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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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Whatever sony claims...
By spartan014 on 3/15/2007 11:40:29 PM , Rating: 2
It is true that sony is pulling another publicity stunt for PS3.

"Stanford announced in August 2006 that a folding client will be available to run on the PlayStation 3 called Cure@PS3. The intent is that gamers be able to contribute to the project by merely "contributing electricity," leaving their PlayStation 3 consoles running the client while not playing games. It is estimated that with the addition of approximately 10,000 machines the Folding@home project would be able to reach petaflop scale."

If not for deperately needed (positive) publicity, why an official annoncement now after 6 months ? But it can't be said that its a wasted effort. At least something good comes out of it.

It is also true that there are more powerful CPU+GPU combos available to do this job. But a few PS3s thrown in will get more work done. No denying that. Those who want to contribute more towards the cause are welcome to add their rigs to this project.

Thats all...

RE: Whatever sony claims...
By jojo311 on 3/16/2007 6:06:40 PM , Rating: 2
Why an official announcement 6 months after the original announcement? Perhaps because it wasn't available to the public six months ago. The PS3 wasn't even available 6 months ago. Do you think Microsoft will have an announcement when Halo3 goes gold? Of course they will, as they should, even if everyone already knows its in development. I'd say the same it true with just about any product: first you acknowledge its being developed, then you acknowledge its being released.

And yes, there are more powerful computers that can contribute. The question is: are they contributing? First off, you have to even know about folding@home, then you still have to install it yourself. For better or worse, on the PS3 its going to be installed either when you do a firmware upgrade or for some future PS3's most likely already installed for you if future PS3's have a higher firmware level. For the casual user who knows nothing about this project, perhaps there's a chance they'll stumble across some menu option in the XMB and try it out. For the folding@home project, its essentially going from nothing to something for a user base that essentially didn't even know they existed or didn't have time to install it on their home PC's.

"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton
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