Back in January 2008, Intel posed a question to scientists, “What would you do with a million quad core processors?” While no one is offering to deliver and install a million chips to a single destination, the idea of a huge, distributed computing system has appeal. [email protected] project is set to pass a significant milestone, which has led KitGuru to ponder the usefulness of the Stanford University project.
Computers can add whole numbers together in their sleep. Maths only gets ‘real’ when a computer deals with floating point arithmetic, so one of the normal measurements of computing power is “How many FLOating Point operationS can a computer do in a second?”
Before we start with the big numbers, let’s just have a quick look at ‘How fast is fast’?
Well, for a human with a calculator, if the machine gives us an answer around 0.1 seconds after we pres ‘=’, then we perceive that as ‘instantaneous’. So 10 FLOPs is fast for humans.
As with all metric systems, kilo, mega, giga etc all have the same meaning. In 1988, the Cray Y-MP supercomputer managed to sustain more than 1 GigaFLOP for the first time in human history. Naturally, that kind of computing power would set you back around $2 million (including the nice room to house it with proper air conditioning etc).
You CAN still buy a processor with the same GigaFLOPS performance as the Cray, but the 1.73GHz Intel Core T1250 CPU is far too weak for a modern secretarial system and you might struggle to find 533MHz memory for it.
OK. We get it. Things move forward very quickly in terms of computing power. So let’s get back to the headline and the [email protected] project, which harnesses computing time when your system is idling – in order to fold proteins etc and help find mathematical solutions to medical problems.
People use a number of excuses to buy new hardware. IDC says that 2010/11 have been disappointing, but that the end of 2012 through to 2014 should see a big increase in sales. Why? Simply put, the biggest excuses for an upgrade will centre on Windows 8 and Ivy Bridge – along with a new round of Radeon and GeForce cards.
While the jump from one Intel processor generation to the next might only give you a ~20% boost, people often don’t jump one generation. If you bought a Windows 7 machine with a Radeon HD 5770 or GeForce GTX 460, then you will almost certainly ignore the 6000/500 series altogether and go straight for a decent 7000 Radeon or brand new Kepler card. Your usefulness to [email protected] will jump through the roof at that point.
The same goes for any XBox 720 or PlayStation 4 consoles that get released in the next year or so.
[email protected] cracked the 1 PetaFLOP mark back in September 2007 and it’s been growing ever since. We’re not expecting it to become self-aware and begin learning at an exponential rate any time soon, but it would be nice to think that idle computing cycles could save lives in the future.
With the move past 5 PetaFLOPS and on to 6 PetaFLOPS, the combined power of the [email protected] project is nearing the mythical ‘Million Quad Cores’ that Intel was discussing 4 years ago.
You might be asking, at this stage, how much folding does KitGuru do? At the time of writing, KitGuru’s folding team had JUST cracked the world’s top 200 and is growing nicely, then you very much. Bear in mind that there are more than 200,000 teams worldwide, working 24×7 on their stats. Being around the Top 200 is not bad going!
It’s hard to catch the major teams that have been doing this for up to a decade, but we’ll keep pushing to see what’s possible. Right now, these are the kind of teams that are ahead of KitGuru:-
KitGuru says: We will be following this story closely and reporting back when we hear the good news that 6 PetaFLOPS has been reached.
Comment below or in the KitGuru forums.