Update: New sections and revisions have been added to the post, so please check them out if you have the time!
Once again, a *BIG* thank you to everyone for joining the cause!
With this whole virus outbreak thing driving the whole world crazy and impacting our daily lives, I’m sure that every one of you wants this mess to be over as soon as possible.
Thankfully, the wonderful people at Folding@home have been working on an app that uses idle CPU and GPU resources of personal computers to help find viral weaknesses and develop cures.
This means that we can all use our machines right now to pitch in and help put an end to this pandemic sooner.
However, it can be a bit confusing for beginners, so I wrote this guide to help you get started:
What is Folding@home?
Folding@home is a distributed computing program that has been in development for almost 20 years. Medical researchers use it to harness the computing power of volunteers around the world to perform calculations related to finding viral weaknesses and develop cures.
Things You Need to Know Before Volunteering
Folding is a very processor-heavy task, so below are some things that you need to keep in mind if you want to volunteer:
1. Extra heat — your CPU and GPU are going to be working extra hard for the good of humanity, so it goes without saying that they’re going to get a bit hotter than usual. On my machine, the impact was an additional 20-30 degrees Celsius, but yours may vary.
2. Extra fan noise — because your machine is going to be a bit hotter than usual, your fans will also be working extra hard to keep your system cool.
3. A slightly higher electric bill — depends on how long you decide to use your machine for folding, especially if you decide to leave them on 24/7 if you don’t normally do so.
4. Occasional uploads and downloads — the app communicates with the server twice: once to download Work Units (problems to calculate), and another to upload its results once done.
If you’re okay with the above items, then please read on!
Checking the System Requirements
The app won’t be able to function properly if your machine doesn’t meet its system requirements.
You can check the requirements here.
Installing and Configuring the App
1. Go to https://foldingathome.org/start-folding/ and download and run the installer for your machine.
Install the app with the default/recommended settings.
After installation, start the app.
2. Your default web browser will open https://client.foldingathome.org/.
Feel free to close it as we won’t be needing it.
On Windows, you should see a new icon on your Notification Area. Click it and select Advanced Control.
The main app window should pop up. Feel free to maximize or resize it to your liking.
NOTE: On some machines, you might find that you are unable to interact with the UI unless you first click the Title Bar (the topmost part) of the window that contains the object you’re trying to interact with.
I seem to be the first one to report this issue and unfortunately, there is no solution for it yet.
Click on Configure so we can make some adjustments to the app.
3. Go to the Slots tab to see what resources your machine can let the app use.
You should at least have an entry for cpu. Select it and click Edit.
On the window that pops up, you will notice that there are two sections: CPU and GPU.
Because we’re editing the CPU slot, we are only concerned with the CPU section.
I recommend setting the number of threads to 1 for now so you can get a feel of what the app can do on the least-impactful setting.
This is because the worst thing that folding can do to your machine is overheat it (because your CPU and GPU are going to be working extra hard for the good of humanity), and I don’t want well-meaning people’s machines to fry in case they let their machines run at 100% capacity 24/7 for the next few weeks or months.
On Windows, you can check the impact this has on your machine (provided that the server managed to assign your machine a task, but we’ll get to that later) by opening the Task Manager, going to the Performance tab, and checking the CPU’s performance.
With nothing else open on my machine and folding with just the CPU slot with 1 thread, my CPU works at about 20-30+% capacity, which is exactly what I want (not too intensive, but not too useless either).
Feel free to set a higher number of threads if you think your machine can handle it. You can always set it back to 1 at any time if it overwhelms your machine.
Click OK and then Save to save your changes.
NOTE: If your machine has a GPU that is compatible with the app, it will also be listed in the Slots tab. Thankfully, the default settings are enough for our purposes.
4. Back in the app’s main window, you should see a slider that says Folding Power. Make sure to set it to either Medium or Full.
Our CPU settings on the previous step actually overrides this slider. We are purposely avoiding the Light value so our session stays productive!
NOTE: Currently, there is no way to control how much work the GPU does. So regardless of the Folding Power setting, your GPU will always be maximized (usually at 99-100%) causing more heat and the fans to be louder than usual, which can get annoying for some users.
If you don’t want to use your GPU for folding, please see the “Removing Your GPU Slot” section below.
5. Once again, click Configure and go to the Advanced tab.
Set Cause Preference to Any as this is the setting that will let our computers help with the Coronavirus issue.
Hit Save if you needed to make any changes.
6. Normally, the app won’t have that much impact on your system, especially on lower settings. This makes its default behavior of running on startup more of a convenience.
However, if you want to manually start the app yourself so it doesn’t use your machine’s resources without your permission, you can prevent the app from running on startup on Windows by opening the Task Manager, going to the Startup tab and disabling HideConsole.exe.
7. Back on the main window, one last thing I like to do is to go to: Preferences > User Interface > Theme and select a dark theme like Khali to make the app easier on the eyes.
Hit Save if you made any changes.
Finding the Best Max Number of CPU Threads to Use
Running the app with 1 CPU thread is already doing a lot of good, but if you want to do more, below is a guide on how to get the most out of your CPU for folding!
Most machines nowadays have GPUs (Graphics Processing Units) installed. On Windows, you can check if you have one by going to: Task Manager > Performance and checking if you have a meter for GPUs.
The reason we’re talking about GPUs with regards to the best max number of CPU threads for folding is because each GPU always needs 1 free core that it can use.
To give you a better idea, below is how to calculate that number courtesy of greenfoldingathome.com:
Let’s say that we have a CPU with 8 cores and 2 GPUs, with only one of those GPUs being compatible with folding.
Cores available: 8
Cores needed by Windows: 1
Cores needed by GPUs: 2 (one for each GPU)
Cores we can’t use: 1 + 2 = 3
Cores available for folding: 8 – 3 = 5
You may notice that we also deducted a core for the GPU that isn’t compatible with folding.
That’s because the rest of your system still needs that GPU, so we still need to allocate a core for it even if we won’t be using it for folding.
With our 5 available cores, we must also avoid using prime numbers because they’re reportedly not very effective when it comes to multi-core computing.
The highest number of CPU cores available at the time of this writing is 32 cores, and below is a list of prime numbers from 1 to 32:
2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31
Using the above list, the highest non-prime number we go with our available cores is 4.
Naturally, if your machine doesn’t have a GPU, then you only need to deduct one core for the OS itself.
Adding Antivirus Folder Exclusions
It is recommended to exclude the following folders from your antivirus program to prevent it from interfering with the app and causing errors:
C:\Program Files (x86)\FAHClient
Using the App
After configuring the app, there’s really nothing left for you to do but wait for the server to assign your machine a task and let the app do its thing.
To check if the server has assigned your machine anything, on the main window, check the Work Queue. You may need to resize it by dragging the tab’s right edge to see all columns.
The only column we’re interested in is the PRCG column, which contains a unique work ID. If the value says 0, it means that your machine doesn’t have any work assigned to it yet.
Work is just a little hard to come by these days due to a large number of volunteers, and that’s a good thing.
It means that there are more volunteers than work that needs to be done, but the Folding@home team is constantly at work on adding new items that need to be processed, so just be patient and work should come your way eventually.
Once an item has been added to your Work Queue, the matching Folding Slot will automatically change from Ready to Running.
Only Run When Idle
If you find that folding severely impacts your work routine (e.g. your machine or network becomes too slow), you can configure the app to only run when your machine is idle.
To do so, do the following:
1. On Windows, click on the app’s Notification Icon on the taskbar.
2. Tick On Idle.
Managing Your Folding Slots
You will notice that the app has three buttons near the top:
1. Fold — tells all folding slots to start/continue folding, and once they finish, immediately ask the server for new Work Units.
2. Pause — pauses all folding slots. Useful if you want to get back your machine’s resources without having to close the app.
3. Finish — tells all folding slots to start/continue folding, and once they finish, do nothing.
If you only want to affect a specific slot, you can right-click it and tell it to either Fold, Pause, or Finish.
NOTE: If you’re hunting for points, then you only want to work with items that have an ETA (Estimated Time of Accomplishment) that your machine will stay powered on for.
As an example, if your Work Unit has an ETA of 54 mins and you need to turn off your machine in 30 minutes, you won’t be awarded full points because your machine didn’t send its results to the server around that ETA.
This makes the Finish functionality very useful when hunting for points. If you think that your machine won’t be able to finish a new Work Unit, set your folding slots to Finish so you won’t receive new ones.
Personally, I don’t mind not getting full points as I just want this pandemic to be over as soon as possible, so I always tell all my slots to Fold and never use the Finish button.
Warning: Folding with GPUs While On Wifi
Normally, the Folding@home client shouldn’t consume too much network bandwidth while folding as it only connects to the server when downloading Work Units and uploading its results back once done.
However, if you’re on Wifi and using a GPU slot for folding, you might notice that your internet becomes as slow as molasses whenever the app is running.
This isn’t the app’s fault per se. Rather, your GPU is working so hard, it produces enough electrical interference to mess with your Wifi network adapter.
If your Wifi network adapter is detachable via USB, try plugging it to a USB port that’s farther away from your GPU.
Note that most USB network adapters need to be plugged in directly into the system unit instead of through a USB extension because those tend to supply insufficient power to devices that are more complex than regular USBs.
Also, make sure that your network adapter is compatible with the USB port you’re plugging into as most models nowadays are still only compatible with USB 2.0.
If you can’t move your Wifi network farther away from your GPU, you have three options:
1. Use a LAN cable to connect to the internet.
Sure, it feels a bit clunky in today’s modern age, but it’s for a good cause!
2. Change your Wifi Network Adapter’s frequency:
2.1 On Windows, go to: Device Manager > Network Adapters and look for your Wifi Network Adapter.
2.2. Right-click it and go to: Properties > Advanced.
2.3. Go through each property and for every option that has the 20MHz Only value, choose it.
IMPORTANT: Make sure to take note of the original values in case you need to revert your changes later!
2.4. Save your changes.
This should reduce the interference between your GPU and Wifi Network Adapter.
However! If you find that it’s still slowing down your network speed too much, you can always do option 3, which is:
3. Remove your GPU slot from the app:
3.1. Go to: Configure > Slots.
3.2. Select your gpu slot.
3.3. Click Remove and then Save.
3.4. Restore your original Wifi Network Adapter settings in Device Manager. There’s no point in using our custom settings now that we won’t be using the GPU.
If you forgot your original settings, simply right-click your Wifi Network Adapter and select Uninstall Device. Then, restart your machine.
Once your machine is back on, go back to Device Manager, right-click your Wifi Network Adapter and select Update Driver. After that, it should be good as new!
Pausing the App
If you want to pause the app, simply click on its Notification Icon and select Pause.
Alternatively, on the main app window, click the Pause button.
Unpausing the App
To unpause the app, simply click on its Notification Icon and select Pause again to toggle pausing.
Alternatively, on the main app window, click the Fold button.
Closing the App
You cannot close the app by pressing the X button on the top right corner of the main app window as that just closes the Advanced Control app.
To close the real Folding App, click on its Notification Icon and select Quit.
Starting the App
By default, the app is located at:
C:\Program Files (x86)\FAHClient\HideConsole.exe
Simply run HideConsole.exe and you should be good to go.
(NOTE: I really wish they gave it a less suspicious-sounding name… I really do.)
Creating a Donor Account
While completely optional, it’s a good idea to create a Donor account so the good folks at Folding@home can tie your contributions to you specifically. You also get to join folding teams if you like.
You don’t actually donate anything when you create a Donor account. It’s just a means for you and the Folding@home team to track your contributions (i.e. how much work your machine has done).
Creating a Donor account is completely free and all you need is a valid email address that you have access to.
To create a Donor account, simply go to https://apps.foldingathome.org/getpasskey and provide the following details:
Name: Your desired username. Does not have to be unique!
Email: Your email address.
The reason your Name doesn’t have to be unique is because it will actually be your Passkey that uniquely identifies you.
Note that it might take a while for you to receive the email with your Passkey. If you don’t receive it, you can try again after 4 hours. The server seems to be a bit loaded right now due to a large number of volunteers, which, once again, is always a good thing.
After you receive the email with your Passkey, just go to Configure and go to the Identity tab.
Then, enter your Name and Passkey. You can also enter an optional Team Number here if you want to join a team.
NOTE: As a favor to a friend, I’m advertising their team number here (Team MinkMink’s [Pinkish] is 257073). Join us, won’t you? 😉
Lastly, hit Save.
Checking Your CPU and GPU Performance
As good as it feels to, well, do good, it would be irresponsible to just let our machines work without monitoring how well they’re actually handling things.
To see how hard your CPU is working on Windows, open the Task Manager and go to the Performance tab to see your CPU’s performance meter.
To use it, do the following:
1. Open the app and tell it to skip installation since it’s not needed.
2. Select your GPU that’s doing the folding from the drop-down at the bottom left corner of the app.
3. Go to the Sensors tab. You should find everything you need to know about your GPU’s performance there.
Going back though, if you find that your CPU is working a bit too hard for your tastes, feel free to reduce your settings — and if that doesn’t help, just delete your folding slots from the app!
NOTE: Again, there is no way to control how much work the GPU does, so if you find it too hot or noisy, just delete its folding slot from the app!
Monitoring Your CPU Temperature
I mentioned earlier that the worst thing that folding can do to your machine is overheat it.
Regardless of your manufacturer’s specifications, the internet pretty much agrees that 80 degrees Celsius is a good temperature threshold. Personally, I use 70 degrees Celsius so I have a small buffer to handle overheating issues in case they happen.
With our configurations from earlier, and with good ventilation, your machine should stay well below 70 degrees Celsius (mine stays at 50+ degrees while folding).
On Windows, a good program that lets you monitor your CPU’s temperature is Core Temp.
Below are instructions on how to install it, as it has one annoying feature bundled with it that we don’t want to install:
1. When the installer offers you Additional icon recommendations, make sure to uncheck Build your kingdom with Goodgame Empire. Start the game from the icon on your desktop.
I also uncheck Install additional language packs as I only plan to use the app in English.
Feel free to uncheck Create a desktop shortcut if you plan to pin the app on your start menu as well.
On my installation, none of the checkboxes are checked.
You can now proceed with the installation.
2. After installation, select Launch Core Temp and click Finish.
It might be a bit overwhelming to see a bunch of numbers pop up on your Notification Area. These simply represent the temperature of each of your CPU cores.
Do not worry as we will be cleaning up these icons shortly. 😉
Configuring Core Temp
1. Go to: Options > Overheat Protection.
Tick Enable overheat protection.
Under Settings, choose Activate at the specified temperature and set the value to either 70 or 80 (or your preferred max temperature).
Under Notification, tick Balloon popup and Flash Core Temp at the taskbar as we don’t want to miss any overheating alerts.
Click OK to save your changes.
2. Next, go to: Options > Settings.
Under General, tick Start Core Temp with Windows if you want it to run on startup. I personally find it comforting to know how hot my CPU is at all times, so I like checking this option.
You can also change the Temperature polling interval (1000 milliseconds is equal to 1 second). I personally find that polling the temperature every second is a bit too frequent, so I set it to 3000 for a 3-second interval.
Under Display, tick Start Core Temp minimized and Close Core Temp to the notification area. That last option means that you will need to exit the app via: File > Exit. This makes it harder to close the app by accident.
Under Notification Area, on the Notification area icons section, select Highest temperature as this is the only value we want to see. This should hide the temperatures of all your CPU cores.
Next, under Colors, make sure the first value is set to Temperature. Then, click on Text and choose a color that’s easy to read on your Notification Area. On my machine, I chose Bright Green.
3. Press OK to save your changes.
..And you’re done! 😄 You should now be set to help the world find a cure for the Coronavirus AND keep your machine safe from overheating!
Happy folding, everyone! 😉
Floating Sunfish, out!