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Keep an eye on your servers as 'Chimp challenge' hits Folding@home

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Overclocking enthusiasts around the world spent the weekend topping up their coolant tanks and tuning their rigs with unusual fervour, as they prepared to go into battle in the annual Chimp Challenge.

The competition sees overclocking and hardware enthusiast communities assemble special teams, each of which aim to do as much work as possible for Folding@home, the crowdsourced distributed computing medical research project hosted by Stanford's School of Medicine.

While the communities operate Folding@home teams year-round, the Chimp Challenge sees them go all out for supremacy over a ten-day period. Members are encouraged to drop out of their workaday Folding@home teams and instead join monkey-themed teams for the duration of the event. The number of members each community can convert from their normal teams to the challenge is even taken into account in the complex point-scoring system, which looks at the amount of folding each team performs and several other factors before finding a winner.

This year, the flag drops at 7:00PM GMT on Tuesday, 15 May. For the ten subsequent days, eight teams will go all-out to take the coveted “Jaded Monkey” trophy, a somewhat ugly image file that only the winning community is entitled to use. Hardware Canucks currently holds the Jaded Monkey, but will be challenged by teams from Australia, the USA, Russia and multinational outfits like TechPowerup.

A co-captain from Australia's Overclockers (team name Monkey_Bollocks), Leigh Keller (aka leroyxx), said the annual challenge gives hardware enthusiasts an incentive to upgrade their machines, or acquire new ones. Keller himself has just bought a new graphics card (a GeForce GTX-460) for this year's event, and he says that one of his roles as a co-captain is to remind participants to finish upgrades in time for the challenge. “We tell people to give their computer a clean up before the challenge,” he says. “The upgrade before the comp gives you that extra boost."

Leaving it to the last minute is not encouraged: “We don't want them to fiddle with the overclock during the competition,” Keller says.

In fact Keller hopes his team's members don't fiddle their computers at all during the event, as doing so siphons off precious CPU and/or GPU cycles and reduce the amount of computing power each team member can throw at the competition. Keller says competitors therefore resort to their second-best computer, or even a smartphone, to check scores during the ten-day event, in order to ensure their primary PC is at its best.

Some teams, Keller adds, buy in additional computing power or use some machines from work to boost their team's chances. He's not heard of teams making mass buys of cloud computing resources, a practice which ironically delayed this year's event because many teams took advantage of a free HP cloud beta to boost the computing power behind their everyday Folding@home teams. That beta finished a few days ago and the Chimp Challenge was postponed to give teams time to work on their own rigs to make it a more even fight.

Overclockers Australia expects to have around 150 team members in this year's challenge, a team Keller feels will be equalled or bettered by some, but not all, of its rivals. The antipodean crew finished fifth last year and Keller hopes to do better this year, but even if he does not says he is happy to participate in the charitable effort for the challenge and camaraderie.

“A lot of people look forward to this,” he says. ®

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