What are your New Year's resolutions? Did you vow to shed those holiday pounds you put on the past couple of weeks? Perhaps you promised to finally use this year's tax refund to put together that dream machine build you deserve. Whatever they are, here's an easy one to add to the list: start "Folding" for team Maximum PC.
We're referring to Stanford's Folding@home distributed computing project. The ultimate goal is to better understand (and find cures for) diseases like Alzheimer's, ALS, Huntingtons', Parkinson's, various cancers, and more. If you're new to Folding, or distributed computing in general, the way it works is you download a piece of software that taps into your spare CPU cycles to study protein folding. One machine by itself isn't very helpful, but collectively, it's like having access to a supercomputer.
Points are tracked and there's a lot of friendly competition (and trash talking) between sites. To join Maximum PC, you'd input 11108 in the Team number field. Hit up the links below for more info.
Stanford's Folding@home team has released a beta client for Nvidia GTX 400 series GPUs. It's the first F@h GPU client to achieve more than 1 microsecond per day performance, Nvidia says, who added that it worked closely with Stanford on this latest release.
Does all this sound Greek to you? In short, Folding@home is a distributed computing project run by Stanford University. The idea is to install the software on as many PCs as possible and combine all that computing power to help understand how proteins fold. By doing so, scientists hope to better understand (and eventually find cures for) diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and others. Folding@home takes a backseat to other tasks, only tapping into unused CPU (and in this case, GPU) cycles to do its thing.
To help keep things interesting, there's a strong competitive element to Folding@home in which you can join a team and help rack up points for bragging rights. If you want to join team Maximum PC (team 11108), check out this forum for more info.
The beta client mentioned above is only for Nvidia GTX 4xx owners and requires the latest Nvidia graphics drivers (197.45). However, Vijay Pande, director of the Folding@hom project, says his team is "actively pushing ATI support (with the help of AMD/ATI)," although there's no ETA just yet.
Distributed computing is one of the wonderful ways that you can use your PC to contribute to more thoughtful, worldly causes than keeping your room warm during a cloudy summer day. These projects, made up of members from all corners of the world (even Maximum PC's own forums), make use of your computer during its idle periods. Whether they're come as a screensaver that launches after a set period of time, or a background application that launches after a certain period of CPU inactivity, these free applications divvy out the tasks of a large, complicated project to a number of people at once.
Why should you care? Because distributed computing is a nice way to use a minimal amount of your system's resources--resources that you wouldn't be using anyway--to contribute to something greater than yourself. It's entirely altruistic in its purpose. Very, very few distributed computing projects have some kind of monetary award attached to the work, and you'd have to score a major knock-out in your individual contribution to the project to see the result. That is, your computer would have to be the one that finds the next huge prime number, or major breakthrough in protein analysis, or something to that effect. If you're in it for a reward, you might as well develop a program that estimates lottery odds.
You'll find that entities like Maximum PC, amongst others, have teams of people contributing to these distributed computing projects. It's a great way to make friends and fellow geeks--in fact, I'd probably be strung up by this site's forum folk if I didn't include a shout-out to their work on the Folding@Home project. Click the jump to find out how you can get involved in this and other awesome distributed computing efforts. +10 Light Side points for you.
One of the most rewarding parts of doing these weekly freeware roundups for Maximum PC is the sheer wealth of software that I get to play with each month -- applications that I not only use myself, but ones that I feel compelled to tell you about as well. But coming in a close second are the responses that you, the readers, leave in these posts. For as much as I scour the Internet to find awesome new programs for you to check out, you too have become my eyes and ears for the latest in amazing free software.
You might guess where this one's going. I'm looking toward the pool of Maximum PC users this week and highlighting programs that you, yourselves, have recommended in the various comments you've posted to these articles. For a number of you have left links and comments featuring compelling alternatives or hidden gems that relate to the programs I've posted. Although I'm featuring your best answers this week, don't let that stop you from joining the discussion! If a certain freeware application has really caught your eye, jump in the thread and say something! Or hit me up on Twitter and let me know when you've found something great!
After the jump: The Maximum PC commenters get their day in Freeware Court!
Before someone asks, the answer is 'yes,' we don't doubt the Atlas Folder can handle Crysis. But despite outfitting his server with 23 -- TWENTY EFFING THREE! -- gual-GPU GeForce GTX 295 videocards, Jason Farqué, who goes by the username Atlas Folding, has a more important goal in mind:
"The reason that my father in enrolled in [a clinical trial] is the same as the reason I run my folding farm. To fight back, to do something," Farqué wrote on his blog. "To help science overcoming Huntington's Disease so that people as yet unborn wont' have as hard a time as he and others do. Because my father wants the human race to succeed, to get better, to overcome our bodies' inherent frailties by using our minds."
Farqué's father suffers from Huntington's Disease, and if Stanford's Folding@Home distributed computing project leads to a cure, then it will be hard to imagine a better use for such a gluttony of high powered videocards. Among the setup are 9 MSI-brand 295s, 14 EVGA-brand 295s, and and a single GTX 260 and 9800GT thrown in for good measure.
And if you think that's impressive, Farqué has been mulling a similar setup with Nvidia's 300 series once it launches.
Check out a video of the super Folding server here, a Maximum PC forum post on how Farqué handled the configuration here, and see how you can both help the cause and lead Maximum PC to victory in this year's Chimp Challenge here.
Three years ago the MaximumPC Folding Team challenged the team ranked above us in the global folding ladder to a race. Each team picked a folding name and tried to get as many folders as possible to fold for it. The race was to a set amount of total folding points, and team Maximum PC won that first contest. In the contest’s second year, the number of points required to win went up and we lost to the third place team. But as winning points went up again last year, we rose to the challenge and won the Chimp race, as it is called today.
This year, 8 or 9 teams may enter, so the Maximum PC team faces some stiff competition. Each year the race stimulates new interest in teams across the world (Russia, Australia and England joined recently, for example). Two top teams from EVGA and overclock.net are loaded with new members and challenging our daily production total. In addition, the top ranked team right now, Horde, produces a million more points a day than any other team.
But we still have plenty of time to build our troops before the race begins in early May.
Overclock.net forum member nitteoclaims to have built a Folding@Home farm with no less than 51 GPUs, and he has the pics to prove it. In them are a mixture of 8800GT and 8800GS videocards spread out across a variety of MSI and Gigabyte motherboards. Final numbers are still be tallied, but nitteoestimates he'll pull in over 250,000 points per day on his new setup, and things only look to get better with the CUDA-based folding client.
That's all well and good for Overclock.net (and the Folding community in general), but that also means Team Maximum PC has to keep it kicked up into high gear. Maximum PC currently holds the 4th spot in team rankings and could use your help. If you want to Fold for your favorite magazine, add team 11108 to your client's profile, and drop by the forum for tips on how to optimize your production.