Distributed Computing. You might be familiar with the term. It is mentioned around AnandTech every now and again. But what exactly is it? How can you get involved? And just what is it about Distributed Computing that makes it so compelling for so many members of what is known as TeAm AnandTech?

With the huge potential of today's processors, the CPU's execution units sit idle in the eternity between your keyboard strokes when you are not performing something intensive like encoding a movie or playing a game. What if you could harness all that idle time and put your processor to doing something useful?

Something like searching for a cure for a currently incurable disease, or trying to prove some esoteric mathematical law, or looking for life in outer-space? All fine and grand-sounding, but they all seem like daunting tasks when you try to do it all by yourself.

What if you could join other people and form a team who all work toward that worthy common goal, for the good of mankind or advancement of science? It wouldn't nearly be as hard, with a team of thousands, and it would be fun too? Compete against other teams? Great!

That is what Distributed Computing is all about. Breaking up a large task into smaller ones where each client can work at their own pace, contributing towards the common goal. The end result is computational power that dwarfs what even the largest supercomputers can produce.

The great thing about Distributing Projects is that they don't interrupt your daily tasks. The processing all occurs at the lowest priority; the distributed client only runs when nothing else requires the processor.

It has been a while since the AnandTech Distributed Computing FAQs have been updated, but an incredible effort by mechBgon, with the assistance of the TeAm AnandTech in the Distributed Computing Forum, have made a complete overhaul of the entire section, to put you in the know about everything you need for Distributed Computing. Old FAQs have been re-written and updated, obsolete articles retired, and a whole raft of new ones added.

If you have ever been interested in joining one of the many Distributed Computing projects, the FAQs now cover each major project in detail: its goals, its system requirements and how to get started.

Interested in aliens? Well, you can join the search for extra terrestrial intelligence in What is SETI@Home? SETI@Home is run by the University of California Berkeley and involves processing data gathered by the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. This project, SETI@Home - "1", is the largest Distributed Computing Project in the world.

Like mathematics? Seventeen-or-Bust is for you! Did you know that every odd number can also be represented in the form k2n + 1?. This form is known as a Proth number and is the type of number being studied by this mathematical project, whose goal is to prove that 78557 is the smallest existing Sierpinski number, solving the Sierpinski problem. TeAm AnandTech's own sean2002 has proven that you can really make a difference in these sorts of projects, by eliminating one of the candidate numbers from the project.

Find-A-Drug lets your computer run a molecular simulation program to "test-fit" selected candidate molecules together in a search for viable drugs to treat cancer, AIDS, and even potential bioterrorism threats such as anthrax and plague. Besides searching for drugs that give the desired effect, the simulations also help predict unwanted side effects that could occur with specific protein-drug combinations.

Folding@Home is a distributed-computing project sponsored by Stanford University. It allows your computer to join in the simulation of how certain proteins "fold". Like tiny self-assembling "bots", proteins configure themselves for their specific task by "folding", and they do it so fast that the exact means is uncertain for most of them. Given enough simulation time, however, the mystery can be uncovered for proteins of interest.

Perhaps one of the most worthy projects that you can devote your spare processor cycles to is the United Devices Cancer Research Project. This project seeks to find molecules that can thwart a protein that facilitates the spread of cancer, collaborating with the National Foundation for Cancer Research and the University of Oxford. Almost one million participants have participated in UD's projects, not only in the Cancer Research Project but also the Anthrax Research Project, a valuable boost in the search for a counter-anthrax treatment.

Another medically oriented project, Distributed Folding focuses on another stage of drug development: validating a molecular-building simulator that can predict the shapes of proteins whose overall sequence is known, but whose actual shapes, or "folds," are not. Distributed Folding joins other molecular-oriented projects in laying the groundwork for the massive public-good projects of the future. Drugs to fight cancer, bioterrorism agents and AIDS may lie beyond these first steps.

DDOL, aka D2OL, is a public project operated by Sengent Inc. that lets your computer simulate the bombardment of target proteins with a large collection of potential drug molecules. The targets include key structures of Ebola, smallpox and anthrax. With an average of 2 years of aggregate computing time donated per day towards the prediction of worthwhile drug candidates, there are huge possible increases in the accuracy of drug discovery and corresponding decreases in the time taken to discover them.

Leaving the medical science field, the ECC2-109 Project is an exercise in cryptography. Certicom has issued a public challenge: decrypt a test message encrypted with their 109-bit Elliptical-Curve Cryptography, and win US$10,000! eCompute’s ECC2-109 client lets your computer join others worldwide in seeking the correct solution. There is nothing really groundbreaking about this project, which follows in the footsteps of the successful decryption of the ECCp-109 test message. But there is another US$10,000 involved.

There are some great projects worthy of consideration, whether they are for a humanitarian cause or other philanthropic end. Whether you have a venerable 486 or the mightiest Pentium 4 or Athlon XP, your contribution can make all the difference. Unsure of which project to join? Perhaps you want to join all of them! TeAm AnandTech and the Distributed Computing Forum will be only too happy to help you out. TeAm AnandTech are represented in all of the major Distributed Computing Projects, and are either the leaders, or very highly placed within the world team rankings. With other teams from the likes of Microsoft, Intel, and Hewlett Packard, TeAm AnandTech needs YOUR help to maintain its high standings.

So what are you waiting for? Join TeAm AnandTech now!

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