A closer look at Folding@home on the GPU

Points and power consumption explored

MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of ATI's recently announced stream computing initiative, which aims to exploit graphics hardware for more general purpose computing tasks. On paper, stream computing has incredible potential. ATI claims the 48 pixel shaders in its top-of-the-line Radeon offer roughly 375 gigaflops of processing power with 64 GB/s of memory bandwidth. But gobs of horsepower isn't the only thing that matters—you need to be able to apply that power to the road if you want to go anywhere.

Stanford's Folding@home project is already putting the Radeon's pixel processing horsepower to use with a beta GPU client that performs protein folding calculations on the graphics processor. According to Stanford, the GPU client runs between 20 and 40 times faster on newer Radeons than it does on a CPU, a claim that no doubt sends folding enthusiasts' hearts aflutter.

Such an increase in folding performance is certainly tantalizing. We decided to give the GPU client a spin to see what we could find out about it.

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