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What to watch for in the test results
Ideally, the graphs we're about to see are going to be very boring.

Sorry.

Folding@Home is supposed to run as a low-priority process, which means that Windows will give just about every other program, including our benchmark applications, priority when allocating resources. The differences in benchmark scores between systems running with and without the Folding@Home client should be negligible, and we'll find out if that's really the case.

Because Folding@Home runs as a low-priority process, it's not going very productive if you have other programs eating up your system's resources. In this case, Folding@Home will still run in the background, but it won't crunch through many work units, since the client will be running on whatever table scraps Windows throws its way.

Remember: we're not out to measure how well a machine folds, but how transparent a Folding@Home client can be running in the background. The less of an impact Folding@Home has on benchmark results, the less a user is likely to experience any kind of slowdown in day-to-day computer use.

Our testing methods
As ever, we did our best to deliver clean benchmark numbers. Tests were run three times, and the results were averaged. Our test systems were configured like so:

 High-endLow-end
MotherboardAlbatron KX400+ Pro
ProcessorAMD Athlon XP 2100+AMD Duron 1.2GHz
Front-side bus2x133MHz2x100MHz
ChipsetVIA KT333
North bridgeVIA VT8367
South bridgeVIA VT8235
Memory size512MB (2 DIMMs)256MB (1 DIMM)
Memory type Corsair XMS3000 PC2700 DDR SDRAM
GraphicsNVIDIA GeForce4 Ti 4600ATI Radeon 9000 Pro
Graphics DriverDetonator 40.72CATALYST 2.23
StorageIBM 60GXP 40GB 7200 RPM ATA/100 hard drive
Operating SystemWindows XP Professional SP 1

The high and low-end systems I've set up for testing should give a pretty good cross section of what people are actually running today. I suppose I could have tested something even slower to simulate the kind of decades-old hardware that some workplaces impose on their employees, but honestly, some of the benchmarks probably wouldn't even have run, with or without Folding@Home running in the background.

The high and low-end systems were run with and without the Folding@Home client crunching in the background as a service via FireDaemon. After each round of tests with the Folding@Home client activated, the client's log was checked to ensure that it was indeed crunching on a work unit during the test and not otherwise inactive or waiting for a work unit from the server.

Testing was limited to Windows XP Professional, but the results should hold true for Windows 2000, NT, and XP Home, all of which can prioritize active processes. If you are running Windows 9x, you may not see the same kind of impact on system performance, but that's what you get for running an operating system based on DOS.

We used the following versions of our test applications:

During testing, the display resolution was set at 1024x768 with 32-bit color at a refresh rate of 75Hz. Vertical refresh sync (vsync) was disabled for all tests, and all of the 3D gaming tests used the highest detail image quality settings in 32-bit color.

All the tests and methods we employed are publicly available and reproducible. If you have questions about our methods, hit our forums to talk with us about them.