The BOINC Project
The BOINC Project (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) is a distributed-computing project created by the Berkeley University in 2002.
It allows volunteers to help scientific research by running scientific computing jobs on their computers in the background. The volunteers only need to download the BOINC client and to create an account for one or several BOINC projects.
Each BOINC project offers more or less resource-intensive computing units, which when completed by users, will reward them with a certain number of points. The BOINC credit system has an entire community around it, with teams, rankings and badges to earn.
The BOINC client is compatible with Windows, Linux, MacOS and Android. Depending on the project, the computing units can be computed on CPU or GPU.
BOINC projects come from diverse fields of research, such as mathematics, astrophysics and biology. Some of the main BOINC projects are:
Seti@Home (Astrophysics): Project created by the Berkeley University to detect potential extraterrestrial signals. This was the first project to make use of the BOINC grid computing framework. It was closed on March 31, 2020.
Einstein@Home (Astrophysics): Project to detect gravitational waves. Einstein@home and its volunteers discovered dozens of new pulsars.
World Community Grid (Medicine, Ecology): Project created by IBM offering several sub-projects in the fields of Medicine and Ecology.
Rosetta@Home (Biology): Project by the Washington University seeking to create new proteins potentially useful in research against diseases. This project has recently received strong interest from the general public and the press during the Covid-19 pandemic by proposing units looking for potential antiviral proteins against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
QuChemPedIa@Home (Molecular Chemistry): Project by the Angers Université to create a new collaborative platform of quantum chemistry results.
Collatz Conjecture (Mathematics): Project created by Jon Sonntag trying to refute the Collatz Conjecture. This project uses AMD or Nvidia GPUs. It is also known as the project giving the most credits in relation to its calculation time.
A list of all available BOINC projects is available here.
On a computer, it is recommended to switch the interface to advance mode (View > Advanced View).
It will then be possible to add a project in the menu Options > Add project. The project tab will display the list of projects added to the BOINC client. Each BOINC project requires a different account (Project web pages > Your account), you will have to go to each project website if you want to change your nickname or join a team.
BOINC also gives you the possibility to control very finely the use of your machine’s resources, in order not to overheat it or to leave computing power for other tasks.
You can totally stop calculations with Activity > Suspend (and resume them with Activity > Run based on preference). You can also control the use of the graphics processor with Activity > Suspend GPU or Use GPU based on preferences).
More advanced options are available in Options > Computing Preferences. The option “Use at most X% of processors” allows you to allocate a certain number of threads to BOINC. Thus, setting this option to 50% on a computer with 12 threads will allow BOINC to run 6 compute units simultaneously.
Teams and statistics
One of the reasons for BOINC’s success is its community aspect. In addition to giving volunteers the opportunity to join a team (joining a team is done from the project websites), BOINC gives access to a large number of statistics.
L’Alliance Francophone (or AF) is one of BOINC’s oldest and largest teams. It is also the largest French-speaking team. It is recommended that team members add the [AF] tag to their nickname to better recognize them. One of the particularities of this team is the great involvement of its members in the creation of various statistical tools. Thus, the StatSeb website offers tools and statistics specific to the Alliance Francophone.
Mini-teams are a way to create sub-teams within the Alliance Francophone. Rankings and contests are available to allow members of the different mini-teams to compare themselves. This feature is not taken into account natively by BOINC and is only available on the statistics website StatSeb. It is also necessary to add to your nickname the team tag followed by the name of the mini-team in the form "[AF>team] nickname" so the site can identify your mini-team. For example, my nickname is [AF>Libristes] dbeley, indicating that I am a member of the AF and the Libristes mini-team.
The RAC (or Recently Acquired Credit) is an index that calculates the weighted average over 30 days of credits obtained by a BOINC user. The total number of points as well as the RAC is highly dependent on how projects choose to credit users. Nothing will prevent a project from giving 10,000 points or 10 points for a calculation unit of one hour for example.
Thus, a user occasionally participating in Collatz Conjecture (the project that credits the most points, about 30,000 per compute unit ending in ~10 minutes on a mid-range GPU) will have many more points than a user focusing on more varied but less crediting projects.
The Equirac is an index proposed to AF members trying to compensate for these differences in points crediting in order to reward users participating in projects with low credit and/or low popularity. According to the description presenting Equirac on the StatSeb website:
“The principle is to reward members who crunch on projects that are not very popular in the AF, and which thus allow the diversification of the AF’s efforts on behalf of the FB (Formulab Boinc).”. The AF’s RAC (weighted average of the last 30 days) is calibrated according to the most popular project from the point of view of the credits distributed Standard will be the project with the highest RAC. Currently the standard is Collatz Conjecture, but the name of the standard project may change over time, since the ACR is constantly fluctuating. /A project with a RAC 10 times lower than that of the standard project will be assigned a coefficient of 10. /This coefficient will be applied to the actual CAR of each cruncher working on this project. Each Cruncher of this project will therefore have the 10 multiplier on his RAC. /This multiplier, multiplied to the real RAC will give a new indicator of measurement: an EquiRAC."
It is thus possible to reach the top of the Equirac ranking relatively easily by working on unpopular projects with a strong gratifier.
BOINC offers a number of statistical tools available on the following websites:
- BoincStats: It also allows to remotely control a fleet of computers connected to BOINC thanks to the BAM account manager (not covered in this article).
- StatSeb : Developed by a member of the Alliance Francophone, this is the website where the Equirac index is located.
- SetiBZH : Another website developed by a member of the Alliance Francophone, it unfortunately requires Flash for some graphic elements.
The Formula Boinc is a competition between teams on the model of a Formula 1 championship. Every year, teams compete in sprints (like a Formula 1 weekend) and marathons (year-round competitions). The accreditation of points follows the model of Formula 1 (1st place: 25 points, 2nd: 18 points, 3rd: 15 points, etc.). The competition has expanded over the years and now counts 3 leagues of different levels.
Some websites like BoincStats offer the possibility to create custom signatures like this :
BOINC for heating your home
If you heat yourself with electricity using electric radiators, using the BOINC project on your computer to heat yourself can be interesting. Obviously, if you have central heating or use more environmentally friendly processes (heat pump, geothermal, etc.) or if your electricity comes from carbon sources (coal, fuel oil, etc.), using BOINC for heating may not be a good idea.
In fact, an electric radiator being a simple resistance, the electricity will only be used to create heat. In the case of a computer, the electricity used to make calculations (scientific calculations for example) will be used to make the same amount of heat. We can consider as negligible the creation of light energy (leds) and mechanical energy (movement of fans to better diffuse the heat).
A little reminder about the power consumption of a computer: this varies according to the load of the computer and is not dependent on the power supply (or PSU). Too often we hear “my computer has a 600W power supply, hence it consumes 600W”. In this case the power supply will be able to provide a maximum of 600W to the computer, but it can consume less (computers that actually consume 600W under load are extremely rare).
The advantage of a radiator is that it is silent, never wears out and costs much less than a computer (with the same heat output). The computer will have for him the utility of its energy consumption, as well as a better diffusion of heat in the air and a more direct heat creation.
Indeed, most electric radiators are placed under windows to optimize the use of space. This may not be an optimal location if the windows are poorly insulated. A computer is much better located, as it is usually placed next to the user.
You should also be careful that the temperatures of your computer are not too high so it won’t cause premature wear of components.
The BOINC project compared to electric heating
- Same energy efficiency (1W of electricity consumed = 1W of heat)
- Much more useful, since the computer does scientific calculations instead of being a simple electrical resistance.
- More direct and directional heat (proximity to the user + fans)
- Potential component wear
- Temperatures need to be monitored
- Fan noise
- Less predictable heat production (no thermostat on a computer)