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Put Your PC To Good Use

Posted by | Posted in Geek Stuff | Posted on 19-10-2008

“If I had a penny (or someone joined my F@H team) for every time I heard that…”

Something that I’ve been a part of for a few weeks now is a project called Folding@Home. What it basically entails is the (minor) use of your PC in order to do some mathmatical calculations. These calculations are aimed at helping scientists run simulations on proteins, in order to help them identify the causes of various genetic diseases, such as Alzheimers Disease. In the words of the F@H homepage:

Proteins are biology’s workhorses – its “nanomachines.” Before proteins can carry out these important functions, they assemble themselves, or “fold.” The process of protein folding, while critical and fundamental to virtually all of biology, in many ways remains a mystery. Moreover, when proteins do not fold correctly (i.e. “misfold”), there can be serious consequences, including many well known diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Mad Cow (BSE), CJD, ALS, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s disease, and many Cancers and cancer-related syndromes.

What the project aims to do is use distributed computing technology to rapidly “fold” the proteins and provide scientists at Stanford University with scientific data to analyze. Doing what scientists do best, they’ll hopefully come up with some answers.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, this is what the F@H project describes distributed computing as:

Folding@home is a distributed computing project – people from throughout the world download and run software to band together to make one of the largest supercomputers in the world. Every computer takes the project closer to our goals. Folding@home uses novel computational methods coupled to distributed computing, to simulate problems millions of times more challenging than previously achieved.

So what it’s saying is, if everyone uses their little program to run a few calculations every now and then, it will achieve the same result as having the world’s most powerful supercomputers do some number-crunching.

Being the kind-hearted soul that I am, I signed up as soon as I read about the project. My PC is on 24/7 anyway, and so I figured I might as well make it do something useful while I’m at work or asleep etc. So if you all fancy helping a brotha out and joining my team, then feel free to download the program and get it running. For every “work unit” your computer processes you’ll earn yourself (and the team) some points. I guess they included the whole “team” idea to make it fun. The more members you have on your team (running the application, that is) the more points you’ll all earn. It’s a good way to encourage people to keep the application running, I suppose.

So if you want to join, make sure you configure the program to specifiy team 125478. To check you’ve got the right team number, right click on the icon in your system tray and select ‘Configure…’:

Right-click on the icon, and select Configure

Once you get the dialogue box open, select the ‘User’ tab (at the top) and make sure you’ve entered your username and the team number as specified:

Type in your username and the correct team number

Assuming you dont have any funny firewall issues, you should be good to go. Basically, the program downloads a few sums from the Stanford University server, completes the calculations, and then returns the results to them. You can specify how much processor time the program uses, and it runs with the lowest possible priority, meaning that if your computer needs the processor for something else, it will temporarily stop the F@H Client while it goes about it’s business, and then resume the calculations when your PC no longer needs it’s processor. The result is that you wont even notice the program running in the background.

So what are you waiting for, download the program now!

Those of you, like me, who have a slightly better than average PC at your disposal, might like to try one of the experimental clients. I have a rather good graphics card, and so I’ve chosen to use the power of my graphics card to do the calculations, rather than the computer’s main processor (the CPU). As my graphics card was designed for things like this, I downloaded a special version of the client that uses the GPU rather than the CPU. If you’ve got an nVidia 8000 or 9000 series graphics card, or the ATI equivalents, then you can probably run the GPU clients as well. It’s a little more complicated to set up, and not something I’ll be going into here, but if you want to try them out you can find the download page here. If not, I’d recommend sticking with the standard CPU versions.

If you’re interested, check out the Team Stats.

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