Bitcoin vs. Ethereum

What’s the difference between Bitcoin and Ethereum?

First, it’s important to understand that there are two categories of digital coins: Cryptocurrencies (e.g. Bitcoin, Litecoin, Monero, ZCash, etc) and Tokens (e.g. Ethereum, Filecoin, Storj, Blockstack, etc.)

Bitcoin is a “cryptocurrency.” Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are competing against existing money (and gold) to replace them with a truly global currency.

The promise of Bitcoin is that it is:

  • A global currency which allows individuals to own their own money (without having to rely on national banks).
  • Lower fees for transferring money across geographic borders.
  • Financial stability for people who live in countries with unstable currencies. (e.g. In 2016, the Venezuela’s currency hit an inflation rate of 800%). In addition, two-thirds of the current global population has no access to banking, or limited access — Bitcoin is changing that.

Ethereum is a “token.” What Bitcoin does for money, Ethereum does for contracts. Ethereum’s innovation is that is allows you to write Smart Contracts: basically any digital agreement where you can say “if this” happens, “then something else happens.” For example:

  • If I vote for the President, then my vote is official and no one else can vote as me.
  • If I sign my name on this document, then I own the car, and you no longer own the car.
  • Up until now we’ve carried out these agreements with a signature at the bottom of a paper document. Ethereum dramatically improves this model because it is digital, and proof of the transaction can never be deleted.

Comparison chart: Bitcoin vs. Ether

Bitcoin (BTC) Ether (ETH)
What is it? A currency  A token
Inventor Satoshi Nakamoto Vitalik Buterin; Other co-founders include Gavin Wood and Joseph Lubin
Went alive January 2009 July 2015
Supply Style Deflationary (a finite # of bitcoin will be made) Inflationary (much like fiat currency, where more tokens can be made over time)
Supply Cap 21 million in total 18 million every year
New token issuance time Every 10 minutes approximately Every 10 to 20 seconds
Amount of new token at issuance 12.5 at the moment. Half at every 210,000 blocks 5 per every new block
Utility Used for purchasing goods and services, as well as storing value (much like how we currently use gold).  Used for making dApps (decentralized apps) on the Ethereum blockchain. 
Price Around $5,600 at the moment Around $300 at the moment
Purpose A new currency created to compete against the gold standard and fiat currencies A token capable of facilitating Smart Contracts (For example: a lawyer’s contract, an  exchange of ownership of property, and voting)

Ethereum vs. ether

Let’s go a step further:

Bitcoin itself is two things: (1) it’s a digital currency known bitcoin (lowercase, also referred to as BTC) and Bitcoin is a technology (also known more generally as  blockchain). Both are called the same thing which admittedly can be confusing for newbies.

  • Bitcoin = The name of the Bitcoin network
  • bitcoin = The currency (or BTC)

With Ethereum it’s similar, but slightly different: the token is called ether (or ETH) and the network is Ethereum. 

  • Ethereum = The Ethereum network
  • ether = The token (of ETH)

Bitcoin vs. Ethereum

Where do I buy bitcoin and ether?

Coinbase is the most popular, and easiest place to buy both bitcoin and ethereum. Other popular exchanges where you can buy them include: Gdax (owned by Coinbase), or Kraken

Join Coinbase now and get $10 of free Bitcoin if you buy or sell $100.

How much does it cost?

You can visit Coinmarketcap anytime for the latest price of BTC and ETH.

It’s important to know that you don’t have to buy one entire BTC or ETH, you can buy a smaller percentage of either.

bitcoin vs. ether: How many tokens are available?

For Bitcoin, the total supply cap is set at 21 million. At the moment, according to CoinMarketCap, the circulating supply is around 16,586,737 BTC

A new BTC is generated approximately every 10 minutes. And after 2140 no more new bitcoins will be created, which is why Bitcoin is said to be deflationary (the opposite of inflation).

When new bitcoins are created miners compete to get them. Miners are people with can play one of two  possible roles: they use their computers to claim new bitcoin AND/OR they help verify transactions on the network — much like a bookkeeper. 

There’s no set cap for a total supply of ETH. At the moment, around 94,815,798 ETH are circulating.

bitcoin vs. ether: What can I do with them?

You can use Bitcoin to send or receive money, or to purchase goods at popular sites like Overstock.com, Namecheap, or Tesla. You can also hold your bitcoin as an investment, or for long term storage of value (kind of like how people invest in gold). 

Ether is not as popular as BTC for purchasing goods. At the moment ether is mainly being used by developers building applications on top of it. Over time, and as more apps are developed, the value of ether will likely move from being speculative (as it is now), to more useful in everyday life. 

How to storage bitcoin and ether 

Once you buy digital currency you’re going to want to store it in cold storage (this is a much more secure place to store your currency. Exchanges like Coinbase are where you want to buy currency, but after you purchase the currency it is not advisable to leave your money at the exchange.)

Bitcoin, ether and many other types of coins can be stored on a cold storage option like Trezor. If you’re serious about buying, sending, or storing larger amounts of cryptocurrencies I’d suggest you pick one up.

Bitcoin vs. Ethereum: Want to learn more?

I teach about Bitcoin and Ethereum at Columbia University’s Business School. And also teach online with One Month.

Join my online Bitcoin and Blockchain tutorial or leave a comment below if you have any questions!

Proof of Work vs Proof of Stake

There are two common ways that blockchain networks mine new coins: proof-of-work and proof-of-stake. In this article we’ll explain the difference and what it means for bitcoin, Ethereum, and other altcoins.

Proof-of-work Proof-of-stake
Which blockchain adopts it Bitcoin, Ethereum*, Litecoin Nxt, Peercoin, BlackCoin, Gridcoin
How to select the block creator The one who has the proof of solving a math function. The one who locks up the wealth as a bet to enter a random selection algorithm
Reward Block reward + Transaction fee No block reward, just transaction fee
Hardware reliance Heavy Light
Potential issue 51% attack Nothing-at-stake attack

New to Blockchain?

Before reading you should know that blockchain refers to the record of transactions being sent and received on a network, for example, Bitcoin; and that miners are essentially the bookkeepers of those transactions. 

Proof-of-work: a method which requires miners to validate transactions on a blockchain by working out a mathematical function (called hash).

Proof-of-stake: a method which allows miners to validate block transactions according to how many coins they choose to put at stake on that network (as deposits). Here is a post where the founder of Ethereum explained a design philosophy of PoS.

Both methods exist to serve a common purpose on the blockchain: To validate that the person sending bitcoin (or any digital currency) has the correct amount of funds in their account. And that after the transaction is done, he or she no longer has the coin in their account (aka. to avoid double spending).

And yet, the two take an inherently different approach towards that goal.

PoW v.s. PoS: Buying a shovel v.s. Deposit in a bank

By definition, Proof-of-Work means to solve the hash function and prove the result is correct. While it’s hard to unravel the function, it’s easy for other miners to verify the result once a miner gets it – just putting it back to the function to see if it works out, like an algebraic problem. If it does, congrats! Here’s the prize. So take out your shovel, do the physical work, and show everybody you have mined the gold.

Proof-of-Stake, however, is a mechanism that needs no math. Instead, inside the network, you simply lock up a certain amount of your stake, i.e. your whatever cryptocurrency generated in this blockchain. That is your proof because something is at stake. The network uses a random selection algorithm to determine who the next block creator is, with factors like how many coins you lock up, what the coin’s age is, or how long you have locked up already, etc. Different PoS-based blockchain has various criteria, but the gist is not much hardware work is required. It’s somewhat like deposition and interests.

PoW v.s. PoS: Block reward v.s. No block reward

In PoW-based blockchain, miners do the hard work and will be rewarded. Recall Bitcoin and Ethereum, where a new block rewards 12.5 Bitcoins and 5 Ethers. But there’s another thing called a transaction fee. When you send a Bitcoin to me, that transaction needs to be validated and documented on the blockchain through the hash function math that miners are doing. But they are not doing it for free so you need to attach a transaction fee. The next lucky miner who creates the next block will receive all the transaction fees and the block reward itself, so it’s 12.5+ Bitcoins.

In PoS method, the blockchain has no block reward. Only transaction fees. That’s also why participants in the PoS blockchain should be called validators, not miners. They only facilitate the validation process of transactions without the mining activity like PoW does.

Ethereum Mining

Ethereum Mining

PoW v.s. PoS: Hardware heavy v.s. Light reliance

Because of the hefty math solving, PoW requires supercomputing power. For example, Bitcoin mining involves tons of mining chips which consume lots of electricity, depreciate fast, and could pile up at the landfill.

On the other hand, PoS relies substantially less on hardware. By just locking up your stake inside the blockchain network, you won’t expect a daunting electricity bill as you would from Bitcoin mining rigs.

PoW v.s. PoS: Potential Threat

Following the point above, since PoW mining requires physical hardware, the more powerful mining chips you have, the stronger computing capacity you own, then the more likely you can create the new blocks. It leads to a potential danger when one place accumulates over 51 percent of the entire network mining power. It is then capable of becoming a center, which is the fundamental situation that blockchain tries to eliminate. This is called 51% attack.

On the other hand, PoS imposes a threat called Nothing at Stake attack. The details can be very technical. But the important concept is that just as validators lock up a lot of their stakes, they can also lock up nothing. They may have no chance of creating the next block but because nothing is at stake for them, they have nothing to lose just to purposely mess up the blockchain. This video is recommended if you’d like a more technical explanation.

*Ethereum currently is still running on the proof-of-work protocol. But it is confirmed that proposals for Ethereum to switch to proof-of-stake, known as Casper, are being developed by the network’s founder Vitalik Buterin.

Hot Wallet vs. Cold Storage

bitcoin trezor wallet

Hot Storage vs. Cold Storage

So what is hot storage and cold storage anyway? Both terms are related to the crypto-currency Bitcoin.

After you buy bitcoin, a popular way to store it is to use something called a hardware wallet. This is where the hot and cold wallets come into play. These hardware wallets allow you to easily send and receive bitcoins over a network connected to the internet.

What is Hot Storage?

Hot storage is a hardware wallet that is connected to the internet.

For example, if you have your wallet stored on a smartphone that is connected to the web this would be described as a “hot wallet”. When you use a “hot wallet” it’s like carrying around your real wallet all the time.

So essentially you’re leaving yourself open to theft by someone who is technically minded enough to hack into your computer to access your bitcoin wallet. When a bitcoin is gone, it’s gone for good!

In order to protect your wallet from looters and thieves, people will usually leave their wallets on a computer or removable device that is not connected to the internet. This is also called a “cold wallet” or “cold storage”.

What is Cold Storage?

Storing your crypto-currency on a device that is offline is the most secure form of bitcoin storage. Also known as a “cold wallet”, this storage method is best suited for the long-term.

A cold wallet is not intended to be used for frequent transactions. As a cold wallet is not directly connected to the internet essentially hackers cannot steal funds from it. The hot wallet, on the other hand, remains susceptible to attack, which is why users should only store a minimal amount of funds in it.

One thing to keep in mind is how a cold wallet can be stored on nearly any device. While using a computer seems to be the most obvious solution, as long as it is not connected to the internet, any device can be used as a cold wallet.

Hot Storage: Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • Quick access to your bitcoins.
  • Numerous support for different devices.
  • User-friendly applications make transactions simple to manage.

Cons:

  • Your bitcoins are under constant risk of attack.
  • Permanently losing all your funds is possible. Damaging your device could destroy your wallet.

Cold Storage: Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • One of the best methods of storing large amounts of bitcoin for a long period of time.
  • As it’s completely offline this provides a greater level of safety.

Cons:

  • Susceptible to external damage, theft and general human error.
  • Not ideal for quick or regular transactions.

Final Thoughts

Having a bitcoin wallet is the best method of securing your bitcoins, but no method is 100%. In my opinion stay flexible, keep some in hot storage but most in cold storage.

Generally as a rule of thumb it’s suggested that you leave as much money in your hot wallet as you would with a real wallet. For example if you were held at gunpoint you’d only lose everything in your real wallet, but not your entire bank account.

Remember, it is no one else’s responsibility to ensure your crypto investments are kept safe!

What is the best wallet?

Here at One Month we use Trezor. Trezor is a hardware wallet on which you can store Bitcoin, ether, Dash, Zcash, Litecoin, bitcoin cash, and any ERC-20 token. It allows for 2-Factor Authentication, and if you lose your Trezor – as long as you remember your secret password you can quickly regain access to all your keys, money, history, accounts and emails. If you own or are thinking of owning cryptocurrency, you’ll want to pick up a Trezor!