If you haven’t paid much attention to bitcoin, I can’t really blame you. I have been ignoring it for years. At one time, however, I was curious enough about the idea of digital currency that I played with some mining software on an old CPU that I had in my apartment.
It was late in 2013 that I decided to spend some of my time running this code that I downloaded from the internet. It was written for the Linux Ubuntu OS, and I happened to have a desktop that I wasn’t using, so I let it run for a few days hoping to “mine” some bitcoin gold. As far as I remember, it seemed to take up a lot of disk space and never really produced anything that I could tell. But I wasn’t really sure…
Now that I’ve moved out of the apartment, that computer (which has been off for several years) which I had to physically move, reminded me of when I played with bitcoin for a short time. Since bitcoin is over $15,000 per coin, it was definitely worth taking a look to see if I did mine anything.
The first step in the process was to bring the old beast back to life. Unfortunately, the motherboard refused to boot, and instead of spending more time on trying to fix a piece of hardware that I will never use again, I stripped the hard drives out of the machine and bought a SATA to USB 3.0 adapter. I purchased the adapter below because it is very flexible and will also handle PATA drives (which I have in my closet somewhere as well).
Once the adapter arrived, I attached it to my laptop (which dual-boots Ubuntu and Win 10) and Linux immediately recognized it as a Windows drive and allowed me to copy files if needed.
At this point, I’m sure you can see that recovering files from old hard drives is pretty trivial with something like this – so be aware when you throw out old computers to destroy your drives, or you could just be giving your information away to anyone.
I knew the drive with Windows on it (the first one I tried) wasn’t what I was looking for, so I mounted the second drive and looked for my old home directory.
After doing some sleuthing on the net, I discovered what I had to do was find the .bitcoin directory and look for a wallet.dat file. This file would contain any mined coins – if there were any. Sure enough, there was a .bitcoin/wallet.dat file – right where it was supposed to be! Ok, this was starting to get exciting! At the time, mining just one bitcoin block (a list of transactions with a proof of work) would be rewarded with 50 new bitcoins. I’ll let you do the math.
So the next step is to download a modern bitcoin “core” wallet and let it synchronize with the network. What this process does is load all of the known transactions since the start of bitcoin, on to your computer and allow you to hold, receive and transfer bitcoins, which is why it is called a digital wallet.
You can find the core software here: Bitcoin-core. Make sure you go to Bitcoin.org, the .com address had a couple of questionable links according to McAfee and doesn’t have the software we want. After you have downloaded and extracted the software, you need to find the executable named bitcoin-qt.exe and run it. For my installation, I extracted the files in my download directory, and the path to the executable looks like this F:\Downloads\bitcoin-0.15.1\bin.
While you are loading the bitcoin core software, I would suggest you pay attention to the step where it asks you where to put the stored blockchain. The directory that you choose is where your new empty wallet is, the file that you will need to replace.
This downloading and synchronizing the blockchain, as it is called, consumes about 180 gigabytes of space on your hard drive (as of today Jan 2018), so I needed to do this experiment on a different laptop, not my little note taker that you see in the picture.
You can see how complicated this is getting…
The screenshot above is what I saw for about 10 hours while the software synched to the network. It is a slow and painful process, but I had decided to wait for the network to synch before replacing the wallet file. As it turns out, that may not be necessary if you just want to see if there is anything in the wallet you are testing.
If you look at the directory listing above, you will see that F:\bit is the directory that I specified for the blockchain, and it is where the wallet.dat file is also stored. At this point, you just need to close the bitcoin core wallet, open the directory, rename the wallet.dat file that is there (if you care about it) and copy the new wallet.dat file into the directory.
When you open bitcoin wallet software again, it will go through a maddening resynchronization process, which took about an hour on my i7 laptop. After that, you will finally see what is in your wallet.
In my case, I had a completely blank wallet. Zero bitcoins. Damn. Well, it was fun thinking that there might be something there!
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