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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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Better to use an X1950 instead
By Alexvrb on 3/15/2007 5:22:10 PM , Rating: 2
You could build a budget rig with an X1950 and cream the PS3. The X1950 can be had for under $150, and even the X1950XT starts life at a little over $200 now. This is such a waste of effort and a misuse of the PS3.

By Teletran1 on 3/16/2007 9:39:47 AM , Rating: 2
So you are going to have what? A GPU just sitting there with no Mobo, Processor, Ram, Case, OS and expect it to run a fah client. Add all that shit up and guess what. It might cost you a few $ less than a PS3. Haters.

RE: Better to use an X1950 instead
By cochy on 3/16/2007 2:09:03 PM , Rating: 2
This is such a waste of effort and a misuse of the PS3

Cause when a PS3 is idling it's better to be used for...Sorry couldn't come up with something better than helping cure terrible diseases...

In other words, you're just another Sony flamer with nothing smart to say.

If there are a million PS3s running this software do you think that's a bad thing? Honestly who cares if it's 250.24325 GFLOPS or 275.3421. That's not at all the issue here.

RE: Better to use an X1950 instead
By Alexvrb on 3/19/2007 8:31:57 PM , Rating: 2
A Sony flamer? If Microsoft released such software, and bragged about how much faster it can fold than PCs, I'd think they were full of crap too. The PS3 is a gaming machine, and relatively few people are going to run FAH on it. I'd rather they spent their effort developing games and a compelling competitor to XBL, which they already should have had.

With regards to the performance, the annoyance there (and the resulting comparison to a comparably-priced budget PC) is that they claim superiority over PC performance once again. Clearly it is not the case. Cell by design is good at such parallel ops, but a GPU is better. I think they estimated in this very article 100 GFLOPS for the PS3 client.

If you pressed me on whether it was a good or bad thing now that they've built a custom tuned client for it, it is a good thing.

By EclipsedAurora on 3/16/2007 2:50:49 PM , Rating: 2
man, u are comparing a CPU vs a GPU in terms of floating point operation.

U are just actually telling others that how powerful Cell BE is, as previously no CPU can even match up with GPU in this area of performance =>

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