Put your idle CPU to good use: volunteer computing options

Let's face it; supercomputers are by no means cheap and accessible to all. This isn't much of an issue for the average user as there are rare instances in which they would need hundreds of CPU's or terabytes of RAM (perhaps those who would like to play GTA4 on their PC), but for a research institution that needs to process and calculate extreme amounts of data, this becomes an issue.

This is where distributed computing offers a solution. Consider the following:

The 'Centralized Server' is comparable to a boss, or 'slave-master'. The Job of the Centralized Server is three-fold: First, it sends you a 'work-unit'. A 'work-unit' is a set of calculations for your CPU to complete. Secondly, once the 'User System' is completed it sends the results of said calculations back to the Centralized Server. Lastly, the 'Centralized Server' keeps track of how many units you've done and as is the case with most projects awards you 'points', which you may use to check your status amongst all users working for the project. You may also become part of a team and work together with peers, (not sharing work units but rather, sharing a 'team' page which displays the points of all within the team and having a team be ranked amongst others with the data completed from the users within).

To give another example, let's assume there exists an old man. He is very weak, and not powerful enough to complete his tasks. A group of young, robust and strong people arrive at his door and offers to help him out. The group of young people then, in their spare time, assist him with what needs to be done and they report back to him. In this circumstance, the outcome is a happy old man. With distributed computing, the outcome can range anywhere from interesting astrophysical results, the discovering of extra-terrestrial life, or even cures for diseases!

Getting involved:

Getting involved requires that you decide to which projects you will contribute. Listed below are some of the many operations and their intentions:

Folding@home: A project that processes the folding of proteins in an attempt to understand protein folding itself, misfolding and diseases related to protein folding. They have recently focused their efforts into studying proteins relevant to Alzheimer's and Hunntington's disease.

SETI@home: The Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence is a project that seeks to discover life in outer space. It utilizes radio telescopes to listen for radio signals from space. They also have a branch known as Astropulse, where SETI@home searches for narrowband signals (AM/FM for example), Astropulse listens for broader-band signals. It can be thought of as the sequel (but not replacement) to SETI@home.

LHC@home: The LHC@home project is a project which assists in the improvement of the Large Hadron Collider, a CERN large particle accelerator. It should be noted that this project does not process data received from the LHC, but only potential LHC improvements.

A complete list of distributed computer projects may be found here.

Well that's great and all, but now what?

Assuming you've now realized which project you would like to support, the next step is of course setting up your computer to do so! A simple tool has been created by those at Berkeley known as BOINC (Berkely Open Infrastructure for Network Computing). While not all projects are compatible with it, a great number are (a list of supported BOINC projects may be found here). The software acts as a control panel for your supported projects and simplifies the distributed computing process.

The initial BOINC screen shows to which projects you currently belong:

The Tasks screen shows which work unit you are currently processing, with how much CPU time you've spent on each unit:

While with BOINC, your settings are set online you can specify your preferences for individual computers through their options tab. You can see here how you can limit the application to only run when your computer is idle, or even at specific times.

To download BOINC or for more information/documentation, visit their website.

For the projects which BOINC does not natively support, there will be a project-specific application that should function in great similarity to BOINC. Folding@home, for example, is not supported by BOINC, but they have an application which functions much in the same way. If you are one who leaves their computer on overnight or while away, why not make use of your otherwise wasted processing power and contribute it towards a volunteer computing project?

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42 Comments

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Echilon said,
If BOINC didn't increase my power consumption I'd leave it running 24/7.


I tried to offset that problem with a more efficient power supply. Yes, it's more money... but my 260 needs it anyway. ;-)

*sigh*,
This is turning into mindless, thoughtless bashing with no concrete evidence for anything.

Getting back to this point of the article, I think it's a wonderful thought. The premise and basis of this article is what makes the argument for Grid computing concrete. It's using your IDLE computing cycle. It's not asking you to keep your computer on longer than you normally would. It's asking for you to churn a bit high processing power during the hours you normally do nothing but Email, Wordprocessing etc. Honestly do any of you use 100% CPU 100% of the time your computer is on? Think about the hundreds of millions of day-to-day computers for work that are just left idling sucking 100-300Watts of power doing absolutely nothing. If all those idle computers could be turned into a multi-national grid, using just 10-20% more power (since it's only revving up the CPU), imagine all the scientific problems we could solve. (Or turn off those computers and save our natural resource usage...)

Compensate me for the power usage, and the extra power I also need in turn to cool down the room, and the wear and tear on the hardware that I'll have to replace sooner, and then I'll consider it.

_dandy_ said,
Compensate me for the power usage, and the extra power I also need in turn to cool down the room, and the wear and tear on the hardware that I'll have to replace sooner, and then I'll consider it.

Buy higher quality components. Server parts are designed to run 24/7 at full load.

Also, ignore the global warming brainwashing and stop blaming each other. Full blame goes to China, they had to ban driving and so many things to fix their polution for the olympics. Full blame also goes to any company that tries to save money by harming the environment.

Ender2070 said,
Buy higher quality components. Server parts are designed to run 24/7 at full load.

Also, ignore the global warming brainwashing and stop blaming each other. Full blame goes to China, they had to ban driving and so many things to fix their polution for the olympics. Full blame also goes to any company that tries to save money by harming the environment.


Oh lets not blame America now should we? Considering like every family in america has liek 4 cars whilst in other parts of the world people use public transport .

/- Razorfold said,


Oh lets not blame America now should we? Considering like every family in america has liek 4 cars whilst in other parts of the world people use public transport .


Oh boo hoo. Big bad America and all the cars the people own. Don't forget we have more strict smog laws than most countries in the world, esp in California.

Americans take only 5% from the worlds population and the US takes a huge 25% from the worlds air pollution ! That is a fact !

Oh boo hoo. Big bad America and all the cars the people own. Don't forget we have more strict smog laws than most countries in the world, esp in California.


And America accounts for almost 50% of the world's oil usage. Now burning fossil fuels = pollution.

Ender2070 said,
Buy higher quality components. Server parts are designed to run 24/7 at full load.

Also, ignore the global warming brainwashing and stop blaming each other. Full blame goes to China, they had to ban driving and so many things to fix their polution for the olympics. Full blame also goes to any company that tries to save money by harming the environment.


I'm a home user. I'm not gonna start buying "server parts designed to run 24/7 at full load" just to let somebody else run his little pet project on my hardware.

And how the hell did you end up throwing global warming into this?

/- Razorfold said,
And America accounts for almost 50% of the world's oil usage. Now burning fossil fuels = pollution.


Along with _dandy_, I too wonder how the hell global warming came into play. Then add the typical "America's fault" from people... You using an Intel or AMD CPU? What about Windows or OSX? If you think America is the cause of the world's problems... why don't you just stop buying our products and stop eating the food we ship out? It's that simple. Show big bad America how you feel... with your wallet. If you don't, you're just another hypocrite.

(yes, I know the Core2 was designed in Israel, but Intel is an American company)

ipodman715 said,
I put my GPU to good use instead by running F@H :)

+1
However, have some weird squealing noise whenever I run it for more than 10 mins. Never happens even with the most GPU demanding games, however.

This is actually the capacitors in the power supply emitting a hum because GPU folding requires a pretty good amount of power. The only time I hear a similar squealing noise is from playing Crysis on all high settings with 4x AA at 1152x864. Running an EVGA 8800GT by the way

IDLE CPU?
So your PC always running at high power, gets damaged earlyer and you drain more electricity.

Folding@Home is simply a waste of global resources and electricity... why? read their text:

However, only knowing this sequence tells us little about what the protein does and how it does it. In order to carry out their function (eg as enzymes or antibodies), they must take on a particular shape, also known as a "fold." Thus, proteins are truly amazing machines: before they do their work, they assemble themselves! This self-assembly is called "folding." One of our project goals is to simulate protein folding in order to understand how proteins fold so quickly and reliably.

So they virtually render a imaginary building process, (that someone of thir staff dreamd of, cause they don't know how it's done) of a protein to understand how they do that so quickly ^^
Oh, thats how they cure diseases i guess ^^

Yes, in turn this will allow us to cure diseases. I fail to see the validity in your evidence of why F@H is a waste.

PureLegend said,
Yes, in turn this will allow us to cure diseases. I fail to see the validity in your evidence of why F@H is a waste.


Proteins fold because of their chemical and molecular structure (the molecules and the bonds formed between these molecules). A slight change in that structure due to heat, kinetic energy, genetic mutation etc causes them to deform and "fold" into another shape hence either rendering them useless or dangerous.

It's stuff already well known and well documented for the vast majority of proteins.

Look on their site it says: "Alzheimer's, Mad Cow (BSE), CJD, ALS, Huntington's, Parkinson's disease, and many Cancers and cancer-related syndromes. " The majority of those are genetic issues, and the ONLY way to cure them is to find the bad gene and replace it (aka STEM CELL RESEARCH / GENE THERPY).

The other option is to use the proteins found on stem cells and then using those stem cells, make white blood cells from that, but F@H won't do jack for that. You need stem cell research for that to be successful.

I would rather spend that extra $10, due to electricity bill costs on a bull**** project, on charity. For example: http://www.worldvision.org/

You would notice that they say on their site: "We have had several successes. You can read about them on our Science page, on our Awards page, or go directly to our Results page." Go click those links and see if any of the successes are in ANY way related to science. You will notice, NONE are.

Not so long ago some mad people tried to figure out why does some snails house "spin" or "turn" left and why does some spin right. They saw that if their "mothers" house spins right, the new borns house would spin right too. This is the exact way what it does with left of course. So the house spin is not genetically determintated ? Or what ? Of course it is, but in some other way. There are some proteins in the snails egg controlling the growth and differentiation. This is the reason of the spin. I don't what is the name of this method in english, it is called mother effect in hungarian.

After going forward with this theory they figured out how to cure some type of infertility .

From snails to new born human babies.

So

From folding to cure pryon generated disease like Creutzfeldt – Jakob Disease. To find out how to attack in special ways, how to find the weak points !!!

I'm a medstudent and my University has a motto :

"See what everybody else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought !" Albert Szent-Gyorgyi said this. He detected Vitamin C first and discovered the steps of the citric acid cycle , also known as Szent - Gyorgyi - Kerbs cycle.

Nothing is useless .

With the difference, that they see the snail and know what they see.
They don't know what happens... if they knew, they don't need to simulate it.

How does the algorithm check if there is a success?
They don't even know what to do with the cords... if they knew, there wouldn't be no need for this project.
So what do they calculate?

Render random cords that some of their staff dreamd of on a drug trip?
Do they sit in front of giantic microscopes and watch proteins and try to imitate what they see?
What would that help? *g*

The bigest winamp visual on the globe ;)
There is no benefit from this project...

(my english is horrible, i know...)

You are able to count the right degrees and distance, polarisation, atom radius and so on. Putting this together into a useful algorythm is not easy, but if they could find the right paramaters, they can create a correct model. But you are right too, because this is quantum mechanic and nothing works the way you would expect.

Have any of these efforts yielded data with real world implications? Any diseases close to being cured because of Folding@home?

Harsesis said,
www.freerainbowtables.com using BOINC to crack passwords :D

Thanks for reminding me!!! I forgot all about my 20 something passwords I had in queue

Mathiasdm said,
Folding@home now also has a multicore client and GPU clients, for those interested.

Don't forget that there is a PS3 client as well. Mine runs 24/7 unless I'm playing a game or watching a movie on there.

roadwarrior said,
Don't forget that there is a PS3 client as well. Mine runs 24/7 unless I'm playing a game or watching a movie on there.

I am sure your parents love their electricity bill every month, considering PS3 uses more power than a fridge.

I forgot to mention Einstein too. Can you tell me why Proteins@Home never gives out work units? I've never once got one and have had it attached to several computers for weeks now

Not sure. Just added it now to my connected projects. It might take a day or so for me to finish a work unit and get it updated to see if mine count or not.

An update on that Proteins@Home. It seems that every time I have it check for updates and jobs to do, it just defers communications for another 24 hrs.

It doesn't look like there is any work to do on that project. Is it idle at the moment? That would explain things.

I've been contributing my unused cycles for years now SETI, Rosetta, etc.. I would focus more on Rosetta, SETI is not as important REALLY!

BOINC and such have been around for quite a while. But I am sure this is news to some.

Is there a Neowin group for BOINC? I seem to recall a Neowin Playstation BOINC group, but not sure there is just a general Neowin group.

Well it is putting it to use, the main point about conserving power is in mobile computing where dropping the clock speed and hence dropping the CPU to a lower power state is essential.

Also this is an extremely well written article, job well done.

Conserving power is important to desktops as well. Having even 10% of computers running such programs would considerably increase carbon output, as well as increasing fuel bills. I'm of mixed opinions about such software, though if it can help cure cancer sooner then it's hard to ignore.

theyarecomingforyou said,
Conserving power is important to desktops as well. Having even 10% of computers running such programs would considerably increase carbon output, as well as increasing fuel bills. I'm of mixed opinions about such software, though if it can help cure cancer sooner then it's hard to ignore.

Wow brainwashed by the media into blaming each other for global warming instead of China.

Firstly, everyone should minimise their impact upon the world regardless; this is especially true when the planet is so overpopulated. Secondly, China produces goods to cater for western demands; it's western pollution via-proxy. It sounds like it is you that has been watching a bit too much Fox News.

theyarecomingforyou said,
Firstly, everyone should minimise their impact upon the world regardless; this is especially true when the planet is so overpopulated.


You talk about people being brainwashed by the media, but you honestly believe that the world is overpopulated??? The entire population of the world could reside comfortably (average family of 4 in a house around 1000 square feet or larger with a small yard) in an area the size of one of the western states in the US. That would leave the entire rest of the world for industry and food production. Anyone who seriously believes that the world is overpopulated has never been anywhere outside a major city.