PS3 gamers are real world heroes

PS3 gamers are real world heroes

Summary: Quick, are gamers socially impaired, violence prone losers or technically hip, socially conscious good guys? The numbers don't lie: Sony Playstation3 participation is 30x that of Windows machines in Stanford's disease fighting Folding@home project.


Quick, are gamers socially impaired, violence prone losers or technically hip, socially conscious good guys? The numbers don't lie: Sony Playstation3 participation is 30x that of Windows machines in Stanford's disease fighting Folding@home project. And PS3s provide 80% of the TFLOPS this project uses.


Virtual disease vs. real disease In the popular PS3 game Resistance: Fall of Man the alien Chimera expand their number by infecting humans with a coma-inducing virus. In the real world, hundreds of thousands of PS3 gamers are using their machines to fight real brain-destroying Alzheimers and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, as well as cystic fibrosis and other diseases now thought to have protein-folding components.

The science Protein folding is vital to understanding cell biology. DNA specifies long sequences of amino acids that form proteins. These proteins are used as enzymes to drive cell chemistry, antibodies in the immune system and as a major structural component in bones, muscles and skin. Once a protein sequence is assembled, the protein self-assembles itself by folding into its final shape.

Proteins fold quickly, some as fast as one-millionth of a second. Simulating the folding is much slower. The F@H site notes:

In fact, it takes about a day to simulate a nanosecond (1/1,000,000,000 of a second). Unfortunately, proteins fold on the tens of microsecond timescale (10,000 nanoseconds). Thus, it would take 10,000 CPU days to simulate folding -- i.e. it would take 30 CPU years!

A non-trivial problem.

Got a PS3? It is easy to join F@H.

If you have PS3 system version 1.6 or later, you will see a Folding@Home icon in the Network column of the XMB (PS3 menu). Just click on the icon and that's it. If you don't have 1.6 or later, please perform a system upgrade.

The TFLOPS numbers are based on the software, not theoretical hardware numbers. The Stanford team has hand-tuned the codes for each platform.

Windows & Mac users: socially impaired losers? Or uncaring brutes? Why choose, it could be both.

A word about the numbers. The Stanford team updates their statistics continually, so when you look you'll see different numbers. I got these on Sunday:


I was interested in the participation by platform, so I hunted around the web for some numbers, and found the Computer Industry Almanac Inc. estimate of 1 billion in 2007. Then I looked at Net Applications breakdown of operating system marketshare.


The market share numbers for Linux and Mac are dodgy. The Mac numbers are about double what I'd imagined. The Windows numbers aren't perfect either: lots of Windows machines are used for POS terminals and such so they shouldn't be counted either. But the magnitudes are about right.

The Storage Bits take It is traditional for the older generation to complain about the younger, but in this case baby boomers should be thanking gamers for their support of this important research.

Learn more about PS3s as supercomputers in Build an 8 PS3 supercomputer.

Topics: Operating Systems, Mobility, Software, Windows

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  • So someone finally found a use for the PS3.

    Good on them...
    • No worries on 360 either...

      I use it as a doorstop when I carry in groceries from the store. (And am putting it to good use as a heater for my garage this winter as well).
      • I Love My 360!!

        In addition to having some great games, I lease it out to heat a third world country in the Ukraine.

        It's a win-win situation.
  • Wow, That Cell proessor Kicks A$$! Nt

  • Makes me wonder

    Why is there so much processing power left over. I mean I understand leaving a PC on, but why leave a gaming console on. I guess it must be that the current lot of games out for the PS3 don't fully take advantage of the hardware...or people just like wasting power.
  • RE: PS3 gamers are real world heroes

    Leaving your machine on all the time crunching numbers? That's going to increase your carbon footprint somewhat. Surely it would be better to have a super computer which has a specially designed extra effiecient low power architecture designed for this sort of thing?
    • Cost and cost again.

      A single user wont mind leaving their PS3 running over night or during the day while they're at work, because it's costing not muchmore than the 150w light bulb in the garage. For Stanford University to get the same computing power would cost it... oh crickey, I don't know, many many millions of shiney sheets.

      Ultimately it's down to this... I leave mine on while I'm not palying on it, so that when I'm really rather old, I'll still have enough health to be able to play on it, rather than being a vegetable or worse. Hec I already have the PS3 why not donate it's unused computational power?
      • Further more!

        I really should spell check though.
      • It's about carbon footprint

        Sean, I think you're wrong. The issue is about carbon footprint, not about costs.

        Clearly, Stanford University saves money doing this but users giving computing power to such project by leaving their machines (being pcs, macs, PS3s or whatever) ARE NOT HEROES. If games/applications are not using the full computational power of the unit and the equipment is unable to scale down, then it makes sense to donate the surplus instead of wasting it on the idle loop.

        However, leaving a very inefficient PS3 or PC on just to compute this is an enormous waste of energy, and probably one that's going to have a far more serious impact than the research being conducted (no offence to the researchers at Stanford, I'm in the same business myself). The reason is simply that a cluster running it locally can do the calculation with far less overhead.

        So this is also a message to you Robin, before you get carried away! ;-) It's an advantage to donate computing power ONLY for wasteful equipment that's unable to scale down and leaving such equipment on solely for that purpose is a very bad idea.
  • RE: PS3 gamers are real world heroes

    Why don't you tell the other side of the story that if you, as a PS3 owner, agree to use your PS3 for Folding@Home, that the participation notice states that you have no rights as to what Folding@Home places, stores, searches and/or uses your PS3 for which is exactly why I didn't sign up. I bought the PS3 and want to keep it private as to what is downloaded, pulled and/or what it is used for. I don't have a problem with signing up, but it shouldn't auto upload or download anything without my consent.
    • I think you mis-understand

      I may be mistaken as I don't have a PS3 (boo hoo!!) and have not seen the licensing puff, but this type of statement is usually to protect the intellectual property of whoever is running the project, rather than to give them carte blanche access to your machine. You have no rights to the data, because it is not yours.
      But you do get a nice warm fuzzy feeling about helping people.
  • What?!

    Why couldn't this be a story about how people come together to form something bigger than themselves? No, gotta be about how PS3's are stomping PC's. Look, I'm with Team Isara. We're ranked in the top 5 in the world, and we use 1 - just 1 - PS3. The rest of those numbers are done by people with access to large numbers of PC's working together. I'm not against PS3's large numbers, hey it's great; but why is it you seem to only think "PS3 gamers are real world heroes." Why not all of us? That is not cool.
    • Because gamers get a bum rap, that's why.

      F@H is a great project and kudos to everyone who contributes. But the PS3
      participation rate is exceptional and the contributed TFLOPS immense. I think that
      difference is worth noting.

      The next time some moron starts ranting about depraved gamers I hope this article
      gets some play.

      R Harris
      • PC folks are Gamers Too

        If you aren't trying to pit PC users against PS3 gamers why did you include the paragraph:
        [b]"Windows & Mac users: socially impaired losers?
        Or uncaring brutes? Why choose, it could be both."[/b]?
        That's just plain ignorant and inflammitory.
        I won't dispute your numbers, but how about a breakdown of the PCs between business/corporate, and home users. I bet the margin would be considerably smaller. This is another example of slanting the story, instead of covering all angles. Are these U.S. units only or are you talking worldwide?
        It's a little easier for PS3 users. All they have to do is select a button on the menu. PC users have to research the project(if they've even heard of it), download and install the software just to get started. The contributors on PCs have worked a LOT more to be part of the project than any PS3 user.
        Don't dis a group that's trying to do their part!!!!
        Ole Rellik
        • You make some good points


          Ideally, I'm trying to get people to think. One man's thought-provoking is another
          man's inflammatory.

          The fact that it is much simpler for PS3 users to support F@H is certainly an element
          of their success. Perhaps other vendors should think about how to make their
          systems easier to use.

          One more thing: I am not a journalist. I comment on stuff I find interesting.
          Sometimes in the course of commenting I report things. But that doesn't make me
          a reporter.

          R Harris