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Aliens: coming to a house near you soon

21 May 1999

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It was five years ago today... The SETI@home project of Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) celebrated its fifth birthday this week. Doubtless its many members would have popped a few champagne corks and sported party hats were they not still hard at it looking for ET:

Aliens: coming to a house near you soon

By Pete Sherriff
Published Friday 21st May 1999 14:59 GMT

Home users can now help in the search for intelligent alien lifeforms by downloading a screensaver here that uses their PC’s spare capacity to analyse signals from outer space for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Since the project's launch earlier this week, over a quarter of a million users are now desperately seeking Klingons in their spare time, so far contributing a staggering 528.25 years of computing resource to the mega project. And some interesting statistics on just what computers are out there -- and how well they perform -- are thrown up by the research. Not surprisingly, x86 architecture tops the list with over 500,000 batches of data despatched for processing so far. The average Intel box takes an average of 35 hours to analyse each chunk of data, although these systems obviously include legendary under-performers such as the 8086, the original Celeron and anything made by Cyrix. Next most popular is the PowerPC which handles the Dalek data in a mere 23 hours, closely followed by SunSPARC which analyses the alien artefacts in just 16 Earth hours.

Alphas (from the dead planet Digitalia) take a mere ten galactic time units (although just how may homes boast an EV5 is open to discussion). More worryingly, some well-known processors appear to have disappeared into a black hole. PA Risc systems have been sent more than 3000 batches of data, none of which have returned. RS/6000s (lots of them in use in semi-detached houses in the Neasden area, no doubt) have been sent 4000 bundles of alien transmissions, but none have come back. MIPS processors have gobbled up over 10,000 sets of data to no discernable effect, while one saddo with a 680x0-based system has also failed to calculate anything.

But perhaps the most concerning result is from an 'unknown' CPU which has received one load of data to which there has been no reply. Perhaps this mystery system could be an early prototype of the legendary Merced processor from the Pentium IV system, just to the left of Andromeda. Drink long and prosper, as the inhabitants of the planet Vulture say.


Well, the SETI project currently has 4999623 users who have delivered 1388080942 results representing 1930934.218 years of CPU time. Naturally, we have our own El Reg team, which you can join here. Happy hunting. ®

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