Beginner cryptocurrency traders are frequently drawn to four coins:
In this article, we will stack these decentralized juggernaut coins side-by-side.
It is important to note that all of the cryptocurrencies on our list are cryptocurrency ‘coins’.
Crypto coins are the native medium of exchange for a blockchain. There is only one coin per network. On the other hand, crypto tokens are built upon a blockchain network. There can be numerous crypto tokens per network. All stablecoins are actually tokens.
Ether, for example, is the native coin of the Ethereum network. Ethereum, however, has thousands of different applications that run on it, and most of these apps have their own tokens.
New to crypto? Check out our crypto glossary for beginners!
All of the cryptocurrencies on our list have their own unique ‘consensus mechanism’. This determines how the participants in a network come to an agreement on that network's current state. It also determines whether or not you can ‘stake’ crypto. Let’s investigate these next!
Proof-of-Work (PoW): In PoW blockchains, miners from around the world race to solve a cryptographic puzzle. When this puzzle is solved, all the transactions in the latest block get added to the blockchain. The miner who wins this race gets a reward in the form of crypto. Bitcoin (BTC) is a PoW coin.
Proof-of-Stake (PoS): In PoS blockchains, a random computer is chosen by a network to do the math necessary to verify and validate all the transactions in a block. The ‘validator’ is chosen at random from the network. In order to become a validator, you must ‘stake’ that network's naive coin. Ether (ETH) is a PoS coin.
Proof-of-History (PoH): PoH is often used in tandem with either PoW or PoS networks for additional security. In short, the PoH consensus mechanism proves that time has indeed passed by using timestamps. Solana (SOL) is a combined PoS and PoH coin.
Bitcoin, founded in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto, was the first successful blockchain network to launch. Bitcoin (like all coins on our list) is a decentralized digital currency that operates on a peer-to-peer network.
The Bitcoin network itself (and all blockchain networks) can be thought of as a digital ledger. What makes this ledger special is that it is immutable. Once a translation goes into a block, and that block gets added to the blockchain, it can never be changed.
Bitcoin is the most secure blockchain network in the world. It is also one of the slower and more expensive blockchains in existence. For this reason, Bitcoin is used primarily as a store of value, kind of like digital gold. All the other coins on our list have greater utility, but not greater security.
Ethereum, founded by Vitalik Buterin in 2015, is the decentralized blockchain network behind the world's second most popular cryptocurrency: ether (ETH). Like all coins that are not bitcoin, ether is considered an altcoin.
Like Bitcoin, the Ethereum network is able to validate and store a record of all transactions in its blocks. Ethereum, however, has one major advantage over Bitcoin: in addition to storing basic transactions in its blocks, it can also store code, or ‘smart contracts'. Solidity is the programming language used to write smart contracts in Ethereum.
These smart contracts can be combined together to create decentralized applications (dApps) in Web3, which is the latest decentralized version of the internet.
Decentralized finance (DeFi) is the financial sector of Web3. In DeFi, crypto participants can lend/borrow, stake, and even become liquidity providers in DEXs (decentralized exchanges). The vast majority of all DeFi protocols operate within the Ethereum ecosystem.
Ethereum is also the best blockchain platform for buying and selling NFTs (non-fungible tokens). These types of tokens are unique and can be compared to online collectibles.
Note: Ethereum just switched its consensus mechanism from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake. This event, called the ‘Merge’, will open the door to sharding on Ethereum 2.0 in 2023. Sharding will help to dramatically decrease transaction costs while increasing transaction throughput.
Polygon, an open-course blockchain that was launched in 2017, was built to address the scalability issues within Ethereum. Polygon is actually a side-chain to Ethereum. This layer 2 scaling solution leverages the power of Ethereum while offering its users cheaper rates, more scalability, and faster speeds than the Ethereum mainnet.
The native token for Polygon is ‘Matic’, which was the network's original name before it was changed to Polygon.
Because of its side-chain status, Polygon is less secure in nature than Ethereum. It also lacks Ethereum’s wide adaptability. However, Polygon is beginning to catch up with Ethereum, particularly in the NFT (non-fungible token) space.
Solana is a fast-growing layer 1 blockchain platform that supports smart contracts. Unlike Polygon, which relies upon the Ethereum ecosystem, Solana is a standalone blockchain platform.
The Solana blockchain sometimes called an ‘Ethereum Killer’, has a lot in common with Ethereum, such as both blockchains aim to power decentralized applications via smart contracts that are stored in the network blocks.
Solana’s main distinction lies in its consensus mechanism. Like Ethereum, Solana uses proof-of-stake; unlike Ethereum, Solana adds the proof-of-history consensus mechanism.
Developers and users alike love Solana. It has incredibly high transaction throughput while keeping fees at rock-bottom prices. This blockchain tends to place more emphasis on being developer friendly than the blockchain itself, which is what most networks focus on.
Like Polygon, Solana is becoming an increasingly popular blockchain technology for NFTs. Magic Eden is Solana’s largest NFT marketplace.
So now that we have a general idea of the functionalities of our four blockchains, let's see how their representative coins have performed in the crypto market! As a refresher, here are the names and symbols of our four coins.
Cardano (ADA) was launched in 2017 by Charles Hoskinson. This proof-of-stake crypto is like Ethereum in that it is able to store smart contracts in its chain.
Solana is better than Ethereum when it comes to transaction fees and throughput. However, Solana currently lacks Ethereum’s wide adaptability.
Solana currently has a market cap of 11B while Ethereum has a market cap of 160B. Therefore, it will take some time for Solana to overtake Ethereum.
When compared to Ethereum, the fees to transact on the Polygon network are low to non-existent. Polygon, however, currently lacks Ethereum’s large ecosystem and developer adaptability.
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