400,000 new people have joined Folding@Home's fight against COVID-19

The quest to thwart the virus has strong help from distributed computing.

The Folding@Home community has turned its attention toward the fight against COVID-19, and it now has massive computational power at its disposal as a result. The distributed computing project is now working with about 470 petaflops of output in its quest to fold proteins, or enough to eclipse the world's top seven supercomputers combined. That's more than twice the 149 petaflops of sustained output from the record-setting Summit supercomputer -- helped in part by the Summit team joining the project over two weeks ago. There's been a roughly 1,200 percent increase in contributors, Folding@Home said, with 400,000 new members in the past two weeks.

The surge in computing power is helped in part by the technology many home users have at their disposal. Users have multi-core CPUs and many-core GPUs that deliver far more power than they would have even a few years ago. Moreover, there's an abundance of cryptocurrency mining machines that are practically tailor-made for data crunching projects like this.

There are positive early signs. Summit, for instance, already found 77 drug compounds that might be helpful for fighting the coronavirus. While we wouldn't absolutely count on Folding@Home accelerating the development of a vaccine or treatment, there's a real chance that your spare computer could help make an important discovery.