Folding@Home, Computing for the Greater Good

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What is It?

Folding@Home is a program that allows you to join your computer with about 200,000 others to help cure diseases like Alzheimers, Parkinsons, and Cancer. It uses your computer’s processing power to complete a tiny part of a protein folding simulation which is then joined with the work of other “folders” to give scientists an accurate picture of how the protein folds (an incredibly important part of research). Researchers at Stanford first created the program in 2000 but it has since expanded to become the biggest “distributed computing” application in the world with 38,727 teraflops of combined computing power. For scale, that is more flops (a measurement of compute performance) than the biggest supercomputer in the US.

As you contribute more computational time you get “points” for how much work your computer has done. It can be a good measure of how much time and work you have contributed to the cause, but where there are points, there’s competition. If you want to you can join a team that’s competing to see who can contribute the most points to the cause. There are many teams to go for with several PC companies participating, so it can add another level to your folding.

How do I Start Folding?

Installation is about as simple as any other program. Download the installer from Stanford’s website and let it run. It will set up the program for you and defaults it to a low setting. The controller allows you to set how much of your processor is dedicated to folding at any given time. Any setting below “Light” will probably be barely noticeable. Folding@Home is designed so that if another program (like your browser) needs your processor it will slow down enough so you barely notice a difference with or without it running. Medium will start to show an impact and full is using all of the power available to your processor. If you’re on a battery like with a laptop, only leave Folding@Home on when you’re plugged in. It does use a substantial amount of batter, but if your computer is just on your desk charging why not set it to help cure cancer?

A Note on Folding Settings:

If you want to run Folding@Home on a laptop never put it at full and be careful about putting it to medium. Laptops aren’t designed to run at full power for more than a few seconds so the “full” setting can do some serious damage. If you have a desktop there is less to worry about, but full is still pretty much off limits. Unless you have very high end parts the power flow eventually does serious damage. On lower settings you can still contribute but not worry about your hardware.