Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Distributed Computing

Last post, I talked about my graphics card purchase. This post, I want to talk about other helpful uses a gadget like this may be able to do. Let's say I play 2 hours of video games a week, but I have a $350 piece of equipment. That sounds like a waste of money, doesn't it? Well, I have a solution to keep my purchase from going to waste. It's called distributed computing. People buy computers with powerful processors and graphics cards and then only use that resource a few hours a day or week. Distributed computing allows for your expensive hardware to do some good for mankind. How it works is a research institution develops an application that can use my fancy graphics card to do very large math problems. The application downloads a math problem to my computer. The graphics card crunches the numbers and then sends back the results to the university. When enough people run the application, you can "build" a distributed super computer.
The point of all this number crunching is to use consumer hardware to better mankind through computer intense research. My Radeon 6970 never sits idle, so my investment is always providing a service to someone. Currently, my graphics card is crunching numbers that "rewind" the formation of our galaxy (the Milky Way). There are many other projects going on right now as well, and you can choose what kind of research your computer partakes in. Another widely participated distributed computing project is Folding@home. The project is run by Stanford University. They use your computer power to "fold" proteins into new forms in an attempt to discover how genetic diseases can be treated. Here are two project applications that are currently using the distributed computing model for research: Boinc and Folding@home. If anyone is looking into purchasing a graphics card, but is having a hard time coming to terms with the cost of manufacture and purchase, when the item is used so little should look into these projects. And, of course, I believe that the Radeon 6970 is a nice piece of hardware for both gaming and number crunching.

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