voltages from the motherboard PSU and the possible separate PSU powering your GPUs.
This then evolved into the powered PCI ribbon cable extender. This was, in reality, a fire hazard. The majority of the older style extenders included a 4 pin power connector that you would find on a floppy drive.
The problem with this type of connector is that the cables were too thin to carry enough power and would literally melt.
Then came the 1x to 16x ribbon cable which allowed miners to use the smaller PCIe slots on their motherboards for mining.
Eventually, this moved on to the PCIe riser we are no accustomed to with a separate PCB to hold the card in place. This works very well for most mining rig frames as it acts as a kind of shelf to keep the GPU's balanced on the rig frame.
Evolve or die
This evolution is still going to some degree with all the PCIe riser versions on the market today.
The newest kid on the blog is the 1 PCI-e to 4 PCI-e Lanes adaptor card. I don't really want to go into detail about this card as that's not what we're here to talk about.
However, the 1 to 4pcie cards require some of the PCIe slots not to be in use with the motherboard and there have also been reports of compatibility issues with certain motherboards.
As such, I'll be steering clear of this, which a standard PCIe riser and a modern motherboard this no real need for one of these anyway.
Let's get down to business
Legacy Risers (Update 10/5/18)
A number of the older versions of risers are no longer available to purchase. I have updated the list below. I believe the main reason these older version are no longer in stock is due to safety concerns that have been raised.
Difference between riser versions
Version 002 (SATA Power connector) (Legacy no longer in stock)
Version 003 (Molex Power connector) M193 G1084-33 voltage regulator (Legacy no longer in stock)
Version 004 (Molex Power connector) (Legacy no longer in stock)
Version 005 (Molex Power connector) (Legacy no longer in stock)
Version 006c (PCIe Power Connector) FS1084 voltage regulator
Version 007 (PCIe Power Connector)
Version 008 SATA, Molex & PCIe power connector
Version 009 PCIe Power Connector
This list was put together using a google search and varying the version number. Most came back fine. There are some variations to the list and that's usually a trailing "s" at the end of the version number. This usually indicates a SATA powered version of the riser card.
Why Version 006c (Ver 006c) is the best riser
The main reason version 006c is the best riser to choose is because it's the safest. There is two reason why it's the safest riser.
1) Comes with a PCIe connector. The older style 4 pin and some SATA powered risers have been reported in the mining community as the culprit behind a mining rig death. See these pics for evidence.
Basically, the 4 pin connectors and SATA power are not rated high enough to carry power required for a PCI riser.
2) The second safety reason 006c is the best is down the fact it has an onboard voltage regulator. Not all the PCIe risers have this regulator as some manufacturers skip this component to save costs.
It's actually required so your graphics card has a stable voltage and choosing a PCIe riser without it is asking for trouble.
There you have it = the main 2 reasons why this is the best riser. It's might work out like an extra $1 more than some of the other risers but it's well worth paying to protect your graphics cards.
Linus also recommends this model!
Shout out to @ogbtc who helped inform Linus
3D Printed PCIe riser lock
I came home from work a few weeks back and went to check on my mining rig. Turned on the monitor and there was no sign of life from the system.
What was weird was the fact that all the fans were still spinning and there was definitely hard disc activity so Windows 10 had definitely not crashed on me.
I was at a loss to what the problem could be and had to do a power down of the entire rig. I was reluctant in doing this as I prefer a graceful shutdown 100% of the time.
Anyway, the system sprung back into the boot cycle but something was up. Still nothing on the screen though. At this point, I was like fuck I bet it is a graphics card that has gone.
I proceeded to shut down and power off the rig completely. My number one tip for troubleshooting a PC is a process of elimination.
Test each graphics card out separately.
This took some time but I soon got to the bottom of the problem.
It turns out one of the PCIe risers had become loose in the motherboard. This apparently happens all the time to some miners and is usually caused by temperature fluctuations of just the fact that PCIe risers can't be locked into place....or can they?
Enter Ethem Bilgin - he has designed a PCIe riser lock that can be 3D printed and is completely free and downloadable from here.
This is an elegant solution to a problem that has been troubling many miners over the years so I just had to include it here. Very useful
Do risers reduce performance?
There's been some thought and questions about the performance of a PCIe riser compared to plugging the graphics card directly into a motherboard slot.
This mainly comes down to the fact your using a USB cable to transfer the data compared to having the graphics card in the 16x slot.
After watching a few youtube videos on the matter I've come to the conclusion that for mining crypto there is no performance drop.
You will, however, notice a performance drop if you use the graphics card to play video games or are rendering 3D models. Don't ask me exactly why there is a difference - I'm no hardware engineer but there are countless videos out there. I'm guessing its to do with the type of calculations that are being done when mining for the cryptocurrency.
We Do Tech is a youtube channel that tested a PCIe riser for his gaming audience. There was a noticeable drop in performance but for mining, it's not a worry.
Two Tech Tutors has a video where he tested out the difference in mining to confirm - he's a little nerdy but so was I at this age.
The Future of PCIe risers
Motherboard manufacturers have now caught up with the mining community. There are a few motherboards now on the market that have multiple PCIe slots (16x) properly spaced apart on the motherboard. These type of motherboards are fairly new on the market and it's not a big name manufacturer like ASUS of Gigabyte that has come up with this solution.
The Onda B250 8xGPU Motherboard is a perfect example of this. (image below) Whilst you won't find this in a regular PC retailer you can purchase in bulk from Alibaba if you are serious about mining.
It's a great idea, however, I think for the home miners it's something that won't really be a success as they are actually designed for rack mount mining cases.
If you were mining in an actual data center they'd make perfect sense but most home miners don't have a rack mount server case and ain't gonna start investing is hardware like that. 1 - it's costly 2 -having a free standing classic mining frame is far easier to cool.
With all my hardware purchases for mining, I always come from fire safety perspective. It just makes common sense to make sure you've got the right type of power connectors powering such a small PCB. Of course, there are other factors that come into play like your power supply unit which we also have a guide on.
As new risers are release I will include them in the list above - with a full breakdown on what type of power connectors these newer cards will have. It's safe to say the newer the version, the safer it probably is in your mining rig.