Help medical research with folding@home

Did you know: the first machine to break the exaflop barrier (one quintillion floating‑point operations per second) wasn’t a huge dedicated IBM supercomputer, but a bunch of interconnected PCs with ordinary CPUs and gaming GPUs.

With that in mind, welcome to the Folding@home project, which is targeting its enormous power at COVID-19 research. It’s effectively the world’s fastest supercomputer, and your PC can be a part of it.


The Folding@home project is now targeting COVID-19 research

Folding@home with Custom PC

Put simply, Folding@home runs hugely complicated simulations of protein molecules for medical research. They would usually take hundreds of years for a typical computer to process. However, by breaking them up into smaller work units, and farming them out to thousands of independent machines on the Internet, it’s possible to run simulations that would be impossible to run experimentally.

Back in 2004, Custom PC magazine started its own Folding@home team. The team is currently sitting at number 12 on the world leaderboard and we’re still going strong. If you have a PC, you can join us (or indeed any Folding@home team) and put your spare clock cycles towards COVID-19 research.

Get folding

Getting your machine folding is simple. First, download the client. Your username can be whatever you like, and you’ll need to put in team number 35947 to fold for the Custom PC & bit-tech team. If you want your PC to work on COVID-19 research, select ‘COVID-19’ in the ‘I support research finding’ pulldown menu.

Set your username and team number

Enter team number 35947 to fold for the Custom PC & bit-tech team

You’ll get the most points per Watt from GPU folding, but your CPU can also perform valuable research that can’t be done on your GPU. ‘There are actually some things we can do on CPUs that we can’t do on GPUs,’ said Professor Greg Bowman, Director of Folding@home, speaking to Custom PC in the latest issue.

‘With the current pandemic in mind, one of the things we’re doing is what are called “free energy calculations”. We’re simulating proteins with small molecules that we think might be useful starting points for developing therapeutics, for example.’

Select COVID-19 from the pulldown menu

If you want your PC to work on COVID-19 research, select ‘COVID-19’ in the ‘I support research finding’ pulldown menu

Bear in mind that enabling folding on your machine will increase power consumption. For reference, we set up folding on a Ryzen 7 2700X rig with a GeForce GTX 1070 Ti. The machine consumes around 70W when idle. That figure increases to 214W when folding on the CPU and around 320W when folding on the GPU as well. If you fold a lot, you’ll see an increase in your electricity bill, so keep an eye on it.

Folding on Arm?

Could we also see Folding@home running on Arm machines, such as Raspberry Pi? ‘Oh I would love to have Folding@home running on Arm,’ says Bowman. ‘I mean they’re used in Raspberry Pis and lots of phones, so I think this would be a great future direction. We’re actually in contact with some folks to explore getting Folding@home running on Arm in the near future.’

In the meantime, you can still recruit your Raspberry Pi for the cause by participating in Rosetta@home, a similar project also working to help the fight against COVID-19. For more information, visit the Rosetta@home website.

You’ll also find a full feature about Folding@home and its COVID-19 research in Issue 202 of Custom PC, available from the Raspberry Pi Press online store.


bensimmo avatar

Now do an article properly on Rosetta@home rather than to garner members for your team ;-)
Since it is something that, as you say, can actually be done on the Pi ;-)

Anyway, look in the Raspberry Pi Forums to find out more. A simple way or a more involved method and join in the talk and adventure of distributed computing on the Pi.

(Yes I do buy the magazine :-))

James C avatar

Have been folding for the CustomPC/Bit-Tech team since 2016, and have recently been able to up production a bit.
Keep on crunching those WUs!!

Archisman Panigrahi avatar

Can it be installed in Android phones with Termux?

Archisman Panigrahi avatar

Can it be installed inside Termux in Android phones?

Ian avatar

I would do this if it didn’t require the install of a graphical client. I have just a RPi 3 and it runs a very mininal OS, I removed systemd for example. There is *no* good reason why taking part in a Rosetta project should require a huge GUI.

Mike Herenbruck avatar

I have tried to do the Rosetta project with BOINC on my PI, however, they aren’t sending out any work units that will work on the PI as of right now, at least that’s the message I get.

Peter Vincent avatar

Mike – that probably means that your RPIs are 1GB units (RPi3 or RPi4 1GB)? I am running 5 x RPi4 (4GB) + 3 x RPi3 (1GB) and they have all been working like the clappers today. The RPi3 do occasionally run out of work which will run in 1GB, and this minute 3 of mine are idle but one of them is still working hard making a small contribution. The 4GB RPi4 have LOTS of work already queued on each one, and three tasks run simultaneously whereas only one at a time on the RPi3s.

gus3 avatar

How difficult would it be to set up solar cells and batteries, so that a single RPi could run a F@H node, drawing nothing from the power grid?

(Of course, the requirements would vary by RPi model and absolute latitude…)

bensimmo avatar

Ian, you don’t need a graphical setup. It’s all a simple command line based core-client. The manager can be graphical (desktop style), boinctui as mouse terminal style, or just boinccmd a pure command line affair.
Or you can do it on another computer, hit the forum and ask away. It’s why there is a forum here, it’s much easier to talk and follow threads, well most of the time.

Jordi avatar

Raspberry Pis can join OpenPandemics at world Community grid (BOINC) since yesterday. A long time BOINC user on PC, I’ve been trying on the PI but the 32 bits OS there were just a couple of maths projects to choose… Now I got my PI 4 crunching WorkingUnits, tested on Libreelec (kernel 4.19, 32 bits, i guess will work on Raspbian, I’ll try tonight on an Pi 3B)

Jordi avatar
OpenPandemics Works on Raspberry Pi 4

Jordi avatar
Jordi avatar

Rosetta doesn’t work on Raspberry Pi 32bits OS

bensimmo avatar

Go to the forum and find out how, I linked directly the the topic above.

you enable the 64bit kernel and still use the 32bit other stuff.

Also as WCG-Openoandemics is also BOINC you can share between them both :-)

Anders avatar

Not too difficult to lash together, but I would say that a minimum 100 watt panel would be needed to cope with the depths of British winter.

Christian Hilton avatar

Can this be set up on a RPi that’s otherwise just sitting there as the OMV-NAS server? Seems like the best use of it’s time if it’s always switched on…

Gam3t3ch avatar

This is working on pi4 just fine 2gb and 4gb models as well as a 3b+ full guide there to setup

PH avatar

There is also other project for Covid: ibercivis

PH avatar

+PowerBank with USB-C and 3A

rcmastah avatar

Vodafone’s DreamLab app also has a distributed computing project for COVID-19 called “Corona-AI.” The app is available on both iOS and Android. Phase 1 of the project is currently ~6.5% complete, and I believe there are two phases. I would highly recommend checking it out. If you do start using it, make sure you select the “Corona-AI” project, since it isn’t selected by default.

Luisj avatar

I got Rosetta@Home running on my Raspberry Pi 4’s very easily. I used the official Ubuntu for Raspberry Pi image for the Operating System and steps can be found here:

Mikael Bonnier avatar

BOINC with Rosetta@home or OpenPandemics – COVID 19 might work in Termux in Android, but there is native BOINC for Android which is probably better on Android. Folding@home might work in Termux if the CPU is Intel or AMD, which is uncommon for Android devices since they usually have ARM.

Mikael Bonnier avatar

The Ibercivis BOINC project doesn’t seem to work with ARM that e.g. current Raspberry Pi has, but works with x86 and x86-64. I use Ibercivis on some old x86 machines now that also have World Community Grid and Rosetta@home.

Comments are closed