Fermi gets Folding@home client

Owners of Nvidia GeForce GTX 470 and 480 cards can now use their monstrous graphics cards for more than just churning out frame rates. A new BETA client for the distributed computing Folding@home project has just been launched, which takes full advantage of the new GPUs.

In case you're not familiar with Folding@home, it provides a way of chaining together millions of computers around the world to assist medical research. Hoping to eventually help find cures for diseases such as Alzheimer's and Huntington's, Stanford University's project uses a computer's spare clock cycles to simulate protein folding. You can find more detail about the scientific aspects of the project here.

Taking advantage of multi-core x86 CPUs, ATI and Nvidia GPUs and even the PlayStation 3's Cell chip, Folding@home has also become a showcase for parallel computing power in recent times. Nvidia's Fermi GPUs weren't supported by the older GPU2 Folding@home client, but the new GPU3 client not only supports the new GPUs but also promises much quicker performance.

"With the introduction of Fermi and the GeForce GTX 400 GPUs, we recognised we had the opportunity to raise the bar even higher," explains Nvidia's consumer development marketing manager Chris Pedersen on his blog. According to Pedersen, Nvidia worked closely with the guys at Stanford to develop a client specifically tuned to the Fermi architecture.

Although the previous GPU2 client supported both Nvidia and ATI GPUs, it processed units significantly more quickly on Nvidia's chips, and also presented problems with ATI GPUs, such as not being able to see all the stream processors.

It looks as though there might be more hope for owners of ATI GPUs this time around, though. Although Nvidia says this BETA client was tuned for Fermi, the GPU3 client also supports OpenCL, which is supported by both Nvidia and AMD.

Folding@home's founder Vijay Pande says: "While this release is for Nvidia only to start, we are actively pushing ATI support (with the help of AMD/ATI)." Pande says that there's no ETA for an ATI client yet, and in the meantime he advises owners of ATI GPUs to stay away from the new client as "there is no advantage and you are potentially exposing yourself to new bugs."

As well as supporting Nvidia's Fermi architecture, Stanford's new GPU3 client also promises to improve the accuracy of models, as well as the stability of the simulations. Stanford also says the client enables "2x faster execution of the science," and points out that it's flexible enough to have new scientific capabilities added to it.

If you have an Nvidia GeForce GTX 470 or 480 card and want to try out the new client, then you can download it from here.