The definition of an altcoin has evolved since the early days of cryptocurrency when only a handful of crypto assets existed. Back then, anything but Bitcoin (BTC) was considered an altcoin.
Today the world of crypto assets is much broader. There is a wide variety of coins and tokens with use cases that go well beyond a medium of exchange, meaning they aren’t necessarily Bitcoin competitors.
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Still, for lack of a better designation, the basic definition of an altcoin is any crypto asset other than Bitcoin.
Here’s a look at the top 10 altcoins by market capitalization, excluding stablecoins. We have excluded stablecoins since they are designed to maintain a stable price and are not typically considered to be a speculative investment.
1. Ethereum (ETH)
Market cap: $205 billion
Of the nearly $837 billion that represents the total market capitalization of the more than 20,000 crypto assets available today, more than 17% is held in Ethereum (ETH), the biggest altcoin on the market.
Unlike Bitcoin, characterized as a “decentralized currency,” think of Ethereum as a distributed computing network where users can use the blockchain to run decentralized applications (dApps) and host smart contracts.
Critics of Ethereum point to high fees for conducting transactions. But with the thousands of apps and other altcoins powered by its blockchain, Ethereum is here to stay.
2. Binance Coin (BNB)
Market cap: $49 billion
Binance Coin is a utility token that can be used to pay trading fees and get discounted trades on the Binance exchange. You can even use BNB outside the Binance crypto exchange for payment processing, such as booking travel arrangements.
Critics say BNB isn’t as decentralized as other altcoins. Another risk is a reported Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation into whether Binance should have registered BNB as a security during its initial coin offering.
3. XRP (XRP)
Market cap: $19 billion
XRP can be used to facilitate exchanges of different currency types with digital technology and payment processing company Ripple Labs. Although this altcoin has extremely low transaction fees, critics note it faces legal challenges.
Ripple and two of its executives are involved in an SEC lawsuit alleging they should have registered XRP as a security, and the company says XRP is instead a currency.
4. Dogecoin (DOGE)
Market cap: $11 billion
Dogecoin is the original meme coin, famously started as a joke in 2013. Nevertheless, thanks to a dedicated community and creative memes, it has rapidly evolved into a prominent cryptocurrency.
Dogecoin has a different network from Bitcoin’s proof-of-work protocol. This altcoin also has a block time of one minute with uncapped total supply. This means that there is no limit to the number of Dogecoin that can be mined, unlike BTC.
5. Cardano (ADA)
Market cap: $13.7 billion
Cardano was an early adopter of the proof-of-stake consensus mechanism, which speeds up transaction time by removing the competitive and energy-intensive problem-solving dimension of platforms like Bitcoin.
The Cardano ‘Alonzo’ hard fork was officially launched on September 12, 2012, which also launched smart contract functionality to the blockchain space. It is to be noted that over 100 smart contracts were deployed in the following one day after the launch.
6. Polygon (MATIC)
Market cap: $12 billion
Polygon is an Ethereum-based scaling platform that allows developers to build dApps with low transaction fees. Polygon allows you to process transactions very speedily by using the Ethereum network.
Polygon renovates Ethereum into a kind of multi-chain system such as Polkadot, Cosmos, Avalanche etc. with the benefit of Ethereum’s security, vibrant ecosystem and openness. It also combines the plasma framework and proof-of-stake solution, which in turn allows easy execution of smart contracts.
7. Litecoin (LTC)
Market cap: $6.7 billion
Litecoin is one of the original altcoins, designed to improve several of Bitcoin’s perceived shortcomings, such as slow transaction processing speeds and mining monopolies. LTC is built to be used in everyday transactions, whereas Bitcoin has evolved into more of a “store of value.”
Litecoin has some notable differences from Bitcoin, too. Besides processing speed, there’s the issue of supply. While Bitcoin is capped at a maximum supply of 21 million coins, Litecoin is capped at 84 million coins.
8. Polkadot (DOT)
Market cap: $8.4 billion
This altcoin powers the Polkadot ecosystem, where developers can build specific-purpose blockchains as spokes connecting to the main Polkadot blockchain hub, says Max Thake, co-founder of peaq, a blockchain network built on Polkadot. DOT is the native token for Polkadot.
9. Tron (TRX)
Market cap: $6.4 billion
Tron is a blockchain that developers can use to share media content and create decentralized applications. TRX also has a healthy total value locked (TVL) or amount of money deposited in decentralized finance. TVL is the total value of crypto assets deposited in a decentralized finance (DeFi) protocol, such as staking, lending or liquidity pools.
A high TVL indicates the popularity of a protocol and the adoption rate of a particular cryptocurrency. Currently, TRX’s TVL stands at $5.43 billion, according to DeFi Llama.
10. Solana (SOL)
Market cap: $9.5 billion
Developed to help power decentralized finance and apps as well as smart contracts, Solana runs on a unique hybrid proof-of-stake and proof-of-history mechanisms to process transactions quickly and securely. Solana is one of the fastest blockchains out there.
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*Market caps and pricing sourced from coinmarketcap.com, current as of February 21, 2023.
Also, read our article on “Types of Cryptocurrency” for more detailed information on different types of cryptocurrencies.