What if your PC could earn money while you’re not using it?
And what if, in doing so, your computing resources could make a contribution to science, by helping us understand diseases, research mathematical theorems, study climate change, or other scientific problems?
Gridcoin Research is exactly that. Sounds too good to be true? Bear with me here, it is real.
The idea of volunteering your home computer’s resources to be used by researchers isn’t new. The Folding@Home project, launched in 2000, describes itself as:
Help Stanford University scientists studying Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and many cancers by simply running a piece of software on your computer.
Folding@Home is very popular in the PC enthusiast / overclocking communities where it is often run “competitively”, people will compare their “PPD” (points per day) with others, join teams, take pride in their score, and participate in “foldathons”.
Another distributed computing project is The Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing (short BOINC), which has been around since 2002 with great success:
BOINC …. is an open-source middleware system that supports volunteer and grid computing. Originally developed to support the SETI@home project, it became generalized as a platform for other distributed applications in areas as diverse as mathematics, medicine, molecular biology, climatology, environmental science, and astrophysics. BOINC aims to enable researchers to tap into the enormous processing power of multiple personal computers around the world.
Both of these networks have in common that, other than “scores” and statistics, the user is not rewarded for their work.
Enter Crypto-currencies, the idea of generating money by solving cryptographic chains. Bitcoin, the most popular crypto currency, has been around since 2008, although mining Bitcoin on a home computer isn’t really profitable nowadays (by now there are specialised “ASIC” machines that are far more efficient for that task).
However there are dozens of other crypto currencies that you can still mine profitably on a home computer. Gridcoin is one of them, and it combines the idea of a crypto-currency with the idea of distributed computing. Very simply put, Gridcoin Research uses the BOINC network to provide your PC’s computing power to researchers, and awards you Gridcoins for the completion of research tasks. The cool thing is that you can decide yourself which BOINC project(s) to run, so whether you want to earn your Gridcoins by folding proteins, researching asteroids, finding new prime numbers, or something entirely different, that is up to you!
Earlier, I said that you can turn a profit by running Gridcoin Research, and that is true, but it depends on several factors: the electricity cost in your country, the BOINC project(s) you are running, your hardware, whether you are running tasks on GPU, CPU or both. Knowing that, all it takes to optimize your “GRC / watts” is some experimentation. The way that GRC’s are distributed is a little confusing, from what I’ve understood, the more Gridcoin users run a particular project, the more competition there is for the fixed amount of GRC awarded through that project, so it can make sense to pick the “unpopular” projects. Different projects can also utilize your hardware in different ways; some projects have OpenCL-based programs that can run on your graphics card, while some projects can only run on the CPU. I have seen many users claim that they are overall making a profit with CPU projects, while GPU projects are commonly regarded as not profitable. YMMV!
Setting it up
Granted, the setup was a little tedious, and there is a bit of a learning curve with all the terms involved. There is a list of steps you need to do that involves creating BOINC and Gridcoin accounts, downloading and configuring the respective clients, downloading the blockchain, requesting your starting balance… but most of all: wait, wait, and wait. In between many of these steps you simply have to wait. Wait for the blockchain to synchronize, wait for your starting balance to show up, wait until your coins mature… sometimes for a day or more. If it seems like it isn’t working, leave it running and come back the next day. Sadly, the software isn’t the most user-friendly when it comes to troubleshooting, but there are people on /r/gridcoin that will be happy to help you out.
Bear in mind that BOINC tasks can put a lot of stress on your hardware, so make sure you have adequate cooling.
I’ve been running BOINC and Gridcoin Research for a few days now, and it seems to be working, but will have to wait a few more days for the wallet balance to show up.
Overall I do think it is a win-win project. If you’ve read this far, I hope you’ll give Gridcoin Research a try. /r/gridcoin should have all you need to get started. Happy number crunching!