It's obviously important that scientists gather reliable data to produce valid results. So why would such an important field of science want to allow random people to help them, when the exact same results can be achieved with a supercomputer? First of all, let's differentiate between a supercomputer and a collection of computers from all around the world. In essence, there is no difference, other than geographical location. How is that useful? As most distributed computing projects are not-for-profit, we volunteers save them heap of money in hiring a supercomputer. Considering that the combined power of so many volunteers is generally greater than most supercomputers in existence, the overall progress made is even higher. So why is it that we can be trusted to help, then? Simple. We aren't actually doing any of the work. Our computers are.
Is my computer fast enough to help?
Of course! Hardware compatability and minimum performance requirements are very lax. For example, Folding@Home can work with hardware as old as a Pentium III, while Majestic-12 depends on your internet connection, rather than the power of your CPU and GPU. There are plenty of projects, and at least one of them will be right for your computer's hardware.
However, there are instances where your hardware won't work. These are usually caused by unstable hardware, such as from excessive overclocking, in which case, you may simply lower your overclocking settings. Alternatively, the hardware in question could simply be damaged or worn out from old age, and thus, irreversibly unstable for the purposes of distributed computing.
Doesn't this heat up my computer?
Short answer: Yes. After all, you're running your hardware at full load. Of course, your hardware should be able to take the temperatures at full load, as that's what they were designed to do. In any case, it's always a good idea to keep an eye on the temperatures during your first few minutes of usage. If the temperatures approach within 10 degrees (C) of the maximum temperature for your hardware, set the maximum usage setting to less than 100% of processor usage. Remember, this only applies to projects that use this hardware. Projects such as Majestic-12 and DIMES, which use your internet, rather than your CPU or GPU, will not affect your temperatures.
Can I run these on other computers?
You are not limited to running any of these projects on just one computer. Naturally, any computer you own can be used under your name. However, if the computer is not your own, you should first get permission from the owner to install anything. This is especially important in the workplace environment, as people have been severely reprimanded for installing without permission.
Won't this raise my power bill?
Most distributed computing projects require the use of your CPU, and perhaps your GPU. As such, the extra load will require extra power. However, most people won't see more than a few dollars extra on their bill. For those with heavily overclocked, enthusiast-level hardware, folding 24/7 on both the CPU and GPU, the bill will of course be higher, but this will all depend on any limiting settings you use and whether or not other programs you are running, such as games, will use up your computing power first. Try the calculator below, for a general idea of how much extra you might end up paying:
Note that the maximum power will of course be higher than idle power. If you are unsure of your hardware's power consumption, a review website should give you these values, as long as they measure the actual power of the hardware, and not the total system power usage. The latter can easily quadruple your final value and lead to an incorrect figure. If you can't find information about the power consumption of your hardware, don't hesitate to post in our forums or drop by our IRC channel.
Regarding efficiency, most PSUs will have an 80PLUS efficiency rating from Ecova Plug Load Solutions. If you know your PSU make and model, pick your country's voltage and search for your model from the list, to find the efficiency rating. Typical values for efficiency will be between 0.8 to 0.95. Most units are about 0.8, so use that value if you are unsure. The lower the value, the higher the power consumption.
This calculator assumes you are using your computer normally, at 100% processing power. With that assumption made, your actual computer usage (your gaming, browsing, etc.) is not factored in, and so whatever value shown here should be the most that you would pay extra as a result of folding. Heavy gamers, for instance, will have a lower real value, since the computer diverts power from folding, to your game.
As an example, if you were to fold for 12 hours per day with an i5 2500K CPU, at $0.15 per KW-h on a 0.8 efficiency PSU, your monthly bill would have a maximum of $4.20 extra on it.
If you would like to find the cost of running a dedicated computer, add the maximum power consumption of the entire system to the first field and leave the second field at 0.
I set up a project. What now?
Thats it! With the exception of Foldit or Wildlfe@Home, which of course require user interaction, these programs are designed to never bother you once you have set them up. Depending on your settings, you can limit the amount of resources they use, in case they do somehow interfere with your usage, or tweak the advanced settings to get the most out of what you have, but other than that, you are finished! Depending on what project(s) you are working on, you may be able to install other programs for other projects.
How can I maximise my output?
You may be wondering whether or not you could simply install all the programs to work on every project. This is highly discouraged, as it would be counter-productive. Ideally, to maximise the potential of your computer, work on one project that uses the CPU, then another project that uses your GPU, and then another that uses your internet. The most popular combination for this is Folding@Home, Majestic-12, and DIMES. Folding@Home will use your CPU and GPU, while Majestic-12 and DIMES will use your internet. It is important to note that Majestic-12 should only be run on unlimited data plans. Otherwise, you will find your speed capped in no time at all.
If you are looking to improve performance in projects already installed, you may wish to browse our forums for threads on optimising project performance (or make a thread, if your project hasn't been covered). For all CPU and GPU projects, overclocking would be the best way to increase output.
How can I track my progress?
Most distributed computing programs will have a log of some sort. These will generally be easily accessible from within the program itself, or located as a text file in the installation folder. If you wish to track your overall progress and compare it to your fellow volunteers, this will depend on what distributed computing project you are using. The following links direct to their respective statistics:
Sounds like a silly question, doesn't it? Most people associate proteins with muscles, but proteins are in fact some of the most important, verstile aspects to life in literally everything that gets done within a living organism. A protein is a combination of amino acids, which are molecules created with the aid of a DNA product known as mRNA. Each cell in our bodies make their own proteins in organelles within themselves, called ribosomes. Without proteins, even the most basic forms of life would not exist.
Proteins have many uses within our bodies, from giving structure and strength to bones, skin and blood vessels, to allowing our immune system to recognise and kill invading organisms. They allow cells to move, and permit the selective passage of material such as nutrients and waste through their membranes and cell walls.
What is 'folding'? Why does it happen?
When a protein is created in a ribosome, it emerges as an unbuilt string. Before a protein can be put to use, it must first build itself from its initial string-like state. This process is referred to as 'folding'. Different proteins will take on different shapes, structures and composition, depending on what their purpose will be. As such, the purpose of Folding@Home is to simulate these different proteins, from their unfolded states, to their final products, and take into account all the possible variables that may cause the final product of the protein to be incorrect.
Why is understanding folding important?
The need to understand protein folding is twofold. Firstly, and quite simply, we do not understand it very well. Secondly, when a protein does not assemble itself correctly, or 'misfold', it can lead to a plethora of health complications, either directly, or indirectly. Some proteins may misfold and clump up in the brain to form the toxic substances believed to be the cause of Alzheimer's Disease, and others may lead to cancerous growths. By understanding how and why these problems arise in the first place, the knowledge gained may lead to better treatments, or preventative medicine.
Why is folding difficult to understand?
The time taken for a protein to fold is on the microsecond scale (a millionth of a second). However, the time taken to simulate the assembly of one protein would take years, because not only is the final structure important, but also the process which gets it there. The most time consuming part of simulating proteins is the actual assembly stage, because there are so many variables involved, that something that takes place over such a short period of time will become mind-bogglingly complex. All these variables must be taken into account and simulated as well, as diseases related to misfolding are believed to be caused by something which must have happened during this stage.
The solution to this simulation time issue is simple: Distributed computing. Split up the work that needs to be done into many smaller pieces, then allow volunteers to use their computers to work on them.