The new Cell processor in Sony's PlayStation 3 (PS3) will be used by Folding@Home to achieve performance previously only possible on supercomputers. With this new technology, as well as new advances with GPUs, the Folding@Home biology scientists will likely be able to attain performance on the 100 gigaflop scale per computer. With about 10.000 such machines, the project team will be able to achieve performance on the petaflop scale. With software from Sony, the PlayStation 3 will now be able to contribute to the Folding@Home project, pushing Folding@Home a major step forward.
Since 2000, Folding@Home (FAH) has led to a major jump in the capabilities of molecular simulation. By joining together hundreds of thousands of PCs throughout the world, calculations which were previously considered impossible have now become routine. FAH has targeted the study of protein folding and protein folding diseases, and numerous scientific advances have come from the project.
The project team's goal is to apply this new technology to push Folding@Home into a new level of capabilities, applying the simulations to further study of protein folding and related diseases, including Alzheimer's Disease, Huntington's Disease, and certain forms of cancer. With these computational advances, coupled with new simulation methodologies to harness the new techniques, Folding@Home will be able to address questions previously considered impossible to tackle computationally, and make even greater impacts on the knowledge of folding and folding related diseases.
The PS3 client will also support some advanced visualization features. While the Cell microprocessor does most of the calculation processing of the simulation, the graphic chip of the PlayStation 3 system - the RSX - displays the actual folding process in real-time using new technologies such as high dynamic range (HDR) lighting and ISO surface rendering. It is possible to navigate the 3D space of the molecule using the interactive controller of the PS3, allowing the scientists to look at the protein from different angles in real-time.
The PS3 client and GPU client are together part of the new broader goals to push Folding@Home to the next stage, reaching calculations on the petaflop to 10 petaflop scale. The team has some preliminary details on its Folding@Home Petaflop Initiative (FPI). The scientists will release more details on all of this as the new software rolls out. They are beta testing the ATI GPU client software internally at the moment and will likely announce an open beta in four to five weeks at the end of September, 2006.