Here are the top 12 cryptocurrency coins by market value with a quick “pros” and “cons” breakdown of each:
(Market values as of April 25, 2018)
Bitcoin (BTC) / Market value: $163 billion
Pros: Launched in 2009, Bitcoin is the original cryptocurrency and remains the largest and most popular blockchain network. It has become a household name now, unlike most other types of cryptocurrency.
Cons: Much like Elvis and Britney Spears, Bitcoin seems to be stressed by the weight of its own fame and popularity. The influx of new users has made transactions expensive and time-consuming. The mining system which generates new Bitcoin also consumes tremendous electricity owing to its consensus protocol, called proof of work, which was designed to make mining labor-intensive.
Ethereum (ETH) / Market value: $70 billion
Pros: Launched in 2015, Ethereum’s built-in programming language allows developers to write computer programs, called smart contracts, using blockchain. Most initial coin offerings (ICOs) to date have relied on Ethereum smart contracts.
Cons: Like Bitcoin, Ethereum also uses proof of work, making transactions slow. Unfortunately, many early smart contracts are vulnerable to hacking with the field of smart-contract security still in its infancy.
Ripple (XRP) / Market value: $32 billion
Pros: Ripple, launched in 2012, describes its cryptocurrency token, XRP, as a “bridge currency” which financial institutions can use to settle cross-border payments faster and cheaper than they do now. It relies on a novel consensus protocol enabling much faster transactions than Bitcoin or Ethereum.
Cons: Since this privately owned company has so much control over the system, cryptocurrency enthusiasts and early adopters feel XRP isn’t decentralized enough. This is in contrast with not just Bitcoin, which anybody can mine, but, the very philosophical framework behind cryptocurrency: decentralization.
Bitcoin Cash (BCH) / Market value: $19 billion
Pros: Launched just last year in 2017, the creators of this cryptocurrency, BCH is the product of a “hard fork” of Bitcoin. Its code has altered Bitcoin’s software to better handle scaling issues currently plaguing Bitcoin.
Cons: As with Ripple, cryptocurrency enthusiasts criticize Bitcoin Cash as too centralized since only a handful of miners create most of the coins.
Litecoin (LTC) / Market value: $10 billion
Pros: Litecoin is essentially an altered form of Bitcoin launched in 2017 which processes transactions four times faster using inexpensive software.
Cons: Litecoin is still too slow and energy-consuming to be an ideal payment method.
Cardano (ADA) / Market value: $5.9 billion
Pros: Cardano is a platform for trading and transferring its token with an emphasis on privacy and regulatory compliance launched in 2017. They plan to host smart contracts. Using a proof-of-stake consensus protocol, it consumes less energy than Bitcoin.
Cons: Despite its potential promise, there’s still very little information on Cardano.
Neo (NEO) / Market value: $5.8 billion
The strengths: Launched in 2014, NEO is China’s biggest cryptocurrency. It is a smart-contract platform like Ethereum, but, it uses a consensus protocol called “delegated Byzantine fault tolerance,” which allows for 10,000 transactions per second, versus Ethereum’s 15.
Cons: NEO is highly centralized and, although the founder has said that the plan is to make it more decentralized “someday,” it doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon.
Stellar Lumens (XLM) / Market value: $5.6 billion
Pros: Stellar, launched in 2014, is a hard fork of Ripple. It aims for its lumens to serve as a bridge currency for cross-border payments. It’s run by a nonprofit instead of a for-profit company. It eventually aims to compete with Ethereum as a platform for initial coin offerings.
Cons: Stellar faces stiff competition from not only Ripple, but, also the traditional banking system’s dominant platform, SWIFT, a testing distributed-ledger technology with blockchain-like elements.
Eos (EOS) / Market value: $4.3 billion
Pros: Developed in 2017, EOS tokens exist and trade on Ethereum, though the smart-contract platform itself has yet to launch. It uses a proof-of-stake protocol instead of proof of work, theoretically making transactions faster.
Cons: Despite being on track to raise more than $1 billion via an ICO, the project has yet to launch, so, its performance can’t be analyzed.
Monero (XMR) / Market value: $4.3 billion
Pros: Launched in 2014, Monero relies on ring signatures, a type of digital signature allowing users to transact privately. Its mining process is designed to be “egalitarian,” in keeping with the core principle of cryptocurrency, decentralization.
Cons: Monero’s privacy features have made it the preferred cryptocurrency of cybercriminals. It is vulnerable to “cryptojacking” in which hackers use malware to make other people’s computers mine cryptocurrency for them.
Dash (DASH) (formerly XCoin and Darkcoin) / Market value: $4.3 billion
Pros: Another self-billed privacy coin like Monero, Dash was launched in 2014. Inspired by Bitcoin, its features speed up payment processing as a solution to scalability problems.
Cons: Dash has a centralization problem which flies in the face of the decentralization promised by blockchain. Too many coins were distributed when Dash was first released, thereby concentrating the wealth and power in decisions over the currency’s future to a small group.
IOTA (MIOTA) / Market value: 3.8 billion
Pros: IOTA’s system does not use blockchain at all! Instead, it uses a shared ledger based on a mathematical structure called a directed acyclic graph. Its goal is to serve as a currency used by internet-of-things devices to buy, sell, and trade resources among each other and clients.
Cons: Cryptocurrency enthusiasts take issue with IOTA as too centralized. Furthermore, numerous cryptography researchers have questioned the system’s overall security.
(Read more about various other cryptocurrencies in Beyond Bitcoin: A lineup of other cryptocurrencies and John Oliver lists crazy (but, real) cryptocurrency coins outside the familiar Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Ripple.)