The folding@home project started back in 2000. The idea is that thousands of computers all over the world donate their spare processor time to performing hugely complex mathematical computations that normally take supercomputer strength. People have been using their game consoles for the task as well, and for some reason, (I’ve never understood) PlayStation owners seem to be particularly fond of this.
I thought it was a cool idea (though I’ve never done it myself), but didn’t understand the focus on PlayStations. Now the PS3 has scientists all excited again. Apparently, the calculations required to show the intense gaming graphics in today’s games are quite similar to the ones required by physicists and chemists the world over to model their moving particles (whether atoms or stars). According to the article and the folding@home site, the Cell processor in Sony’s (mildly successful) new console takes the cake in terms of scientific usefulness.
Sony’s latest version of the PS3 software now includes an official folding@home client that allows your game console to perform work in 8 hour chunks called work units. So it’s probably not something you’d flip on during the day, but why not help out at night? Tell mom you need a PlayStation 3 to help make the world a better place.