I’ve been using the most recent Folding@home beta for a day or two, and I have to say, finally!
Folding@home suffers from a problem that many projects do; the hardcore contingency of evangelists, users, and developers all switch to a beta that is buried away from the main site. Common users then download the latest version on the web site — are disappointed — and quit using the software.
If you’ve been living under a rock, Folding@home has been around for a good eon or two. It’s a distributed computing project, like SETI@home (yeah, it’s still going), that uses the computational resources of millions of PCs to achieve more than any supercomputer could accomplish. Specifically, Folding@home works on proteome folding, a key process in the replication of cells. Computer modeling tries to better re-create how folding takes place, and why problems occur. Those “problems” turn into diseases like cancer. It also will aid in understanding how diseases replicate, to better create drugs that can stop diseases faster.
Version creep is a common problem in software, it needs to be avoided by pushing people over to the beta, when the beta becomes the current stable version of your product. There’s nothing wrong with perpetual betas, ask Gmail.
Anyways, back to F@h. The latest Folding@home client, v7, makes one major change… it merges the three different flavors of F@h out there currently. Right now, there are three versions; standalone, SMP, and GPU. Obviously, these are for people with single-CPU, multi-CPU (or multi-core CPUs), and one for GPUs that handle CUDA/ATI Steam graphics computing.
Of course, these versions leave for a lot of overlap. Typically, the hardcore folder would have two versions of F@h running simultaneously. One version of the SMP core would be running, and then another GPU client for each graphics card in their system. Yes, many people out there spent a lot of time rigging up three (or more) clients of the same app to max out their computer’s computational resources.
Is the normal person going to do that? Nope. And as such, gazillions of clock cycles have been lost.
As of v7, there is only one F@h, and it automatically walls out every CPU core and every GPU core in your system. That’s the way things should be.
As a bonus, and the title of this writeup, you’ll quickly be able to test your system. I’ve already found one PC in my setup that crashes solely when the CPUs and GPUs are walled out… not when just one or the other is at any given time, such as playing video games. These can lead to those Blue/Gray Screens of Death that “just happen” for no reason. In reality, it could be an underlying hardware fault.
Couple of issues though. One, GPU folding only works with Windows, and it doesn’t look like it will be coming back to Mac or Linux any time soon, unfortunately. So if you have a Mac, you’ll have to reboot into Boot Camp to use it fully. Also, memtestG80, the GPU memory diagnostic, is not integrated into the app. If your GPU has a problem, it’s hard to pin down… as that tool is woefully out of date.
I enourage everyone to give the v7 beta a try, it’s far better than what is out there today… and you’ll see which Macs and PCs in your house can handle it.