Ethereum (ETH) is a cryptocurrency and a distributed computing platform notable for its use of smart contract technology.
Launched in 2015, Ethereum is distinguished from other cryptocurrencies in part by the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), a Turing-complete system that uses a global network of public nodes to run scripts assigned to it by users. (1)
Ethereum also features a cryptocurrency token called “ether” and an internal transaction pricing mechanism named “gas,” both designed to facilitate transactions on the network and combat spam. (2) (3)
Ethereum’s stability and complexity have made it popular both as a cryptocurrency and as a foundational technology for various apps and financial services, inspiring other cryptocurrencies like NEO and EOS.
Ethereum is a worthwhile investment for those looking for a cryptocurrency with a complex set of features that go beyond anything else on the market.
Ethereum was originally conceived in 2013 by Vitalik Buterin, a Russian-Canadian Bitcoin developer who sought a system for creating decentralized applications. In a white paper, Buterin argued that Bitcoin should incorporate a scripting language to facilitate app development. (4) (5) (6)
Buterin’s suggestions were not implemented, so in 2014, he formed a programming team with the intent of forming a new platform that would embody his ideas. Ethereum development began later that year, under the aegis of Switzerland-based corporation Ethereum Switzerland GmbH and the non-profit Ethereum Foundation, both funded through a Bitcoin-powered crowdfunding drive. (7) (8)
After a year of development, a beta incarnation of Ethereum, codenamed “Olympic,” was released to the public in May 2015. The first complete version of the program, named “Frontier,” was later released in July of that year. Beginning with the release of the “Homestead” edition on March 14, 2016, Ethereum is now regarded as 100 percent stable. (9) (10)
Also in 2016, the DAO, a decentralized autonomous organization, successfully raised $150 million dollars in a crowdfunding campaign to develop a set of smart contracts for Ethereum. In June of that year, the DAO collapsed in chaos after a hacker stole $50 million of the funds. (11) (12)
In response to the theft, the Ethereum community opted to perform a hard fork with the intent of reclaiming the stolen funds. Supporters of the DAO were opposed to this, and as a result, on July 20, 2016, the Ethereum blockchain was divided between Ethereum and Ethereum Classic (ETC), an entirely different cryptocurrency. (13) (14)
Since then, Ethereum has committed two more hard forks with the intent of improving DDoS protection and thwarting spam attacks. (15)
Ethereum is differentiated from other cryptocurrencies due to the Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM), a runtime environment that governs all transactions within the system, specifically its unique system of smart contracts. The EVM is sandboxed and separated from other aspects of the Ethereum network in order to protect it from cyberattack. (16)
Smart contracts are Ethereum’s method of guaranteeing the integrity and safety of transactions. Smart contracts are responsible for carrying out the transaction of value between untrusted agents and are also capable of combating attempted collusion, censorship, and other forms of fraud on the network. (17)
While smart contracts have made transactions over Ethereum more safe and efficient in certain respects, they also possess some security vulnerabilities. For example, smart contracts make bugs and exploits publicly visible on the blockchain, potentially allowing hackers to take advantage of them before they can be fixed. This was how the DAO was hacked and had a third of its crowdfunded capital stolen. (18)
In addition to these features, Ethereum also has several programming languages built in, including Solidity, LLL, Mutan, and Serpent. This allows for easy app development in comparison to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. (19)
Due to Ethereum’s breadth of features, many developers have created or proposed many different uses for the network, including online gambling, electricity pricing, prediction markets, and social media platforms. J.P. Morgan Chase and the Royal Bank of Scotland have also used Ethereum to develop custom systems based on the cryptocurrency’s smart contract technology. (20) (21) (22)
To facilitate Ethereum’s development and use in mainstream banking, the Ethereum Enterprise Alliance (EEA) was formed in March 2017. The EEA includes a large number of Fortune 500 companies, including Microsoft, MasterCard, Intel, and the National Bank of Canada. (23)
Ethereum’s stability, versatility, and credibility have helped it become one of the most popular cryptocurrencies on the market, second only to Bitcoin.
Unlike Ripple, a cryptocurrency with similar features, Ethereum can be mined, though there are a number of caveats involved.
In contrast to other popular cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and Litecoin, it is still possible to mine Ethereum with a GPU and get decent results. Keep in mind that excess heat generated by GPU use may cause wear-and-tear to the computer, so a cooling pad or other cooling solution is recommended if you use GPU mining. (24)
GPU mining is also best attempted with a graphics card that has at least 2 GB of VRAM, as anything lower means that it will take too long relative to electricity and heat costs to generate a single coin. AMD cards are also superior to nVidia cards for the purpose of mining Ethereum. (25)
Like with other cryptocurrencies, Ethereum mining rigs are also available for sale at varying price points, and enterprising miners can also build their own. (26)
Also like other cryptocurrencies, the income generated from mining Ethereum needs to be measured against the cost of electricity in your area. If electricity is too expensive, mining Ethereum is a bad idea because it will never turn a profit. (27)
Despite all this, Ethereum is worth mining because of its popularity and because the overhead for doing so is considerably lower compared to other leading cryptocurrencies.
Ethereum is likely to remain one of the most popular and recognized cryptocurrencies for a long time to come due to its value, ease of use, and unique suite of features.
More than a cryptocurrency, Ethereum’s virtual machine and smart contract system has given it flexibility and security far beyond what other competing cryptocurrencies can offer.
Additionally, Ethereum’s inclusion of scripting languages is a boon to software developers, who can use the system to design decentralized, open-source apps.
Ultimately, Ethereum is a worthy investment due to its visibility, its truly unique features, and the relative ease in mining it.