Review: Folding @ Home

Folding @ Home is a distributed computing client developed and maintained by Stanford University; its purpose is to pool together computing cycles from workstations around the world.

Here’s the science bit: (written from a science noob)

The combined computing time is focussed on folding proteins, in an effort to understand how proteins fold together or more importantly ‘misfold’. When proteins ‘misfold’ diseases can form, diseases like Alzheimer’s, CJD, Parkinson’s, and various Cancers. Folding@Home uses distributed computing to simulate these problems.

Here’s the tech bit:

Folding is very CPU intensive, it utilizes your spare CPU cycles to fold, hence maxing out the full potential of your central processor. As such folding has become very popular in computing circles, especially with hardware and overclocking enthusiasts. The faster your machine the more ‘Work Units’ you complete, and the more points you receive (oh yeah, did i mention they award points for the most returned work units – hmm interesting).

Teams are formed by various public forums, message boards, user groups, friends and companies and a combined score for the most returned ‘work units’ is recorded daily. From this a leader board (if you can call it that) is formed. Teams can consist of any number of members.

Over time various clients have been developed, the standard client was designed to utilise CPU cycles, however there are also clients developed to fold using the GPU, and clients that utilise multi-core processors. Even your PS3 can be used to fold.

I have been folding@home for some time using the standard windows client; it chugs along quietly in the background processing work units. I have come to realise that over the years folding has moved on and the standard client which is no longer the most efficient way to fold. Reports show the PS3 is surprisingly efficient at folding, as is the GPU on the latest ‘high end’ graphics cards, but my interest was in making the most out of my current quad core processor.

The Folding@Home SMP client makes it possible to utilise all four cores on a quad core processor, making this the ideal candidate to continue folding with, unfortunately it’s not the easiest of clients to setup, especially as it is still in beta, and the installer only does half the job for you. Once setup correctly however you will notice a difference from the standard client, it will crunch its way through the WU’s (work units) much faster that just using a single core.

If you’re interested in trying folding@home for yourself you can download the client and get started here, if you’re interested in joining a team head on over to Technology Forums, you will be sure to get a warm welcome as well as friendly and helpful advice on all things tech.


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