Maybe you’re new to cryptocurrency, or perhaps you’re like Mr. Smith, who is traveling the world on $25 million of Bitcoin profits. Either way, all the excitement around cryptocurrency feels like a gold rush is happening - and you want in.
The total market capitalization of cryptocurrencies is growing rapidly, recently surpassing more $800 billion and hitting an all-time high - with a more than 850 percent increase since the start of the year. When most people think of cryptocurrencies they think of Bitcoin, which was the first to market and is the current leader. But it’s not the only game in town. There are around 1,100 different cryptocurrencies to date. Not sure which is best? Check out this list of top cryptocurrencies to find out more about each, how cryptocurrency works, and where to buy cryptocrurency.
Bitcoin is the oldest cryptocurrency and the first to market, and it therefore has that first-mover advantage. This digital currency is widely accepted and used in many real-world transactions, with a current supply of 16.5 million. Recently, the value of Bitcoin hit an all-time high of more than $20,00.00.
The transactions are verified by network nodes and recorded on a public ledger, with the idea of providing optimal transparency. Anyone can look into the peer-to-peer network and see the complete history of a coin; however, discovering the users of those transactions is more elusive.
The process of verifying transactions is completed by miners and is known as cryptocurrency mining. While hypothetically you could use lower-powered hardware to mine, the more expensive and robust ASIC technology is widely used; other forms of technology are unprofitable for mining.
Miners receive rewards for their work, with that reward halving every 210,000 blocks mined. For example, initially, miners received 50 bitcoins but that number halved to 25, and then more recently to 12.5. There is a preset number of bitcoins that can be generated, which is 21 million.
The bottom line. Bitcoins are widely accepted, but some say the cost of transacting is high compared with other options. Start by deciding what you’ll use the currency for. If there will be a high volume of transactions, it might be less expensive to use another option.
Ethereum is more than a peer-to-peer currency created by Vitalik Buterin; it operates as an infrastructure. The technology launched during 2015 with its first offering of ether, the Ethereum altcoin, raising $18.5 million. The centralized platform provides cryptocurrency, but it also allows the blockchain to be used for developing a variety of applications, such as contracts and crowdsourcing.
Ethereum’s average block time is much faster than Bitcoin’s, with Bitcoin running about 10 minutes and Ethereum clocking in at approximately 12 seconds. Cost to transact on Ethereum is also different, with Ethereum calculating the cost based on a term called gas. The amount of gas required for a transaction varies based on storage needs. In contrast, Bitcoin transactions are limited based on block size.
The bottom line. If you need more functionality than a traditional cryptocurrency can offer - such as contracts or crowdsourcing - Ethereum may be a good fit.
Ripple was launched in 2012 and is based on a distributed ledger. All transactions pass through nodes and validators, which is similar to the Bitcoin system. However, Ripple has a high level of governance when compared with alternatives such as Bitcoin. There is a concession ledger that relies on specific validators, which are facilitated by global banks and other institutions.
Ripple also provides fast settlement speed. The consensus mechanism, which is used by the Ripple Consensus Ledger, settles transactions within seconds, which is much faster than many alternatives. The main advantage of Ripple is that it is accepted by anyone on the Ripple network, and there are no extra trade or transfer fees on the coins.
Obtaining Ripple can be accomplished only through the purchase of currency from exchanges. There is no option to obtain XRP (the Ripple altcoin) through mining, which makes it different from the types of cryptocurrency we have addressed above.
The bottom line, if you want to dabble in mining, Ripple is not the right choice. But it can provide a solid method for trading cryptocurrency at a fraction of the cost of Bitcoin.
Litecoin was built to be technically similar to Bitcoin; however, the founder, Charlie Lee, designed it with a few key differences. One of those differences is the block generate time, which runs at 2.5 minutes. He also increased the maximum number of coins in the system.
Transaction costs are minimal, and the cryptocurrency uses the scrypt algorithm, which favors large amounts of high-speed RAM, rather than processing power, during the mining process.
Litecoin can handle a high volume of transactions due to fast block generation, so a merchant that requires double confirmation can process the transaction more quickly than with the Bitcoin system.
The bottom line. Litecoin is similar to Bitcoin in many ways, but it differs when it comes to speed and transaction costs. If you plan to conduct a large number of transactions, this is a good option.
Dash, which was formerly known as Darkcoin and Xcoin, is an open-source peer-to-peer cryptocurrency with the goal of being more user-friendly than other options. Dash created masternodes, which provide incentives to users to help secure the network and assist with user-friendly features, such as InstaSend - which significantly speeds up transaction-processing times.
Operators are required to invest 1,000 dash to host a masternode, but they get 45 percent of the reward for each Dash block that is mined. Operators receive about 7 dash per month.
The cryptocurrency also offers PrivateSend, which provides a more secure method for conducting transactions. Although many believe that Bitcoin transactions are private, there is concern that with enough research, transactions can be traced back to their owners. In contrast, PrivateSend ensures users full privacy of their transactions.
Dash also runs governance different from other altcoins. Each masternode gets one vote, and the Dash blockchain is self-funded. A portion of each block reward (10 percent) is put back into the network development and promotion budget, which means that developers receive payment for work completed. In addition, since there are voting rights, decisions can be made more quickly than with other cryptocurrencies.
The bottom line. If you are concerned about the privacy of your transactions, Dash is a good option. Having access to PrivateSend ensures that transactions aren’t just anonymous, but truly private.
NEM was created in March 2015 and introduced new features to the blockchain technology, including the proof-of-importance algorithm. It also introduced multisignature accounts and encrypted messaging.
The blockchain is being tested by financial institutions and private organizations in Japan and internationally. During 2016, Tech Bureau, which is the operator of one of Japan’s biggest cryptocurrency exchanges, created a partnership with NEM. They wrote:
"NEM is popular thanks to the strong backing of the platform from the Zaif exchange, one of the biggest exchanges in Japan along with bitFlyer and Coincheck. NEM’s private blockchain solution, developed by Zaif with NEM’s core developers, is called MIJIN, and it has established itself as a strong brand in the crypto space in Japan."
NEM isn’t just a cryptocurrency - it delivers management for a variety of assets, including currencies, supply chains, ownership records and more, as a means to deploy blockchain solutions faster.
The bottom line. If you want more than just a cryptocurrency, but you also need an infrastructure for building that next mobile app or bringing the blockchain into your existing infrastructure, NEM is a good option.
IOTA is interesting in that it’s a cryptocurrency that is focused on providing communications and payments between machines and the internet of things. The technology was founded in 2015 by David Sønstebø and began testing in 2016.
The technology uses a directed acyclic graph instead of the traditional blockchain. What’s interesting is that unlike other cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, which can have high transaction fees, IOTA’s transactions are free - regardless of transaction size. Confirmation times are quick, and the system is designed to handle a large number of transactions with great speed.
Most blockchains rely on miners to confirm transactions, but IOTA has no mining, no blocks - and no transaction fees. Users of the network validate two older transactions through proof of work in order to conduct one of their own. There are no rewards given and nobody pays transaction fees.
The bottom line. If you want to conduct transactions but don’t want to pay fees, IOTA is a good option. The option isn’t good if you’re interested in dabbling in mining; however, the process of verifying transactions to earn transactions is a good way to get started.
Monero was created in April 2015 and it’s focused tightly on security and anonymity. Developers noticed while using Bitcoin that privacy was lacking. With other cryptocurrencies, transactions are said to be anonymous, but true privacy does not exist. Monero was created to solve that problem.
The cryptocurrency was created to protect the sending and receiving parties during a transaction. It uses ring signatures, which obscure the identity of all parties by mixing account keys with public keys received from the Monero blockchain.
Just like Bitcoin, Monero miners receive a reward for their work. Monero mining offers a permanent block reward, which means the value of the reward won’t change over time. Having a consistent reward means that if miners invest in technology today, the reward will stay consistent in the future.
The bottom line. If privacy is a major concern, Monero is another option to consider. It allows you to protect both the sender’s and receiver’s identities during transactions. It’s also a good option for new miners because barriers to entry are low, with only a CPU or GPU computing power required.
Steem and BitShares creator Dan Larimer is also the creator of the EOS technology, which raised $150 million in only five days. EOS released on the Bitfinex exchange this past spring, and its priced skyrocketed by 200 percent in the first few hours.
The cryptocurrency appears to be a direct competitor of the leading cryptocurrency market coin Ethereum. The design was created to promise a new blockchain technology which entails a operating system that is faster and easier to scale than Ethereum and allows users to create decentralized applications more easily.
Unlike other currencies, there is no pre-mine for tokens and, in fact, there will be no cryptocurrency mining at all. The target number of EOS tokens will be 1 billion, with the potential of up to 5 percent inflation per annum.
EOS is also the first blockchain with a constitution. There are governing principles that every stakeholder agrees on, and the set of rules is attached to every block that is mined. EOS will have the capability to process millions of transactions each second using horizontal scaling. This is much different from Bitcoin and Ethereum. The current model also allows for 5 percent inflation, which can be used to further develop the network. In addition, EOS does not require users to pay for each transaction, which will help fuel adoption.
The bottom line. If you need more than a traditional cryptocurrency and instead need an infrastructure, this is a good option. EOS is also a viable option if you want to eliminate the cost of transactions.
Purchasing and mining cryptocurrency has evolved rapidly in recent years, and many options have captured worldwide attention. Users like the idea of cutting out third parties, such as governments and banks, and instead dealing with peers directly. For example, if a bank or company such as PayPal decided for some reason that your account had been misused, in an instant, your assets could be frozen without consulting you.
Digital currency puts the power back in the hands of the user and breaks free of centralized and governing agencies. You own the private and public keys that make up your address - and nobody can take them away from you. Selecting the right option, however, depends on how you will use it. For some, you need to crowdsource or create contracts, and for others, it’s purely transactional. By understanding the benefits of each option and matching the right ones to your needs, you can make a more informed choice. We hope this list of cryptocurrencies has been informative, make sure to check out our other blog posts for more info on how cryptocurrency works!
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