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12 ways to use your PC's spare processing power

Donate wasted clock cycles to a worthy cause


Did you know you can actually donate the spare processing power on your computer via one of the dozens of ongoing volunteer computing projects? We look at 12 cool projects your PC can help.

LHC@home

LHC@home "enables you to contribute idle time on your computer to help physicists develop and exploit particle accelerators, such as CERN's Large Hadron Collider".

One application, SixTrack, generates results that are "essential for verifying the long-term stability of the high energy particles in the LHC". For CERN, volunteer computing resources are seen as useful for tasks that require lots of computing power but not so much data transfer, (at the time of writing, LHC@home did not have any work for its volunteer computing force).

CERN got LHC@home up and running in 2004 to celebrate the European Organisation for Nuclear Research's 50th anniversary.

Quake-Catcher Network

This one is different from the other projects in that it's not really exploiting processing power, but rather, built-in accelerometers in laptops as a distributed seismograph.

The idea is to provide a better understanding of earthquakes, give early warning to schools, emergency response systems and others. While desktop systems don't have accelerometers, they can be outfitted with USB-based sensors to partake in the network.

The smallest earthquake detected by the network so far measured 3.1 in southern California and the largest has been a 6.4 in Japan. The project, which has about 1,000 sensors in action (though the number varies week to week), is the brainchild of researchers from the University of California, Riverside and Stanford University.

Enigma@home

Enigma@home is a distributed computing project based on the M4 Project designed to break three original Enigma messages intercepted in the North Atlantic in 1942. (The project gets its name from the four rotor Enigma M4 machine presumed to be used by the Germans for enciphering the signals during wartime.)

The project, which started in January of 2006, succeeded in breaking the first two messages (the first one read in part "Forced to submerge during attack") within a couple of months, but is still working on the third.

NQueens@home

Expands on the original eight queens problem in which you try to figure out how to put eight queens on a chess board in such a way that none of them can attack any of the others. NQueens@home attempts to find solutions if you increased the number of boards and queens to the value N, which most recently is 26. Really, you wouldn't want to try to figure that out without the help of a distributed computing network.

This isn't the only project devoted to figuring out chess problems. Chess960@home focuses on Fischer Random Chess, a twist on classical chess in which pieces start in different positions.

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  1. Donate your spare processing power to a worthy cause
  2. LHC@home
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