Volunteer computing explained

Thanks to volunteer computing you can donate to a good cause without lifting a finger.
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  • Updated:18 Mar 2009

03.Sample volunteer projects and costs

 Name  Project
Aims to develop a publicly distrbuted system for rendering 3D animations.
Aims to develop a publicly distrbuted system for rendering 3D animations.
The largest experiment to try and produce a forecast of the climate in the 21st century. 
Evaluate drugs that can treat childhood Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. 
Searches for the model that best describes our universe. 
Aims to identify drugs that may have the right shape and chemical characteristics to block HIV. 
Help physicists develop and exploit particle accelerators such as CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. 
A project to build cognitive models of the human mind. 
Project Sudoku
Searches for the smallest possible start configuration of sudoku. 

The cost of volunteer computing

Donating your computer’s processing idle time may not cost you any effort beyond installing a client on your computer – but it does still take electricity to have your computer running.

To get an idea how much it would cost you to run your computer for a good cause we ran some sample projects while measuring power usage and estimated the cost over a year. We used a PC with an Intel Core Duo 2.13GHZ with 1GB RAM, 320GB hard drive running Windows XP Home with SP2, and testing using both SETI@Home and Folding@Home (separately) to measure the power consumption.

Some volunteer computing clients can also run on the Sony PS3 games console, and Folding@Home in particular is a popular client for the platform. So we tested Folding@Home on a PS3 and found it was slightly cheaper to run. The figures above assume that the PC or games console is running the volunteer computing project 24/7 all year. And while some volunteers do donate their computer power full time, it will be less if you let the client run in the background while you’re using the machine during the day.

  • The PC processing for the SETI@Home project had an annual power consumption of 1486kWh, while Folding@Home consumed a similar figure of 1387kWh per year.
  • Assuming that electricity costs 17c per kWh it would cost $252 to run SETI@Home and $235 to run Folding@Home.
  • The annual active energy consumption on the PS3 was 1177kWh, which equates to a cost of $200 per year at 17c per KWh.
  • An average usage pattern of four hours a day would equate to around $33 to $42 per year.

However, in today’s era of climate change there’s one more consideration — the environmental cost. Using power from traditional coal-fired power stations will add to the greenhouse gases while your computer is on and running. If you’re already using an alternative energy source, there’s less to worry about, but generally the benefits of participating are sure to outweigh the drawbacks.

If you’re willing to donate some computing power and a little bit of money via your power bill, volunteer computing is an easy and very worthwhile way to help a good cause. To find out more head to distributedcomputing.info or volunteerathome.com.

Who knows, you may end up helping to find ET or a cure for cancer!


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