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Is running Folding@home / Rosetta@home beneficial?

by orenmn 1 min read29th Jul 20199 comments


Two weeks ago, I found out about Folding@home, and have been running it since then.

Today I finally got around to googling it a bit (exam period is over), and here is what I found:

  • A 2011 post by gwern that explains why it might be harmful, and points out that Rosetta@home seems like a better option. (There is also some discussion about gwern's post in LessWrong).
  • A 2012 reddit page with a top-voted answer that says that Folding@home unequivocally helped developing drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease.
  • A 2015 quora page in which two Stanford people highly praise Folding@home.
  • A 2016 quora page in which it is pointed out that Folding@home influenced the development of Markov State Models (MSMs).
  • A 2017 quora page with an offensive criticism of gwern's post, whose main point (IIUC) is that gwern underestimated the potential of understanding protein folding.
  • According to Wikipedia's Folding@home page and the official website of Rosetta@home, the projects run 98.7 petaFLOPS and 270 teraFLOPS respectively, so Folding@home is (roughly speaking) 365 times faster. (FLOPS stands for 'floating point operations per second', i.e., how fast you can do arithmetic of real numbers.)

So what do you think? Is running Folding@home beneficial? Is running Rosetta@home more beneficial? Or maybe running either is harmful?

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I just installed Folding@home on my laptop (partially inspired by this post), and for me, the cost so far has been close to zero. FAH took me about 10 minutes to install, and my time isn't very valuable right now (spring break). It used up to 75% of my CPU capacity and I didn't notice a drop in my laptop's performance, and I don't pay for electricity at my dorm. As for the external cost of running it, I don't know what percentage of my school's electricity comes from fossil fuels, so it's hard for me to estimate my FAH instance's carbon footprint.

However, I'm worried that FAH will cause my laptop's fan to wear out more quickly because the laptop is not designed to crunch numbers 24/7. I think it's best if I have a plan for maintaining whatever hardware I run FAH on, so I'm going to stop running it for now.

[Edit: I'm more concerned about the risk of damaging my laptop now.]