Bitcoin might be the name on everyone’s lips right now, but did you know that Bitcoin is merely the tip of the cryptocurrency iceberg? For those not in the know, cryptocurrencies are basically decentralized and anonymous (or, at least, pseudonymous) peer-to-peer digital currencies that implement cryptography as a central security feature. Cryptocurrency coins are "mined" with computers by solving complex mathematical equations called "hashes".
The success of Bitcoin has led to the development of many alternative cryptocurrencies, often called "altcoins". Most of these altcoins offer their own take on the Bitcoin protocol, and are interesting in their own right. It helps, too, that most of these are still cheap and much easier to buy or mine.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that any of these altcoins will ever be as successful or as valuable as Bitcoin, but if you’ve been kicking yourself for missing the Bitcoin boat, you could do worse than check out one (or more) of these 10 altcoins we are featuring in this post.
Recommended Reading: 10 Things You Need To Know About Bitcoins
Introduced: October 2011Price/unit: $13.78Total Supply: 24,055,992 LTCTotal Value: $331.5 million
The most common way to describe Litecoin is that it’s the silver to Bitcoin’s gold. Litecoin, like most altcoins, is based on the Bitcoin protocol, but it’s designed to make sure that mining is much cheaper and more democratic than Bitcoin.
One of the ways Litecoin achieves this is by using a different cryptography protocol, scrypt, that can be decoded effectively using consumer-grade GPUs.
Introduced: August 2012Price/unit: $2.09Total Supply: 20,931,643 PPCTotal Value: $43.6 million
Peercoin is based on Bitcoin, but uses a different method to verify mined coins. Instead of solely relying on the proof-of-work (POW) system, which requires miners to solve hashes, Peercoin will eventually implement a proof-of-stake (POS) system.
The POS system basically means that the more coins you have, the higher your chances of mining more coins. Peercoin does not have a fixed upper limit of coins, and is thus an inflationary currency.
Introduced: April 2011Price/unit: $2.69Total Supply: 7,514,992 NMCTotal Value: $20.2 million
Namecoin was not designed as a currency; instead, Namecoin’s main purpose is to control an alternative Domain Name System (DNS) for the .bit domain.
By existing outside of the control of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which governs the DNS for all other domains, .bit domains can escape censorship.
Introduced: July 2013Price/unit: $0.069Total Supply: 246,484,913 QRKTotal Value: $16.9 million
QuarkCoin is definitely the altcoin for the security-conscious out there. QuarkCoin implements nine rounds of hashing, choosing from six different hashing methods.
Most cryptocurrencies only use one hash, and so QuarkCoin as an inherent security advantage in this regard over other cryptocurrencies. QuarkCoin uses CPU mining, and like Peercoin, does not have a hard cap on the number of total QRK.
Introduced: July 2013Price/unit: $1.63Total Supply: 3,624,698 XPMTotal Value: $5.9 million
The main difference between Primecoin and most altcoins is that the mining doesn’t involve solving hashes. Instead, Primecoin mining involves finding Cunningham chains, which are certain large sequences of prime numbers.
These numbers are said to be more mathematically valuable than the hashes that are usually decoded in cryptocurrency mining, and are used in anything from number theory to public key cryptography.
Introduced: February 2013Price/unit: $9.61Total Supply: 523,071 NVCTotal Value: $5 million
Novacoin is a fork of Peercoin, and thus shares Peercoin’s hybrid POW/POS system. However, Novacoin takes a leaf out of Litecoin’s book and uses scrypt hashing for its POW system.
It also has a higher POS difficulty than Peercoin. Another interesting thing to note is that Novacoin has a maximum total supply of 2 billion NVC, although it is unlikely to ever reach this cap.
Introduced: April 2013Price/unit: $0.19Total Supply: 26,645,550 FTCTotal Value: $4.9 million
Feathercoin is a direct derivative of Litecoin. It is overall very similar to Litecoin, but it has a number of differences that set it apart from its immediate predecessor. Feathercoin adjusts its mining difficulty more often than Litecoin.
Feathercoin also implements Advanced Checkpointing. Advanced Checkpointing is a security measure designed to protect Feathercoin against 51% attacks, which are often used maliciously to reverse cryptocurrency transactions.
Introduced: August 2013Price/unit: $0.018Total Supply: 158,756,403 ZETTotal Value: $2.9 million
Zetacoin is another Bitcoin-derived altcoin, but it stakes its claim in two different ways. Firstly, it has a much quicker block rate than Bitcoin, which means that its transaction rate is 20 times that of Bitcoin. This quick transaction rate is matched by quick difficulty readjustment.
Zetacoin is an inflationary cryptocurrency.
Introduced: May 2013Price/unit: $0.15Total Supply: 11,524,550 DGCTotal Value: $1.7 million
Digitalcoin is a Litecoin derivative that is meant to keep its value and be more stable than most cryptocurrencies. It does this by being optimized for performance and by retargeting quickly to the mining environment. In addition, Digitalcoin’s block rewards reduce at a far slower rate than other cryptocurrencies.
There are also a decent number of vendors that accept Digitalcoin, which is more than can be said about some other altcoins.
Introduced: June 2013Price/unit: $0.045Total Supply: 8,751,555 SBCTotal Value: $389k
One interesting feature about Stablecoin is that has a built-in coin mixing service. This service ensures that Stablecoin transactions are encrypted and untraceable. This is to ensure that Stablecoin will not be vulnerable to attempts to regulate it and its transactions.
In addition, Stablecoin is actively taking steps to promote itself globally, and has even set up a Chinese-language website to promote Stablecoin in China.
Note: All the figures are sourced from Crypto-Currency Market Capitalizations and are accurate at the time of writing.