PCs in coronavirus fight


By Matt Bentley

Somewhat surprisingly, 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.

And while it’s heating your room it can be used by researchers to fight disease – like the coronavirus, Covid-19.

Getting your computer to make enough heat to heat your room might, typically, be a challenge.

After all, 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, either instead-of, or as-well-as, your regular heater.

Folding@home is a program which runs on Windows, Mac and Linux, taking the unused CPU or GPU cycles and using 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 (also known as coronavirus).

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 as the winter months become closer and the thermostat moves downward.

And as an added bonus, you get to aid in disease prevention and the creation of drugs to treat serious illnesses. Click 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 only utilise the computer when you’re idle. You may also want to adjust the power settings on your computer so that it does not go into sleep mode when not being used for a period of time.

There are other programs which do similar yet complimentary work, such as BOINC, which tackles disease-related protein issues from another angle, and the now-defunct SETI@home – the oldest of these networks, which was used to try and discover intelligent life on other planets by analysing data from satellite networks around the globe (note: no intelligent life was discovered, unfortunately). 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 as mentioned, no more than you would from using a regular heater to produce the same amount of heat. And the bright side of that is you can, if not for tax purposes than at least morally, consider your power bill a charitable donation to science. Don’t throw away your heatpump just yet though.

*Computer writer Matt Bentley is director of Bentley Home PC Support. Email Matt on info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

#In light of recent events, Matt advises that he will be wearing gloves to all client appointments until the pandemic has ended. These will be sterilised in boiling water. Please do not be insulted if he doesn’t shake your hand!.

4 thoughts on “PCs in coronavirus fight

  • March 19, 2020 at 11:37 am

    Hello Tamahere Forum,
    re the advice about computers and heat, I can quite believe that some older and traditional p.c s might put out heat comparable to a one bar heater, but lap-tops? I don’t think so. Your unqualified advice is in the category of false computer information of which your last issue warned.
    Best wishes,
    Rob Grant

    • March 19, 2020 at 2:01 pm

      Hi Rob,
      for starters, I never suggested that any computer would put out heat equivalent to a bar heater, including laptops.
      What I stated was that, watt-for-watt, they put out the same amount of heat – that is to say, if your computer is using 100w draw at a given instance, it will put out the equivalent amount of heat to a 100w heater at that time.
      Laptops, as I explicitly stated, are not designed to dissipate large amounts of heat from running CPU’s at 100% utility for long periods of time. You should not do this. If you haven’t experienced a laptop running hot enough to cook an egg on, don’t bother me.
      Please do not comment in future as you don’t appear to have read the article.

  • March 18, 2020 at 9:54 am

    I was researching the main classes of energy use – no matter what type.
    The energy used by PC’s (in the world) is more than the energy used by the whole commercial aircraft fleet.
    If everyone used ‘Cloud’ storage and on-line programs the energy required would more than double what is used now.
    Google has its main data storage in Ireland. The reasons that its not in California (where the administration of most of the tech companies are) is that they couldnt afford the temperature control costs that would be needed in the warm climate. Ireland is both much cooler and the temperature range is very narrow. Its also got a more reliable supply of electricity. The power cables supplying energy to these data storage sites are inches in diameter. They use an unbelievable amount of power.

    • March 18, 2020 at 9:56 pm

      Re: ireland, that’s one reason. The other is that it was a massive tax dodge until recently.
      But with cloud storage, I doubt it’ll catch on, as it’s slow and security-risk-prone.


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