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
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.