Folding@home Passes Petaflop Mark

The distributed computing project known as Folding@home (FAH) last week passed one of its long-anticipated milestones: more than a petaflop of computational power, reached Sept. 16. The group, run out of Stanford University's Department of Chemistry, placed credit for the surge beyond its 1 Pflops goal on the Playstation 3 and the latest PS3 client app, which is designed to take greater advantage of the floating point power of the PS3's Cell B.E. processor.

A note posted on Folding@home's blog Tuesday ("Post petaflop") read: "We've all been very excited about the great turnout of FAH donors over the last few days, allowing FAH to go over a petaflop. The PS3s have been cranking out some very useful scientific results due to the new scientific software present in v1.2."

FAH is run by the Pande Group in Stanford University's Department of Chemistry. The project is an effort to distribute protein assembly ("folding") simulations in order to study, among other things, diseases that can result from protein misfolding, such as some cancers and Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and Parkinson's diseases.

Prior to last week, no distributed computing project on record had exceeded the 1 Pflops mark.

One Pflops represents 1,000,000,000,000,000 (or 1 quadrillion) floating point operations per second. The current (as of this writing) total Pflops being achieved by the project's active CPUs is 1.116, made possible by about 242,000 CPUs total. The bulk of the flops is being delivered by PS3 systems, which account for 0.853 Pflops out of the 1.116 total using roughly 34,500 PS3 CPUs--about 25 Gflops apiece. By contrast, there are about 172,000 Windows-based systems in the project resulting in a comparatively scant 0.164 Pflops. The 4,116 Intel-based Macs in the project are delivering about 0.013 Pflops total.

The next step beyond 1 Pflops, according to the group, is improving the accuracy of its models as well as bringing FAH's total computational power closer to 2 Pflops.

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About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 25-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at dnagel@1105media.com. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).


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