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Heat your room using your desktop computer - for science!

It may come as a surprise to some that heating your room with a computer is as efficient, energy-wise, as heating it with a regular heater - that is to say, watt-for-watt, the computer delivers equivalent performance in terms of generating heat. Aside from the energy used to produce light on the screen, or sound from the speakers of course. The laws of thermodynamics ensure this, even if many tests had not already been done to prove it. However, getting your computer to make enough heat to heat your room, might be a challenge, typically.

Don't get me wrong. Heat pumps are still the most efficient heating solution for the majority of homes and should be used where possible. But if you have to heat a room with a regular heater, but you also have a desktop computer in the same room, consider the following. Under full load, a modern CPU typically gets up to around 80 degrees celcius, albiet over a relatively small area, and that heat generally gets dissipated to the air via a heatsink and fan.

Folding@home is a program which runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, taking the unused CPU or GPU cycles on your computer and utilising them to perform what are known as 'folding' simulations on protein models. These simulations provide researchers with valuable insights into the origins, and prevention of, numerous diseases including Cancer, Alzheimers, and more recently, Covid-19. They have already achieved some useful academic results.

By default the program only uses your computer when you're not using it and therefore will not slow down your use of it. But it will cause your computer to be far more active when you're not using it, and generate a lot more heat than usual. I don't recommend running it on a laptop for this reason, as they're not really designed for dealing with large quantities of heat. But a desktop computer will dissipate it easily, which in turn helps to heat your room during the winter months as the thermostat moves downward.

And as a bonus you get to aid in disease prevention and the creation of drugs to treat serious illnesses. Google "folding@home" if interested, and look at the results they have achieved on their website. Then download and run the installer, doing an 'Express install' which will run the program upon startup of your computer, and then utilise the computer only when you're not using it.

There are other distibuted computing networks which do similar yet complimentary work, such as rosetta@home, which tackles disease-related protein issues from another angle, and IBM's World Community Grid, but folding@home is the most popular and easiest to use of these projects. You will of course experience a slight increase in your electricity bill from running it, but the bright side of that is you can consider your power bill a charitable donation to science. Don't throw away your heatpump just yet though.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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