We have been working since early 2003 to give the FAH software advanced features to drive the performance of the Folding@home project. We have been trying several different approaches. We are doing this work through collaboration with other groups because there are limits to what the FAH team can do; through collaborations, we can also take advantage of expertise not natively found within our group. Currently, all of our attention has been directed towards our main core, GROMACS. We are working with the GROMACS development team to take the very latest computational methods out of the lab and add them into FAH.
In 2006 the FAH team (with key collaborators in industry and at Stanford University) began a new initiative to take Folding@home the next to the petaFLOP scale. This is 1,000,000,000,000,000 floating-point operations per second, a level of performance that was unmatched by even the fastest supercomputers. To reach this, we needed new technology and new computational methods. We recognized that common inexpensive consumer electronics often contained powerful streaming processors, which had advanced to the point where they could be used for scientific purposes. Although each platform has its limits, we knew that they could work together to give FAH considerably more computational power than ever before.
We pursued the Cell processor found in Sony’s PlayStation 3, and the ATI and Nvidia graphics cards used in personal computers for rendering video games. Our goal was to apply these new technologies to push Folding@home into a new level of capabilities. After much work, we released our first GPU client on October 2006, the SMP client in November, and our PS3 client the following March. Thanks to these platforms, six months later on September 16, 2007, Folding@home became the first distributed computing project to cross the petaFLOP barrier, and we were recognized by Guinness World Records. The PS3s and GPUs were so fast that we started looking at the some results several times a day instead of a couple times a month!