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October 22, 2012

Sony Removes Folding@home Service from PS3

Tiffany Trader

After five years, 15 million users and more than 100 million hours of donated compute time, Sony is ending its participation with Stanford University’s Folding@home project. In an official blog entry, Leon Sanders, PlayStation 3 Brand Manager, explained that the app will be retired by Nov. 1, 2012, as part of a firmware update.

Folding@home imageWhen PlayStation 3 consoles first debuted in late 2006, they were about 20 times faster than the typical PCs of the day. The acceleration was owed to a powerful new microprocessor, the Cell Broadband Engine Architecture, or Cell BE for short. (A variant of which would go on to power the world’s first petaflop supercomputer.)

PlayStation 3 joined Stanford’s Folding@home project in March 2007. The distributed computing project, which launched in 2000, assigns protein folding simulations to idle volunteer computers (mainly PCs and PS3s that have installed the Folding@home software). Protein misfolding is implicated in a range of serious disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and many forms of cancer.

Sony’s enlistment in the program created an army of Cell BE processors, all number crunching for a greater good. The impact was dramatic. Six months after teaming with Sony, the Folding@home program was recognized by Guinness World Records as the most powerful distributed computing network in the world. The record was officially set on Sept. 16, 2007, as Folding@home surpassed one petaflop. Then on Sept. 23, PS3 user contribution alone hit the petaflop mark.

According to today’s announcement, Stanford was involved in the decision to part ways. Vijay Pande, Folding@home research lead at Stanford University, shared this statement:

The PS3 system was a game changer for Folding@home, as it opened the door for new methods and new processors, eventually also leading to the use of GPUs.

We have had numerous successes in recent years. Specifically, in a paper just published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, we report on tests of predictions from earlier Folding@home simulations, and how these predictions have led to a new strategy to fight Alzheimer’s disease.

The next steps, now underway at Stanford, are to take this lead compound and help push it towards a viable drug. It’s too early to report on our preliminary results there, but I’m very excited that the directions set out in this paper do appear to be bearing fruit in terms of a viable drug (not just a drug candidate).

The dissolution of the partnership came with little explanation. Is this part of the PlayStation 4 release process? Will said PS4 reestablish support for the protein folding project? As of now, both the release date and the hardware specs for the next-in-line console are still under wraps.

While PlayStations 3s will no longer be contributing to the Folding@home grid, users looking to add their personal computers to the cause can do so here. Microsoft Windows, OS X and Linux are all supported.