Wednesday, 13 May 2009


While you are reading this blog, and in fact while you are doing most things on your computer, its Central Processing Unit (CPU) is doing next to nothing. It's probably using only about 1%-5% of its computational ability. Wouldn't it be great if you could put the CPU's 'idle time' to good use? You won't be surprised to learn that you can - and here's how it works.

Academic research groups around the world frequently need access to very powerful supercomputers to perform very long calculations, or to run short calculations millions of times under slightly different conditions. Supercomputers are relatively few and far between - it's difficult to book time on them, and expensive if you can.

This is where BOINC comes in. From your point of view, it's a program that runs on your computer that allows scientific computation programs to run when your CPU would otherwise be idle. That's about the nub of it: You and about a million others donate your idle CPU time to academic research groups.

There's also a social side to it. You can choose which projects you want to use your idle CPU cycles. There are currently about 50 active projects, ranging from advanced cosmology simulations to computer experiments on protein molecule folding dynamics to give insight into disease such as cancer. All of the active projects have flourishing forums where you can chat to like-minded people (you're all there because you have decided that project is worth supporting). There are also "crunching teams" you can join (e.g. BOINC UK), which themselves have active forums and usually have competitive "crunching drives" on the go - often against other teams in a spirit of, mostly, friendly competition.

Nice idea - how do I get started?

Simply download and install the BOINC software from the link below, then choose your projects.

BOINC - Compute for Science

BOINC always needs new contributors. I've been BOINCing for years - I hope you get into it as well, it's very satisfying being able to provide practical support to projects you believe in.

Some links to further reading ...

BOINC homepage at UC Berkeley
BOINC on Wikipedia

Some of my favourite projects ...