Stanford University's Folding@home uses ATI stream computing to squeeze three years worth of disease research into just one month

Markham 29 September 2006Stanford University has released software to utilize ATI Technologies' processors for the Stanford's Folding@home distributed computing project, yielding an enormous increase in the speed of disease research. By enabling Folding@home participants to make use of the powerful processing architectures found in ATI Radeon X1900 and Radeon X1950 graphics cards, Stanford expects to gain new capabilities that have never been possible before, allowing researchers to address questions that were previously considered impossible to tackle computationally. With this new processing power now tapped, researchers expect to discover even more about the science of protein folding and folding-related diseases, with potentially dramatic effect for studies into Alzheimer's, cancer, Huntington's and Parkinson's diseases among others.


Prior to the processing speed increase achieved by using ATI processors and improved software for Folding@home, calculating intricate folds for complex proteins would take upwards of three years - a timeframe that is not feasible or realistic for protein studies.

"The quest to understand diseases like cancer and Alzheimer's is the reason why the Folding@home programme exists, and with the phenomenal acceleration provided by ATI processors, we can truly say this is life-changing work", stated Vijay Pande, associate professor of chemistry, and director, Folding@Home distributed computing project, Stanford University.

Stanford University's Folding@home programme studies the ways in which proteins fold, assembling themselves in order to carry out important functions in the body. While protein folding is critical and fundamental to virtually all of biology, today the concept is still considered to be a mystery. When proteins do not fold correctly, consequences include a number of diseases, so to better understand this area, Stanford's Folding@home programme groups hundreds of thousands of home computers together worldwide, studying folding by taking advantage of each computer's processing power to form a distributed supercomputer. Today the programme consists of approximately 200.000 computers, using various computer processors.

With support for ATI processors, Folding@home participants and disease researchers are tapping into the new capabilities offered by these advanced architectures, with a Radeon X1900 card performing scientific calculations at 20x to 40x the speed of traditional computer processors, based on Stanford University's testing that compares work unit processing on an Intel Pentium 4 2.8 GHz processor versus similar processing being conducted on a Radeon X1900 XT. At that rate, using the processing power of one ATI Radeon X1900, three years worth of research can now be done in just one month. Using 40x speed-up as a metric, what used to take 3 years or 1095 days, now takes less than one month or approximately 27 days.

The processing power of just 5000 ATI processors is also enough to rival that of the existing 200.000 computers currently involved in the Folding@home project; and it is estimated that if a mere 10.000 computers were to each use an ATI processor to conduct folding research, that the Folding@home programme would effectively perform faster than the fastest supercomputer in existence today, surpassing the 1 petaFLOP level.

Folding@home is made up of a number of engine cores - software designed to calculate various aspects of molecular dynamics associated with protein folding. Stanford's Gromacs software core, introduced in May 2003, remains the fastest and one of the most optimized molecular dynamics codes in the world. Through the work of Stanford University researchers, the Gromacs software was tuned to take advantage of ATI's Radeon X1900 and Radeon X1950 products, delivering the massive speed-up in processing referenced above. However, as versatile as the Gromacs code is when combined with ATI processors, some protein folding calculations cannot be performed on ATI hardware, and require the use of computer processors, and other engine cores.

To get involved with Stanford's University's Folding@home programme and take advantage of the accelerated research capabilities of ATI processors, a Radeon X1900 GT, Radeon X1900 XT, Radeon X1900 XTX, Radeon X1900 CrossFire Edition, Radeon X1950 XTX, or Radeon X1950 CrossFire Edition is necessary along with the new Folding@home graphics processing unit (GPU) client and the ATI Catalyst 6.10 driver from ATI. Both the Folding@home GPU client and ATI Catalyst 6.10 driver are expected to be available starting October 2nd. For more information, you can visit the Stanford Folding@home site. To join the ATI Folding@home team, please use team number 51394.

ATI Technologies Inc. is an expert in the design and manufacture of innovative 3D graphics, PC platform technologies and digital media silicon solutions. An industry pioneer since 1985, ATI is the world's foremost graphics processor unit (GPU) provider and is dedicated to deliver leading-edge performance solutions for the full range of PC and Mac desktop and notebook platforms, workstation, set-top and digital television, game console and handheld device markets. With fiscal 2005 revenues of US $2,22 billion, ATI has more than 4000 employees in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

More news about Folding@home can be found in the VMW September 2006 article Folding@Home to launch the Cure@PS3 project on Sony's PlayStation 3 system.

Leslie Versweyveld

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