The Purpose of This Forum

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Welcome to the internet home of national BOINC team USA! We're glad you stopped by! We are a team of individuals interested in donating computer time to various scientific projects, aka "crunching", by using the BOINC program. Read on for how you can contribute (crunch) with us!

What is BOINC?
BOINC, aka Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, lets you help cutting-edge science research using your computer (Windows, Mac, Linux) or Android device. BOINC downloads scientific computing jobs to your computer and runs them invisibly in the background. It's easy and safe.

How does it work?
In very simple terms, it breaks large computational tasks into tiny ones and distributes them to many computers, basically turning a lot of small computers into a giant computer.
  1. Your PC gets a set of tasks from the project's scheduling server. The tasks depend on your PC: for example, the server won't give it tasks that requires more RAM than you have. Projects can support several applications, and the server may send you tasks from any of them.
  2. Your PC downloads executable and input files from the project's data server. If the project releases new versions of its applications, the executable files are downloaded automatically to your PC.
  3. Your PC runs the application programs, producing output files.
  4. Your PC uploads the output files to the data server.
  5. Later (up to several days later, depending on your preferences) your PC reports the completed tasks to the scheduling server, and gets new tasks.
This cycle is repeated indefinitely. BOINC does this all automatically; you don't have to do anything.

You can set up your computer to run BOINC constantly, during a set time window (e.g. only at night), or only when its been idle for a period of time (no keyboard or mouse input).

What kind of computer do I need?
Specific requirements depend on the project. BOINC supports both CPU and GPU (Graphics Processing Unit aka a graphics card like Nvida or AMD/ATI) computing. Some projects support both, and some only support CPU. Some that support both are best run on one or the other, and some that support GPUs work best, or even exclusively, on Nvidia or AMD cards. ARM processors, things like Android phones and Raspberry Pi boards, are getting more popular and some projects also support these. There is usually no specific age requirement on equipment, however - as with most things - the newer the better. Tasks have a deadline (the time varies between projects), and if the work isn't returned in time it will be sent to another computer. You'll want to make sure you can return work in time.

Windows is the most popular operating system used, but most projects also support Linux and some support Mac. Many also support Android.

What projects are available?
Here is a partial list of some of the more popular projects but there are others. Projects cover a wide spectrum of research in many different areas: astronomy, genomics / medical, mathematics and more! You can find team project stats here.

What are the risks?
First, let's distinguish between the BOINC program and project applications. BOINC is responsible for scheduling, downloading and uploading work for projects, but it doesn't really do any computing. Problems are with the project apps that are doing the real work. The main risks are potential malware, like viruses, and hardware failure. Generally speaking, the risks are pretty low. I've been participating for several years and have never heard of any malware coming through the BOINC ecosystem. Project apps in some cases behave similarly to a virus and get flagged by security programs, but to this point they have always been false positives. As far as I know no truly malicious software has ever been distributed. Occasionally a buggy project app gets released, and as with any buggy program it might cause a variety of problems, with system lockups being the most severe. Thankfully problems like that are rare.

As for hardware risk, crunching is certainly more demanding and will put more stress on the system than most games or just watching YouTube. This is especially true for GPU apps. That said, unless you are doing serious overclocking I don't think you should be overly worried. There are some utilities available to monitor and control temperatures and fan speeds if this is a concern. You can always choose to run, or not, applications that are more demanding. Once you get started you may find the main risk is to your wallet for buying better equipment!:D

The biggest problem over the years has been people installing BOINC on computers that weren't theirs. It should go without saying, but there will be some impact on your electric use. You should only install BOINC on computers that are yours, or that you have explicit permission to install it on.

Finally, when you attach to a project you will need to provide an email, user name and password. I recommend you set up an email specifically for BOINC, create an alias so you don't have to use your real name, and practice good security by using a password that you haven't used elsewhere. I've never heard of anyone having problems with accounts because of BOINC, but it's a good idea to keep your crunching accounts separate from important business and personal accounts. Use a password manager to help you: LastPass, Dashlane and KeePass are all good products.

What is credit?

Credit is a way to track how much work is done, and also partly responsible for how BOINC schedules work between projects. There are a number of ways to calculate it, and because not all projects calculate it the same way, it is not directly comparable between projects. Its primary value is in competitions, where teams compete for ranking.

Why join a team?
The main reason is to add some zest to what otherwise would be a very boring hobby. There are a number of sites that track statistics, the most popular being Free-DC and BOINCStats, and it's exciting to see how your team is performing! There are also a variety of competitions throughout the year that we participate in. It's a lot of fun! If competition isn't your thing, no problem! We'd still love to have you on the team! We encourage participation in team events, but don't pressure anyone.

Stats are usually updated daily. Individual stats are usually also available as well as the team stats. Keep in mind, stats are kept and maintained by volunteers at their own expense, and there is the occasional hiccup.

What is Science United?
Science United (SU) is a new way for computer owners to participate in BOINC-based volunteer computing. SU doesn't replace the old way of doing things, where you people attach to specific projects; rather, it provides an alternative where you choose science areas, and SU picks the projects for you.

SU is designed specifically to remove the team aspect of crunching, and you will also not be able to pick specific projects. SU will do that for you.

I'm not that good with computers, can I still participate?
Absolutely! BOINC was designed to be set-and-forget, especially for folks that aren't that tech savvy.

I'm ready to start, what do I do?
Great!
  1. Download the BOINC program, or install from your repo if you're on Linux.
  2. Pick a project.
  3. Set your computing preferences and project preferences, and start crunching!
  4. Don't forget to join the team! You'll need to join on each project you crunch, through your account at the project website. I recommend you sign up for a project, then sign up here using your BOINC alias. This will help your teammates connect with you as well as help us control spam.
Click here for a deeper look at BOINC. :)
 
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