One of the biggest unknowns right now in the Chia farming ecosystem is whether you will be better off joining a Chia pool, or farming your plots solo. First, this is going to be based on farming NFT plots with an on-chain pool not being actively exploited or cheating its farmers. OG Plots will almost certainly be better off solo over the long term as those pools will be more susceptible to dead weight double-farmers.
Recently Digital Spaceport put out a video detailing his switch from pooled farming to solo farming on his NFT plots. Prior to the switch he had two NFTs, each with 845 plots, connected to FlexPool and SpacePool respectively. And according to his video he was neck in neck on earnings between the two of them, which matches up with my observations and goes against what FlexPool was claiming earlier. In his video he makes some good points about the advantages and disadvantages of farming with a pool.
The first is how well your setup works. This is critical, because without a pool reporting back your stale or invalid partial rate you need to figure that out on your own. There are tools to do so, in fact Digital Spaceport’s video he released while I was working on this goes over one of them – ChiaDog. Basically when you join a pool you will get some feedback if your lookups are being reported to the pool in a timely manner, which is a good proxy for if your proofs would be delivered to the network in a timely fashion. One of the worst things ever would be waiting 4 months for a win and then when it finally comes having your storage take too long to respond and missing your reward.
However, if your setup is configured correctly then statistically you are probably better off to solo farm at this point. A pool is only as strong as the aggregate strength of its members, so if a percentage of the pool is poorly setup with slow lookups then the pool is going to miss rewards proportional to the percentage of slow lookup space. This is going to cause bad luck at worst, or at best cancel out any good luck the pool sees over time.
I think a service pools should offer / require is a log analysis service. Let farmers submit their INFO logs to a secure service and report back to them what the results are and some tips on how to fix it. FlexPool reports their farmer’s stale partials but they don’t do anything about it. In his video, Digital Spaceport shows his FlexPool dashboard and his stale percentage is unreal. As a FlexPool farmer this makes me concerned, because it shows that FlexPool is allowing farmers with a lower chance of winning a block to join the pool. And this is going to be true of a lot of our fellow farmers, on every pool. Every pool allows this, that is not a knock of FlexPool.
If you are seeing this high a stale percentage, with constant stale partials you have an issue, and you need to solve it. For my own setup I am way below 1% and the following chart still has me a little concerned because it is multiple stales at the same time, but only twice in 24 hours. That suggests to me that there is something else going on on my system that is causing disk lookup delays during that period.
The reason I think the pools should really be working with their farmers to sort that out is that I have been exceedingly lucky so far while farming. With 454 plots I have farmed 3 blocks in 4 months, which is wildly ahead of the curve. I think a lot of that luck is attributable to just having a consistently working setup. I didn’t really do anything special to achieve that, just used NFTS and made sure my disks don’t get too hot or go to sleep. I also farm on an i5 11400 with enough RAM. I have it hooked up via 10g ethernet to any remote plots (25 of them) and I have very reliable internet both on my network and past the edge. You can check out my setup here.
Just based on the two graphs shown here, I am far more likely not to miss a valid proof than Digital Spaceport should we both be about to farm a block. This adds up, especially since I highly doubt that Digital Spaceport is the only one having this issue. The luck component of this endeavor, and the expected time to win calculations are all based on the assumption that everything works perfectly. It does not, so if you can get yours working properly you will be ahead of the curve.
In his ChiaDog optimization video, which I will link again and strongly recommend you go watch, he goes over a large number of reasons for why he might be seeing these stales. The troubleshooting process he goes through is fantastic, and shows he has a LOT of work to do in order to go through everything end to end. Pay attention to him while he does it, because he goes through every layer of his setup that could influence the lookup times, from farmer performance to disk io to network to protocol overhead. You need to think about it all in order to have consistent fast lookups.
So what does this have to do with pools vs solo farming? In a nutshell, if you don’t think your farm consistently looks like the second picture, and is more often looking like the first, then sort out all your issues before you go solo. Pools spread out the pain from a missed block along with spreading the reward for a farmed one. If you think you are golden, then over enough time solo farming will almost certainly pay out better.