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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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good for sony
By R3MF on 3/15/2007 5:35:03 PM , Rating: 2
sounds great, more functionality.

gotta love the anti-sony trolls in this place.

RE: good for sony
By Hyperlite on 3/15/2007 5:50:45 PM , Rating: 2
How you classify that as "functionality" is beyond me, but the fact of the matter is, Sony is A) Groping for something to prove the PS3 really has the power they claim it does and B) Making a worse fool of themselves in our eyes, because we already know that there is no way it can outfold an X1950XTX+C2Q.

Does F@H work on crossfire? Will F@H run on R600?

RE: good for sony
By jkresh on 3/15/2007 7:20:01 PM , Rating: 2
as far as I know it does not work on crossfire (but if you set up to x1800 or better cards you can run 1 gpu client on each just as you run 1 single core client on each core of your dual core cpu), also they are working on one for the 8800 (which should be considerably faster then the x1900 one) and also for the x2900 (which should be somewhere around the 8800 (maybe a bit faster))

RE: good for sony
By paydirt on 3/16/2007 8:06:42 AM , Rating: 2
crossfire doesn't "add" performance for Folding@Home.

You can run TWO x1950xtx's in a single machine, but they don't run at an optimal level because both will run at 8x or 4x, instead of 16x PCI Express.

I've done some comparisons of cost and performance and included 3 years of electric bills... Running one x1950xtx is about the same as running two x1950xtx on a performance per dollar spent basis.

Definitely blows away general CPU crunching, BUT GPU crunching is limited to certain scientific problems, while CPU crunching is much more versatile (single precision vs double precision calculations, etc).

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain
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