Folding @ Home
Written by Relin
The 1.6 firmware update brought several important features to the PS3, including disc auto-run, an on-screen QWERTY keyboard for input, and background downloading. Also tossed into the mix was a team effort between Sony and Stanford: Folding@Home.
Researchers have been held back by computational limitations for decades. Even today, in an age of mega-powerful supercomputers many of the world’s most high-profile projects would take decades to complete, not to mention the cost of running supercomputer calculations by the minute. One of the first research teams to overcome this obstacle was SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, based in the University of California, Berkeley.
The shining stars.
Their project involved sifting through large amounts of data taken from various telescopes scanning the night sky, but they were accumulating data much faster than they could ever hope to process it with Berkeley’s resources. In 1995, David Gedye proposed doing radio SETI using a virtual supercomputer composed of large numbers of Internet-connected computers(1), and the age of “distributed computing” began. SETI@Home began distributing software that would contact their central database, extract a chuck of data (commonly called a “work unit”), and begin running the required algorithms to process the information. Thousands of homes across the world began lending their CPUs, hoping fervently for the chance to find a stray radio signal from another planet. Thousands turned into hundreds of thousands (2), and other projects took note of their success.
Stanford has begun researching “protein folding”, the process by which a protein assumes it characteristic shape, which it must do before fulfilling its function. Misfolding proteins are the cause of several diseases, including Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, mad cow disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and several varieties of cancer(3). Folding@Home has been running protein folding simulations on a network of PCs for nearly seven years, but has recently opened its doors to PS3 owners, in an attempt to utilize its enormous computing power.
Since its introduction into the Folding@Home network, the PS3 has done some amazing work: though only representing 9.2% of the total folding community, the PS3 is has doubled the current TFLOPS (Terabyte Floating point Operations per Second) (4). Should a mere 50,000 PS3’s run this program regularly, the project will reach FLOPS measured in petaflops…that’s right, a thousand trillion floating point operations per second. Even with all the supercomputers in the world working together, that mark would never be met. Beyond PS3s, Stanford has also teamed up with ATI and begun using their high-powered GPUs for folding simulations. These little guys are generating the highest speeds, but because of their architecture, they are limited as to which work units they can process. Stanford hopes to reach speeds of 10 petaflops during peak periods, using the combined power of PCs, Macs, ATI graphics cards, and PS3s.
Who said that games weren’t educational?
Once you have started folding, your submitted work units will help your account to accumulate points, in an effort to promote friendly competition. You also have the option of submitting your WUs and points to a Folding@Home team. MyArcadePlanet.com has its very own Folding@Home team, so start folding!
For more information on Folding@Home, please visit Stanford’s Folding@Home page: http://folding.stanford.edu . If you are interested in folding, follow the download instructions found there. A full list of teams, along with their complete stats, can be found there, but this will take you to another list; included in this list is MyArcadePlanet.com’s very own team, as well as many others. Take a look! Myarcadeplanet.comÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Official Team Page