In a more which may mark a first for the video game industry, Sony announced last week it as has developed client software for the folding@home distributed computing project for its forthcoming PlayStation 3 gaming console. The folding@home project aims to understand the very complex processes of protein assembly, or “folding,” in living systems. Protein folding is critical to the survival of almost all creatures, and errors in protein folding are critical factors in a number of conditions and diseases, including Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, Mad Cow, ALS< Huntington’s Disease, errors in bone growth, and many cancer-related conditions.
Folding@home is a distributed computing project designed to harness the idle power of personal computer and workstations around the world to work on complex protein folding simulations. Participants run client software on their computer, and configure it to run according to their own preferences—users can devote as much (or as little) CPU time as they like to the project. The software downloads data sets from the folding@home project, performs calculations, and reports the results back to folding@home. Other distributed computing projects involve analyzing extraterrestrial radio signals, simulating climate change, breaking cryptographic cyphers, and controlling the spread of malaria, among many others.
Folding@home also announced they plan to release client software capable of leveraging the computing power of ATI graphics processors; between the PS3 client and improved performance from ATI-enhanced clients, the project hopes to reach computational power of one to ten petaflops, which would put the project in the realm of—or even beyond—the computation power of any currently active supercomputer.
No details are available of how Sony might distribute its folding@home client—perhaps that will be left to the folding@home project itself—but it would certainly be intriguing if Sony shipped the folding@home client on PS3 units. I don’t know how happy some people would be if the client were enabled by default, but it would be kinda nifty if the client were pre-installed and Sony informed users about it.