In what way is Ethereum different to Bitcoin?
In the beginning, there was only one blockchain—Bitcoin. In the seven years since its creation, thousands have joined it. One of those is Ethereum.
Ether, the native currency of Ethereum, is the second most-traded cryptocurrency on almost every exchange, and it also has the second highest market capitalization, at slightly over $1 billion, which is about 10% of that of Bitcoin. Nevertheless, its community views it as better than Bitcoin in many respects.
In what specific areas is Ethereum different than Bitcoin? Here are five:
1. The mining process
The mining process is the first point that stands out to those who prefer Ethereum. You can mine ethers using graphics processing units (GPUs), also known simply as graphic cards.
The process is different from Bitcoin mining, which uses the more expensive customized application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs). Indeed, owing to its ever-growing cost, Bitcoin mining has become the preserve of companies backed by venture capitalists.
The Ethereum community is considering doing away with the proof-of-work (POW) consensus-making protocol on which Bitcoin is run. They want to replace it with proof of stake (POS), which only require users to hold in stake the amount of ether necessary for mining, instead of requiring people to buy expensive, specialized hardware and pay for large amounts of electricity.
2. Unconstrained block size
The constrained Bitcoin block size has been a source of contention within the Bitcoin community. It has led some like Mike Hearn, a former core developer, to declare Bitcoin a failed experiment.
Satoshi Nakamoto capped the Bitcoin block size at one megabyte to protect the network from DDOS attacks. However, with growing mass adoption, the safety measure is turning out to be an obstacle. Furthermore, with no governance structure, the community is finding it hard to agree on how to scale Bitcoin’s block size.
Ethereum doesn’t have a capped block size. Blocks expand and shrink depending on the need at hand. This opens the cryptocurrency up for mass adoption, with little need for tweaking.
3. Faster transactions
The Ethereum network, on its part, confirms a transaction in about 14 seconds.
Closely related to the block size is the time the network takes to confirm a transaction. The Bitcoin network takes about ten minutes. Occasionally it might run into hours. Or even days.
This works against Bitcoin’s adoption. The delays especially make it inconvenient as a payment method. Users don’t want to wait longer at checkout for the network to confirm a transaction, just so they can purchase a bottle of soda.
The Ethereum network, on its part, confirms a transaction in about 14 seconds. This makes the ether a more convenient method of payment.
4. More applications accommodated
Ethereum’s founder, Vitalik Buterin, designed the platform with many of Bitcoin’s limitations in mind. In one post, he said Bitcoin was intended to be a simple mail transfer protocol (SMTP) for digital value. He wrote:
“It’s a protocol that is very good at one particular task. It is good for moving money, but it was not designed as a foundational layer for any kind of protocols to be built on top.”
Instead of being just a virtual currency, Ethereum is a virtual machine on which you can run various applications. Making this possible is its feature of being Turing complete, which gives it unlimited resources to accommodate the execution of infinite “loops.”
Indeed, Vitalik has in the past said that “Ethereum does not have features; it just has a programming language.”
5. Lighter to run
Ethereum’s blockchain is lighter than Bitcoin’s. This is not because the former is younger than the latter, but because Bitcoin’s blockchain is growing by approximately three gigabytes per month, while Ethereum’s averages one gigabyte in the same period.
Keeping the transactional history of Ethereum on your desktop will always be easier than storing Bitcoin’s history. This is especially important when you consider that cryptocurrencies are supposed to be decentralized and free from control by gatekeepers.
The bulkiness of Bitcoin makes it hard for everyone to be part of the network. Only those with enough resources can take part in the system that maintains and secures the services, and this leads to the problem of centralization.
Indeed, Ethereum is full of features that will never be implemented on the Bitcoin blockchain. It has the potential to give users a wide range of experiences beyond what Bitcoin offers.
However, there are also some key downsides to Ethereum…
One is security risk. This has already been witnessed with the theft in June of close to $60 million from the DAO, the first decentralized anonymous organization to be built on the Ethereum blockchain.
Ethereum also has its downsides. One is security risk.
Ethereum also has features that make it weaker than Bitcoin. For one example, Bitcoin is deflationary, meaning the highest number of bitcoins that will ever be placed in circulation is capped at 21 million. Ether, on the other hand, is inflationary, meaning it can have an infinite supply.
Rupert Hackett is the co-founder of Bitcoin Australia, and has a wealth of experience with Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies, including the world’s first Masters in Digital Currencies. He bought his first bitcoin in 2011, and in 2014 immersed himself in the crypto world with Bitcoin Australia and angel investor fund Dominet led by Domenic Carosa.
Quote: “I really think Bitcoin could change the world.”