SETI used to do it, too. That is, have a volunteer program to chip in your CPU’s processing power to help solve some problem (in SETI’s case, look for ET). Now your idle Sony PS3 can be put to a similar use, but a bit more earthly.
The recent launch of a software update for Sony’s Internet-enabled PlayStation 3 (PS3) games console has seen more than 50,000 owners sign up to take part in a medical-research project called Folding@home. The success has now led to discussions to make dozens of other such ‘distributed computing’ projects PS3-friendly.
Such projects are designed to create a virtual supercomputer out of the spare processing power of thousands of personal computers around the world. Using a downloaded screensaver-like program, volunteers are able to help run vast computations whenever their computer is idle.
Apparently the PS3′s processor is even better at this than a computers (like 10 x better!), due to its cell processor.
…(but) the real speed comes from seven additional processing units, says Hofrichter. These are high-speed number crunchers, normally used to help simulate the physics underlying a three-dimensional game — such as the gravity that makes a character fall off a ledge. “This is exactly what Folding@home does — it’s physics simulation,” he says.