Please note the PS3 client described in this FAQ has been retired as of November 6, 2012. Please see these links for more details.

Sony: Termination of Life with PlayStation

FAH Blog: Life with PlayStation Ending


Table of Contents


Since 2000, Folding@home (FAH) has led to major jumps in the capabilities of molecular simulation. By joining together hundreds of thousands of PCs throughout the world, calculations which were previously considered impossible have now become routine. FAH has targeted the study of protein folding and protein folding diseases, and numerous scientific advances have come from the project.

Starting in 2006, we began looking forward to another major advance in capabilities. This advance utilizes the new Cell processor in Sony’s PLAYSTATION 3 (PS3) to achieve performance previously only possible on supercomputers. With this new technology (as well as new advances with GPUs), we will likely be able to attain performance on the 20 GigaFLOP scale per computer. With about 50,000 such machines, we would be able to achieve performance on the PetaFLOP scale. With software from Sony, the PlayStation 3 will contribute to the Folding@home project, pushing FAH another major step forward.

With these computational advances, coupled with new simulation methodologies to harness these advances, we will be able to address questions previously considered impossible to tackle computationally, and make even greater impacts on our knowledge of folding and folding related diseases such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Huntington’s Disease, and certain forms of cancer.

Getting Started

How do I get a copy of Folding@home for the PS3?

If you have PS3 system version 1.6 or later, you will see a Folding@home icon in the Network column of the XMB (PS3 menu). Just click on the icon and that’s it. If you don’t have 1.6 or later, please perform a system upgrade. Note that Folding@home for the PS3 is now included in the “Life With Playstation” application.

How long will it take to complete the work unit (WU)?

We have set PS3 WU’s to take approximately 8 hours to complete. The logic behind this was to ensure the PS3 could be run only over night and still yield a useful result. We will likely decrease this time in the future to try to make it easier for PS3 donors to only briefly run their machines, but still make useful contributions.

How long do I have to complete it?

Note that Work Units (WUs) “expire” after a certain amount of time. This means that after a certain amount of time, if the WU has not been returned, we assume it’s not coming back and our server moves on from there. This is necessary due to the fact that future work units depend on previous work units and so we need to eventually give the work to someone else to get it completed. The times to complete a WU for the PS3 is short (8 hours), so the deadline time is also correspondingly short (2 days).

What type of calculations the PS3 client is capable of running?

The PS3 right now runs what are called implicit solvation calculations, including some simple ones (sigmodal dependent dielectric) and some more sophisticated ones (AGBNP, a type of Generalized Born method from Prof. Ron Levy’s group at Rutgers). In this respect, the PS3 client is much like our GPU client. However, the PS3 client is more flexible, in that it can also run explicit solvent calculations as well, although not at the same speed increase relative to PC’s. We are working to increase the speed of explicit solvent on the PS3 and would then run these calculations on the PS3 as well. In a nutshell, the PS3 takes the middle ground between GPU’s (extreme speed, but at limited types of WU’s) and CPU’s (less speed, but more flexibility in types of WU’s).

What is the power consumption of the PS3 running the FAH client?

The original PS3 model will use about 200 Watts while running Folding@home. A later model PS3 (with a 40 GB hard drive) will use about 115 Watts.

Is it safe to run the PS3 24×7?

Yes. We have several PS3′s running in our lab, running Folding@home 24/7 and have had good results so far. Sony developed the client to run on the PS3, and supports it completely.

Stats, Points, etc.

When will my points appear in my account?

It can take 1-2 hours after the WU has been received for the points to be entered into our database. We usually run hourly updates, but during periods of heavy activity, it can become less frequent.

How are the number of active machines calculated?

One central problem in distributed computing is the calculation of how many computers are actively part of the project. Many projects merely cite the “total number of devices”, i.e. the number of computers to ever be a part of the calculation. This can of course grossly overestimate the current power of the distributed computing network.

Instead, we calculate the number of “active” clients, i.e. machines that have returned work recently. Active PS3′s are defined as those which have returned WUs within the last 2 days. This is a much shorter timeout than what we set for normal CPU clients, as the PS3 client’s WU deadline is much shorter (typically 2 days). However, as we communicate with the distributed clients fairly infrequently (no more frequently than every 8 hours), it is hard to precisely know how many machines are running and these numbers are best used as an order of magnitude estimate of the power of our network.

How are the FLOPS calculated?

People often use the number of floating point operations per second (FLOPS) as a metric for the speed of a computer. One question that arises is how to compare machines with radically different architectures. In particular, what requires only a few operations (or even just a single operation) on one machine could require many operations on another. Classic examples are evaluations of functions like the exp(x) or sin(x). On GPU and Cell hardware, functions like this can often be calculated very quickly, say in one cycle, while this is often counted as 10-20 operations for other machines.

We take a conservative approach to FLOP calculation, rendering quantities such as exp(x) or sqrt(x) as a single FLOP, if the hardware supports it. This can significantly underestimate the FLOP count (as others would count an exp(x) as 10 or 20 FLOPS, for example). Others take a much less conservative approach and we are considering giving two counts, adding a more traditional (less conservative) count as well.

The ideal comparison would be to run Folding@home on the supercomputer itself to test its speed. In this sort of comparison, FAH would likely do very well, and we are investigating the best way to perform this benchmark, as we expect people would be very interested.

How should the FLOPS per client be interpreted?

We stress that one should not divide “current TFLOPS” by “active clients” to estimate the performance of that hardware running without interruption. Note that if donors suspend the FAH client (e.g. to play a game, watch a movie, etc) they enlarge the time between getting the WU and delivering the result. This in turn reduces the FLOPS value, as more time was needed to deliver the result.

It seems that the PS3 is more than 10X as powerful as an average PC. Why doesn’t it get 10X the credit as well?

We balance the points based on both speed and the flexibility of the client. The GPU client is still the fastest, but it is the least flexible and can only run a very, very limited set of WUs. Thus, its points are not linearly proportional to the speed increase. The PS3 takes the middle ground between GPUs (extreme speed, but at limited types of WU’s) and CPU’s (less speed, but more flexibility in types of WUs). We have picked the PS3 as the natural benchmark machine for PS3 calculations and set its points per day to 900 to reflect this middle ground between speed (faster than CPU, but slower than GPU) and flexibility (more flexible than GPU, less than CPU).

The PS3 is outrunning all the rest of the FAH client types. Should I stop my existing PC/GPU/… FAH clients?

NO. The other clients are valuable to us too and we have chosen a points system to try to reflect the relative merits of each different platform to our scientific research. For example, the SMP client has been producing some very exciting scientific results and continues to be very important in our work. By supporting machines with lots of different functionality, we have a very rich set of hardware on which to run varied types of calculations, allowing us to tailor calculations to the hardware to achieve maximum performance.


How does the PS3 client’s visualization compare to other FAH clients?

The PS3 client supports advanced visualization features. While the Cell microprocessor does most of the calculation processing of the simulation, the graphic chip of the PLAYSTATION 3 system (the RSX) displays the actual folding process in real-time using new technologies such as HDR and ISO surface rendering. It is possible to navigate the 3D space of the molecule using the interactive controller of the PS3, allowing us to look at the protein from different angles in real-time.

Click on a thumbnail below to see a larger image:

What are the dots on the world map?

These are the locations of PS3′s running Folding@home at that moment. This data is updated fairly regularly.

What is new in version 1.2?

With Sony’s extensive help, we have released version 1.2 of the Folding@home client for the PS3. Updated features and functionalities that are part of this latest application update (v 1.2) includes:

  • Support for Remote Play for PSP: Now Folding@home can be remotely operated through PSP utilizing the Remote Play feature of the PS3 system. With this feature, PS3 users are able to view on their PSP the exact same Folding@home information that is viewable on their PS3, complete with the map of the world and the protein their particular system is simulating.
  • More Support for Additional Protein Simulations: Additional computation cores are now supported allowing Folding@home for PS3 to support a wider range of protein-folding simulations which further enhances the science needed to be performed to research diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Screensaver Mode: A screensaver mode can now be activated via the Settings menu in the Folding@home application, allowing PS3 users to consume slightly less power and to increase performance of protein-folding simulations.
  • Link to Project Description: A link has been added to the Information menu in the Folding@home application allowing users to quickly obtain additional information about the specific research project they are currently contributing to.
  • Protein Visualization Enhancements: All visualization modes have been enhanced with improved shading, highlighting and focus effects, including:
    • Tapioca displays the protein as a smooth surface with improved shading and depth
    • Caviar displays the protein as a smooth surface with defined edges
    • Licorice displays only the protein’s bonds and Backbone which emphasizes specific sections of the protein that are of the most scientific interest to researchers.
  • Advanced Participation Mode: Advanced Participation Mode (APM) allows Stanford University to send experimental simulations of varying computational lengths to PS3 users, somewhat like using the -advmethods option in the PC client. Because the simulations in this mode may take significantly longer, APM is only recommended for contributors who run Folding@home for at least eight hours per day. However, APM work units may also be much smaller than typical work units, as need by the simulation.

Of particular excitement for us is the ability to have accelerated GB/SA simulations. We can now run calculations which were first run on FAH in October of 2000 at about 200x to 500x speed increase — a pretty amazing feat and something we’re very excited about. We are readying new GB work units to go out and will report on their progress as time goes on.

What’s new in 1.3?

As we approach one million PLAYSTATION 3 consoles participating in the Folding@home program, we continue to improve the FAH client. With the new Firmware v2.1 we also prepared an updated version of FAH, which can soon be automatically downloaded by clicking on the FAH icon. This updated version includes the following new features:

If you happen to be one of the people that wants to leave their machine running after they finished their late-night gaming session, but wish to shut it down after a limited period of time, we have a great tip for you:

  • Go to Settings menu, select Automatic Shutdown and then After Current. You will see a little clock appearing on the top right hand corner of the screen. When this clock reaches zero, the machine will power off completely so you can sleep quietly through the night. In this option the machine will power off after sending the data back to Stanford University so your contribution to the project is maximized.
  • You may also choose to shut down after a limited period of time (for example, 3 or 4 hours). To do that choose the Automatic Shutdown option and click on the “In 01h:00m” timer. You will now be able to change the timer settings. After rotating the timer to a new time, you should now see your selected timer appear at the top right corner of the screen. This timer will count all the way down to 0 and then power off the system.
  • To disable active timer at any time, go to Settings, choose Automatic Shutdown and then Disable.

What’s a better Holiday addition to Folding than playing music? We’ve added a great feature in this version in the form of a background music player:

  • To activate the music player select Music and then a channel. The channels are automatically populated with songs you have stored on your Hard Disk Drive! For holiday music I prefer to choose Dramatic (yeah!) and voila – music is playing.
  • If you wish to skip to another track, just use a combination of X + left or right arrow. You can also change the channel by choosing X + up or down arrow. Happy listening!
  • To stop music from playing, select Music again from the main menu and choose “disable.”
  • Your music playback selection will be saved between consecutive runs of Folding@home.

We hope that these enhancements help improve your FAH experience.

What’s new in 1.3.1?

Version 1.3.1 fixes some critical issues with the networking protocol in 1.3.

For More Information, Please See:

Last Updated on July 01, 2013, at 07:28 PM

Add your computer's power to over 327,000 others that are helping us find cures to Alzheimer's, Huntington's, Parkinson's and many cancers ...

... in just 5 minutes.

Step 1.

Download protein folding simulation software called



Step 2.

Run the installation. The software will automatically start up and open a web browser with your control panel.

Step 3.

Follow the instructions to Start Folding.

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will send your computer a folding problem to solve. When your first job is completed, your computer will swap the results for a new job.

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