This Wind Tunnel-Cooled Computer Is Helping Conquer Cancer

Distributed, crowd-sourced computing platforms—doesn't matter if it's Indigogo or SETI@home—are only as useful as the individual systems connected to them. And for IBM's World Community Grid, a single system can do a lot, especially when it's a purpose-built 4.5GHz calculation-crushing super computer.

Mike Schropp, the Total Geek behind the Total Geekdom website, built the Wind Tunnel Computer after grid computing piqued his interest in 2011. As Schropp describes:

The idea that I could build a computer, or use existing computer resources and donate their power so scientists and researchers could process medical and humanitarian research was extremely interesting.

By donating computer processing time, you actively contribute towards a great cause. World Community Grid has numerous projects available; finding cures and treatments for cancer, AIDS, malaria, muscular dystrophy, etc.

In particular, Schropp was struck by IBM's World Community Grid which combines the extra cycles of member machines into a virtual super computer. The organization has also recently begun implementing GPU- rather than CPU-based processes (such as the Help Conquer Cancer project) which is significantly faster when used in massive parallel applications—reducing computational times from hours to minutes.

The rig he built is composed of an Ivy Bridge 3770K CPU running at 4.5GHz, a pair of Radeon HD 7970 graphics cards, 8GB of 2133Mhz of RAM, and a Gigabyte Sniper M3 motherboard. With all these overclocked components running 24/7, heat generation is a major factor—but that's where the wind tunnel comes in.

Schropp utilized a generic $20 box fan, which pushes 1200 cubic feet of air at about 5 mph in conjunction with a subsonic wind tunnel design—it's skinnier in the middle—to increase the wind speed to roughly 9 mph at its thinnest point, where the working electronics reside. This has proven immensely effective, allowing Schropp to overclock his CPU to 4.5GHz at 1.22V, without rising above 63-65C, while each GPU has been clocked to 1225MHz (up from 1000MHz) and now operate between 46-56C.

It's some impressive modding, to be sure, but the real kicker is the work it produces. Since the Wind Tunnel Computer came online it has processed and average of 8,000 WCD "work units" per day—twenty times what normal computers produce—that's the equivalent of 750 days worth of research. Be sure to check out the full step-by-step build over at Total Geekdom. [Extreme Tech - Image: Total Geekdom]