My ‘Dark Rage’ gaming rig is not only for gaming

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It is also doing good, productive work in the name of science. Every evening, after coming back from work, I would naturally switch on my gaming PC. On some nights, I don’t play games at all. On many occasions, my PC is just idling, or working minimally, while I browse the web and listen to my favourite music.

It is on these occasions, that I fired up BOINC. BOINC stands for Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. What it basically does is that it acts as a hub to coordinate volunteer computer resources around the world. Rather tham having my PC idling, doing nothing, I made sure that my gaming PC is hard at work, receiving packets of information that requires computational power and mathematical number crunching either via the CPU or the GPU, and then returning those results back to their central servers.

For my case, I selected 2 projects, one taking advantage of the computer power of the CPU, while the other, the GPU. They are SETI@Home and World Community Grid. There are tons of other projects out there, from simulating weather pattern, to proving or disproving a mathematical theory or conjecture, to searching for larger prime numbers or deepening our understanding of quantum physics through mathematical modelling, there is definitely a project that one might be interested in participating.

SETI@Home is a scientific initiative aimed at listening and picking up radio signals out in space for signs of extra-terrestrial life. The amount of data that this projects received is tremendous and would take years for a single cluster of supercomputers to sieve out the signal from the noise (if there is a signal -indicative of intelligent life out there, in the first place). This is where distributed computing comes in. My computer that is idling, and millions around the world, are willing to contribute their spare computing power to process all these information from SETI@Home. The combined computational power of millions of computers pales in comparison to the largest supercomputer out there right now. Together, we can crunch those data into meaningful information much faster.

World Community Grid is a collection of biological and life science research projects that requires huge amounts of computing power, such as the search for compounds and ligands that would interact with a particular HIV protein, potentially finding a cure or a treatment. Malaria is another project that is underway, as well as Zika and cancer research. Finding a potential compound, ligand or simply understanding how it interacts with a target protein at a molecular level requires a lot of mathematical modelling and simulations that only, through a network of computers, would achieve tangible results faster that any supercomputer out there. And the cost is almost nothing to the researchers, as they need not maintain and manage expensive clusters of computers. They simply seek volunteers, like me who would be willing to contribute spare computing power for the greater good.

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I have been doing this for 3 months, contributing anywhere between 15 minutes to several hours, sometimes leaving the computer overnight for at least once a week. I have made progress through the number of points I received based on the number of work units done. So far based on the stats taken from http://stats.free-dc.org which keeps tracks on users progress on a number of projects, I am currently in top 200 (out of 7300) contributors within my country, Singapore, in contributing to SETI@home. I am in the top 400 in my country in contributing to World Community Grid. I joined Crunching@EVGA, a group with members that collectively contributes their computing power under one banner (presumably these members also have some from of EVGA products, most likely EVGA graphics card). Within the team, I am in the top 50 (out of 350) for contributing to SETI@home, and top 200 for the combined points received for contributing to various projects as a whole. Although comparing with volunteers from around the world, and on an individual levels there are tens of thousands of people ahead of me, I have made a lot of progress so far, especially when I am representing my country, Singapore.

I wish that more Singaporeans like me would participate in BOINC. I know that there is a sizeable community of PC gaming and gaming rig building enthusiasts in Singapore. If only more participate, we together could make an impact for the good of science. For me, I will continue to contribute whatever spare, idling computing power for BOINC and the projects I am passionate about (so long as my GPU and CPU continues to survive and function properly in the years to come. My gaming computer now does more than just gaming.

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