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Folding@home to help find cures for cancer, the PS3 way

The Cell Broadband Engine in its natural habitat -- a PS3
Sony hopes to cure diseases with PlayStation 3

While Nintendo DS and Wii gamers can take the role of a surgeon to save fictional lives in the Trauma Center-series, owners of a PlayStation 3 will soon be able to use their new game system to help find real-life cures to diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, cystic fibrosis and many cancers.

The PlayStation 3 will soon have the capability to connect to Stanford University's Folding@home program, a distributed computing project aimed at understanding protein folding, misfolding and related diseases.

After the hype surrounding the power of the Cell Broadband Engine, Folding@home could be the first application to harness some of the console’s yet untapped capabilities. According to Sony, the Cell processor inside each PS3 is roughly 10 times faster than a standard mainstream PC chip at protein folding calculations. Researchers are able to perform the simulations much faster, speeding up the research process.

“Millions of users have experienced the power of PS3 entertainment. Now they can utilize that exceptional computing power to help fight diseases,” said Masayuki Chatani, corporate executive and CTO, Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. “In order to study protein folding, researchers need more than just one super computer, but the massive processing power of thousands of networked computers. Previously, PCs have been the only option for scientists, but now, they have a new, more powerful tool -- PS3.”

The process of folding proteins is incredibly complex, with simulations taking up to 30 years for a single computer to complete. Folding@home enables this task to be shared among thousands of computers connected via the network, utilizing distributed computing technology. Once the data is processed, the information is sent back via the Internet to the central computer.

“We are thrilled to have SCE be part of the Folding@home project,” said Vijay Pande, Associate Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University and Folding@home project lead. “With PS3 now part of our network, we will be able to address questions previously considered impossible to tackle computationally, with the goal of finding cures to some of the world's most life-threatening diseases.”

According to details from the Folding@home Web site, PS3 is able “to achieve performance previously only possible on supercomputers,” with each computer likely “able to attain performance on the 100 gigaflop scale.” With about 10,000 such machines, or about 1 percent of all PlayStation 3 consoles in the U.S., performance on the petaflop scale would be added to Folding@home.

The PS3 version of the Folding@home software will also feature an upgraded, flashier interface. The Cell processor will be consumed with simulations, but the NVIDIA RSX GPU will be free to provide a visual representation of the actual folding process in real-time with graphical effects such as HDR and ISO surface rendering. Users will also be granted a small bit of interactivity by using the SIXAXIS controller to navigate the 3D space of the molecule to look at the protein from different angles in real-time. For a video of a prototype of the GUI for the PS3 client, check out Folding@home’s PS3 FAQ.

A Folding@home icon will be added to the Network menu of the XMB (XrossMediaBar) via a software update expected at the end of March. PS3 users can join the program by simply clicking on the Folding@home icon or can optionally set the application to run automatically whenever the PS3 is idle.



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False Claim, but Good Cause
By MrDiSante on 3/15/2007 4:11:03 PM , Rating: 1
Any mid-highent graphics card released 2006 or later is capable of outdoing the PS3 in terms of pure FLOPS, and any mid-highend processor released 2006 or later is capable of outdoing the PS3 in everything else. Considering a Dell for 1000$ meets both of those requirements, I'm left to wonder at the validity of Sony's statement. On the other hand, it's for a good cause, so more power to them if it ends up helping, I just wish they'd be a bit more honest.




RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By gr8ezekiel on 3/15/07, Rating: 0
RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By ttnuagadam on 3/15/2007 4:40:18 PM , Rating: 2
actually no. GPU's seem to excel at processing folding at home, if you look at the current stats you'll see that about 680 gpus are doing more processing than 25,000 linux pc's. i would imagine that the RSX is actually better suited for folding@home than the cell is. not that the cell will be bad for it.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By TechLuster on 3/15/2007 9:17:50 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
i would imagine that the RSX is actually better suited for folding@home than the cell is.

Actually, the Nvidia's G70 architecture (which RSX is based on) is supposedly poorly suited to stream processing (at least in comparison to R580 and G80). Furthermore, programming for Cell, as hard as it may be, is probably much easier than programming general purpose code on any current GPU (according to Ars Technica's coverage of CUDA anyway).


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By otispunkmeyer on 3/16/2007 4:01:27 AM , Rating: 2
not the G70 on which the RSX is based. the G70 series might of been a splendid GPU with good efficiency and a big wedge of raw speed, but its setup doesnt lend itself very well to folding. hence why only a ATi R580 client was released for folding@home. performance on the G70 boards was abysmal, but you cant really blame NV for that, they aimed to make a GPU which they did.

i think your're right though, 8800GTX especially would be a good item to have in the folding inventory. nvidia do have CUDA, which is there little software code for writing stuff in C++ for the G80 to munch on, im suprised i havent heard of G80 folding at home client - 128 scalar units at 1300mhz ftw.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By paydirt on 3/16/2007 7:49:09 AM , Rating: 2
It would be good to have the G80 do folding. Folding@Home is working with nVidia to allow the F@H code to run on a G80 without using CUDA. For the F@H project to translate their code to CUDA would take months without any guarantee of success. So contributors to F@H are hoping that nVidia can help them with a small driver issue.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By MrDiSante on 3/15/2007 4:40:53 PM , Rating: 2
I'm not saying anything about the idea - it's a great one, I just wish they'd tone down the marketing. And what I'm saying is that an average PC can do more than the Cell these days because the CPU can outperform the Cell in everything except FLOPS, and any decent GPU can outperform the Cell in FLOPS. So if Folding@Home were made to use the GPU and CPU, then an average PC should be able to outperform the Cell for Folding@Home. I'm not sure whether it is or not, so I may be wrong, but a PC does have more easily accessible power than the Cell.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By xuimod on 3/15/07, Rating: -1
RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By ttnuagadam on 3/15/2007 4:57:26 PM , Rating: 3
yeah we all bought our ps3s to fight cancer damnit. fuck playing video games.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By lufoxe on 3/16/2007 7:08:38 AM , Rating: 2
god bless sarcasm lol


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By BigLan on 3/15/2007 5:01:34 PM , Rating: 2
"So if Folding@Home were made to use the GPU and CPU, then an average PC should be able to outperform the Cell for Folding@Home."

Actually, F@H has a gpu client already, which runs on ati x1800 and x1900 series and is much faster than most current/recent cpus. There's also a beta dual-core client which runs under linux (or in a virtual machine in windows) and gives very good results. You could build a box for under a grand and run both, and I imagine you'd spank the ps3 pretty badly.

Once they get F@H running on the next ati part (with it's supposed teraflop performance) or the 8800, with the cheap quad cores Intel's planning you'll be able to fold like never before.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By MrDiSante on 3/15/2007 5:38:17 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks for clearing that up. In that case, another piece of BS PR, courtesy of Sony.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By JimFear on 3/19/2007 7:27:02 AM , Rating: 2
Take into consideration that there isn't a bloated OS being processed ont he same bit of kit, F@H will most likely have the full power of the cell (however much that really is) to its desposal whereas PC's regardless of how you look at it will always have some other massive strain, Linux is a different cake altogether as that can come on a damn floppy disk but more people use Windows than nix, this version appears to just simply run on the PS3 not requiring Linux on it or anything. I'd like to see how well Sony's claims are about the power of the PS3 but comparing PPE to x86 is on par with attempting to eat soup with a fork, it just doesn't work! :)


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By FITCamaro on 3/15/2007 4:44:19 PM , Rating: 1
The Cell processor in the PS3 has 1 core and 7 SPEs, 6 usable and runs at 3GHz, not 4.

A high end GPU or even RSX is better for this than the Cell.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By aurareturn on 3/15/2007 4:57:41 PM , Rating: 2
To straighten this out, the Cell has 1 general purpose cores and 8 SPEs(1 crippled) and runs at 3.2Ghz.

I'd suspect that the Cell's folding power is higher than the RSX.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By ttnuagadam on 3/15/2007 5:00:12 PM , Rating: 2
those SPE's cant touch the shaders in a GPU.

remember when sony was claiming 2 tflops for the ps3? 1.8 of that was the rsx.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By bargetee5 on 3/15/07, Rating: 0
RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By ttnuagadam on 3/15/2007 5:13:02 PM , Rating: 2
yeah i didnt really understand the point of using a 128bit memory interface either. Sony comes out preaching about 1080p being the next big thing and then gimps the memory bandwidth which happens to be an integral part of running high resolutions.

seriously when you look at how thrown together the hardware is in that thing it makes you wonder if the people who made it even know what the hell they were doing.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By bargetee5 on 3/15/07, Rating: 0
By otispunkmeyer on 3/16/2007 5:12:18 AM , Rating: 2
cell has 8 SPE's

1 disabled for yield reasons

1 for use by the OS

leaving 6 usable + 1 in-order PPC core.

in short Cell isnt that good imo


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By bargetee5 on 3/15/07, Rating: -1
RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By bargetee5 on 3/15/07, Rating: -1
RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By Bootstrap on 3/15/2007 5:59:38 PM , Rating: 2
Um, had YOU actually read the article, you'd know that this has absolutely NOTHING to do with medical imaging or about spotting "hard to see stuff in realtime". The PS3 is simply donating idle CPU cycles to help researchers who are studying protein folding to better understand diseases, not for diagnosing them in real patients.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By bargetee5 on 3/15/07, Rating: -1
RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By Bootstrap on 3/15/2007 9:10:05 PM , Rating: 2
...you still didn't read the article?
quote:
According to Sony, the Cell processor inside each PS3 is roughly 10 times faster than a standard mainstream PC chip at protein folding calculations. Researchers are able to perform the simulations much faster, speeding up the research process.

It's not a question of the PS3 doing anything that a PC couldn't do -- the claim is that the PS3's cell architecture allows the calculations involved in protein folding to be done much faster than on a conventional CPU.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By bargetee5 on 3/15/07, Rating: -1
RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By Yawgm0th on 3/15/2007 10:47:56 PM , Rating: 2
The poster to whom you were replying said that the "claim" made in the article is that the PS3 is faster than a typical CPU, not that it actually was faster. He was correcting you, since you clearly did not read article and/or did not comprehend the topic at hand. Clearly, this is still the case.

I don't think anyone is questioning who the stupid one is at this point.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By gr8ezekiel on 3/16/2007 2:01:44 AM , Rating: 2
well i stand corrected. did sum further research and yes 1 core at 3.2ghz and 7 spe's. u guys r all thinkin way to hard about this though, the point is that the cell is juz goin to be recieving and sending calculations, and with all the ps3's running this...thats a lot of problem solving! and for the people camparing pc's to consoles, there is totally different hardware goin into these machines, for example on the xbox: had a 7300 - played doom deliciously.
pc: 7600 - played doom poorly. i personnelly prefer pc's over consoles, and of course pc's can run this app as well, i believe they have been running app's like this for sum time, as for the ps3 its the fact of all the cell's working as a whole.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By therealnickdanger on 3/16/2007 8:47:43 AM , Rating: 2
Xbox did not have a 7300. Are you getting your facts from The Daily Show or something? The Xbox used a custom-made NVIDIA NV2A, which was a NV20 (GeForce 3 series) with some basic NV25 (GeForce 4 series) features. That's about four generations behind the GeForce 7300.

Doom3 for Xbox was a heavily modified version of the PC version, extensively optimized for the Xbox. They sacrificed a LOT of visual quality in order to make it work (it still played and looked great for its time). If you can't get Doom3 to run well on a 7600, you must A) have poor components in the rest of your PC, or B) have your settings too high.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By gr8ezekiel on 3/16/2007 2:45:07 PM , Rating: 2
ur right i dont know about hardware in xbox, i was juz trying to say how well a older modified console gpu can keep up with gpu's specifcally for pc's, that is all.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By TechLuster on 3/15/2007 9:14:09 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
has 8 cores and runs at 4ghz

Actually, the cell chips in the PS3 have one general-purpose core and 7 "SPE" stream processors, which handle all the intensive floating point stuff (e.g., Folding@home), and are rummored to run at between 2.8 and 3.2GHz.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By ttnuagadam on 3/15/2007 4:37:33 PM , Rating: 2
ehh the cell definitely has better floating point performance than newer PC cpu's. too bad folding@home is the only thing that can actually seem make use of it.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By alienbibin on 3/15/2007 11:15:54 PM , Rating: 2
This is the beginning of a new era which had been predicted before. The era of distributed computing. When they started the project CELL this type of distributed computing was a major application in their minds. Actually this is why they named it the CELL.Now its time to make those dreams come true..! Thousands and thousands of cells working together is the nature of life. Let these CELLs breath life into us.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By Wizard on 3/16/2007 3:17:21 AM , Rating: 2
how do i up ur rating? good bloody point!!


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By spartan014 on 3/16/2007 3:36:41 AM , Rating: 2
Remember this ?

http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=5389

About IBM's next-gen super computer using 16,000 Cell BEs and as many AMD opterons.. Looks to be a step in the right direction.


RE: False Claim, but Good Cause
By OxBow on 3/16/2007 8:38:54 AM , Rating: 2
If you look at the press release Stanford (not Sony) put out yesterday, they have a chart that lists how many PC's, GPU's & PS3's (the PS3's are trial releases of the software) are presently working on this and their current performance. There were only 827 PS3's in the chart, compared to over 200,000 PC's. The PS3's contribution to total, completed projects/day amounted to over 25% of their present performance.

I'm looking forward to putting my PS3 to work while I'm not at home. Sony is to be applauded for pushing this forward and making it easy to do. While you can do this on a PC, how many of you have actually downloaded and run Folding@home on your PC? If so, good on you, if not, why not?

The one thing I haven't seen addressed is why Microsoft hasn't jumped on the bandwagon here? The 360 has many of the same advantages and I'd be just as happy to have both my consoles working on this while I'm not at home. For that matter, I only play one at a time, so in theory I could be folding constantly.


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