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Proof of Work vs. Proof of Stake: Which Is Better?

July 3, 2024

proof of work vs. proof of stake

Mine or stake? It’s time to make a choice.

Consensus mechanisms like proof of work (PoW) and proof of stake (PoS) are the core components that link blockchain technology together. They address the challenges of trust and security in decentralized environments and create a way for users to reach an agreement on conduct. 

Both PoW and PoS help to judiciously decide the state of the network, avoid double spending, and maintain the integrity of blockchain transactions.

Think of PoW as a race where participants compete against each other to win. PoS, on the other hand, is more like a voting system where individuals with the highest stake have a better chance of winning.

Regardless of the method, network participants must use cryptocurrency wallets to manage and secure their block rewards and validation incentives. 

Proof of work vs. proof of stake: overview

Both PoW and PoS have a dedicated space in the world of cryptocurrencies and blockchains. The final choice of consensus mechanism depends entirely on the goals of each blockchain network and its community’s preferences.

As the original consensus mechanism, PoW is often favored for its security and proven reliability. PoS is chosen for its scalability benefits and reduced environmental impact. Some blockchain networks go for hybrid models. 

This detailed overview gives you more information for further consideration.

Proof of Work vs. Proof of Stake

But how do blockchain users choose what aligns best with their priorities? Let’s find out.

What is proof of work?

The Bitcoin network first implemented proof of work in 2009, paving the way for other cryptocurrencies. The decentralized nature of PoW allows anyone with the necessary equipment to participate in mining. PoW became the first widely used consensus mechanism to validate cryptocurrency transactions without relying on a third party. 

Under PoW, all the computers or nodes in a network compete with each other to solve complex cryptographic puzzles, a process we call cryptocurrency mining. The fastest miner adds new blocks to the blockchain and receives the newly minted digital currency and transaction fees as incentives. 

Examples of cryptocurrencies using PoW

Several blockchain networks and cryptocurrencies use proof of work, including:

  • Bitcoin (BTC) was the first cryptocurrency to embrace PoW for Bitcoin mining.
  • Litecoin (LTC), launched in 2011 by Charlie Lee, uses a PoW mechanism called Scrypt.
  • Monero (XMR) and its privacy-enhancing technologies augment the anonymity of blockchain users.
  • Zcash (ZEC) is based on Bitcoin's codebase and has a rep for its cryptographic privacy techniques.
  • Dogecoin (DOGE) was invented as a joke based on the famous meme. However, once it gained popularity, it evolved into a legitimate cryptocurrency with an active user base.

Proof of work pros 

PoW offers a robust approach to securing decentralized systems like blockchains. Its dependence on computational work and incentives promises a high level of trust in the world of cryptocurrencies. The benefits below also make PoW a go-to choice among miners.

  • Decentralization. PoW has a broad distribution of network power since anyone with the necessary equipment can use it to participate in mining. Plus, Bitcoin has been using PoW for over a decade, which makes it reliable and stable.
  • Block rewards. The reward mechanism of PoW incentivizes miners to contribute their computational power to secure the network. This helps maintain the integrity of the blockchain.
  • Unchangeable records. Once the transactions are validated and added to the blockchain, it’s difficult to alter them without putting in high levels of computational work. Historical records are unchangeable under PoW, ensuring trust in data.
  • High-security threshold. Any malicious attacks under PoW require control of 51% computational power of the network, making it extremely unlikely for a bad actor to launch such a costly attack.

Proof of work cons

As the PoW network continues to grow and the time involved in solving puzzles increases, users are bound to face slower transaction processing times. It also comes with other challenges, such as:

  • Energy cost and consumption. While PoW is highly secure due to its resource-intensive nature, it consumes significant amounts of computational energy. It contributes to the carbon footprint of many cryptocurrencies.
  • Hardware centralization. PoW requires specialized hardware for mining, which means it’s easier for people with more resources to dominate the network. This undermines the decentralization principle of blockchain.
  • Electronic waste. Miners have to keep replacing older equipment with something newer and more efficient in order to stay on track with the evolution of cryptocurrency mining software. A ton of electric waste is left behind.

What is proof of stake?

Considering the inefficiencies PoW came with, establishing a sustainable consensus mechanism was the need of the hour. As a result, a new energy-efficient method called proof of stake was introduced in 2011. 

Unlike PoW, which had a competitive validation process, PoS chose validators based on the amount of cryptocurrency they held and their willingness to "stake" as collateral. The higher the stake, the higher the chances of being selected to add the new block of transactions to the ledger. Simply put, a cryptocurrency owner needs to own the most native crypto coins on a blockchain to be selected as a validator. 

Examples of cryptocurrencies that use PoS

Since PoS doesn’t require high computational power or energy consumption, many cryptocurrencies prefer it over PoW. A few examples include:

  • Ethereum (ETH) was originally on PoW but transitioned to PoS in September 2022 as Ethereum 2.0 (ETH2). The change improved scalability, energy efficiency, and security.
  • Cardano (ADA) is a public blockchain platform renowned for its scalability solutions and research-driven development.
  • Polkadot (DOT) uses a unique variation of PoS called nominated proof of stake (NPos) that enables different blockchains to communicate and work together. 
  • Binance Coin (BNB), one of the largest cryptocurrencies in the world, powers the entire Binance chain ecosystem.  
  • Avalanche (AVAX) is a decentralized open-source blockchain that emphasizes fast transaction finality and scalability.

Proof of stake pros 

PoS has become a widely used consensus mechanism compared to its energy-intensive alternative, PoW. It offers many other benefits, like:

  • Less centralization. Because validators are chosen solely based on the volume of cryptocurrency they’re willing to stake. PoS reduces the likelihood of large mining pools coming in and dominating networks. 
  • Ease of scalability. PoS is more scalable as compared to PoW because it uses less energy. The validation process isn’t dependent on computational power. So all the increased network activity faces no congestion, and transaction processing remains as fast as ever.
  • Reduced hardware expenses. PoS doesn’t have any recurring expenses because it doesn’t need mining equipment. It also lowers the barriers to entry into the network.
  • Improved security. Crypto owners have to put up collateral under PoS. This keeps people honest, providing improved security in the system.

Proof of stake cons

Despite stopping endlessly consuming computations, PoS comes with inevitable trade-offs and potential challenges, like: 

  • Network imbalance. The challenges of centralized networks under PoW are easier to deal with, but, PoS is still subjected to wealth concentration, giving dominance to those with significant crypto tokens. This benefits early adopters and creates an imbalance.
  • Initial distribution. PoS responsibly and fairly distributes the initial supply of cryptocurrency tokens. If a small group acquires a big portion of the initial supply, they get an unfair advantage as they can control the network.
  • Unreliability. Under some networks, validators may become inactive if they lose interest over time. While this is a rare occurrence, it does affect PoS’s dependability.

Did you know? A PoS network consumes less than 0.001% energy than a PoW network.

Proof of stake vs. proof of work: how they work

PoS and PoW serve the same purpose for blockchain consensus, but their functionality differentiates them. 

Proof of stake

While PoS doesn't require the computational power required in PoW, it has its own technical complexities essential for network integrity and security. PoS follows a set of consensus algorithms that define validator selection, staking mechanisms, and reward distribution. 

The selection algorithm under PoS takes into account the amount of staked cryptocurrency and, to maintain fairness, a randomization element. Some additional criteria, like the age of coins and transaction history, are also considered. To stay transparent, PoS uses smart contracts to enforce the crypto staking rules, including penalties for bad actors.

All of these elements, along with many others, maintain the security, fairness, and reliability of PoS networks. 

Proof of work

When it comes to PoW, the choice of mining hardware plays a substantial role. The two common types are application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) and graphics processing units (GPUs).

ASICs are custom-built specialized devices that mine cryptocurrency using the hashing algorithm of the PoW network. They’re energy-efficient, optimized for speed, and made to outperform general-purpose hardware like GPUs. However, ASICs create the problem of centralization because participants need financial resources to purchase and operate them.

On the other hand, GPUs can be used for various computing tasks in addition to crypto mining. Less specialized than ASICs, but they offer higher flexibility due to a broad set of applications. GPU mining is suitable for cryptocurrencies resistant to ASIC mining. There’s also CPU mining that’s relevant for such applications. 

FAQs: proof of work vs. proof of stake

Still debating? Find more answers to your queries below:

Q. Is proof of work better than proof of stake?

Both proof of work and proof of stake have different benefits and challenges. PoW offers strong security, but it's not easily scalable and consumes high energy. PoS is faster and consumes less energy, but the security depends on the stake distribution between participants.

Q. What are the disadvantages of proof of stake?

If a small group of stakeholders holds a majority of the staked coins, the PoS network is vulnerable to attacks. PoS is a relatively new technology. While it shows promise, its long-term security needs more time to match the track record established by proof of work.

Q. How to choose between proof of work and proof of stake?

The choice between PoW and PoS depends on the specific needs and priorities of the project. Carefully weigh the trade-offs between security, scalability, energy efficiency, and decentralization to make the best decision for your project within a blockchain network.

The consensus is in…

There’s no perfect system. The debate on proof of work vs. proof of stake is ongoing and essential to the blockchain and cryptocurrency community. Many multi-chain blockchain solutions meet different communities' needs by offering the best of both worlds.

Ultimately, scalability requirements, energy considerations, and specific use cases direct the course. One thing that’s for sure is that both PoW and PoS are shaping the future of decentralized finance and digital assets.  

Regardless of what you choose, always invest wisely. Check out the latest cryptocurrency statistics to stay updated on market trends.

This article was originally published in 2023. It has been updated with new information. 

Cryptocurrency wallets Beware of crypto-nite.

Don’t risk your validation incentives. Get a cryptocurrency wallet to secure your earnings today.

Cryptocurrency wallets Beware of crypto-nite.

Don’t risk your validation incentives. Get a cryptocurrency wallet to secure your earnings today.

Proof of Work vs. Proof of Stake: Which Is Better? Trying to choose between proof of work and proof of stake? Read our guide to learn about the differences and how they work to maintain trust in blockchain.
Washija Kazim Washija Kazim is a Sr. Content Marketing Specialist at G2 focused on creating actionable SaaS content for IT management and infrastructure needs. With a professional degree in business administration, she specializes in subjects like business logic, impact analysis, data lifecycle management, and cryptocurrency. In her spare time, she can be found buried nose-deep in a book, lost in her favorite cinematic world, or planning her next trip to the mountains.

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