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About The SETI@home Project
The SETI@home project, or the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence at Home, is showing the strength of the PowerPC. While not the fastest of the operating systems participating in the project, the Mac platform is turning in a performance that is far better than the various Windows/x86 platforms and is holding its own against many of the Unix platforms.

First some background. SETI@home is a project designed to harness the power of the Internet to analyze data gathered from the SETI project. According to the SETI@home home page:

SETI@home is a scientific experiment that will harness the power of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected computers in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by running a program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data. There's a small but captivating possibility that your computer will detect the faint murmur of a civilization beyond Earth.

Participants voluntarily download an application that will download small data chunks from the SETI@home servers and crunch them when their computers are not being used. The SETI project gathers 36 GB of data every day, and divides that data into 250K (or so) chunks for participants to download. It takes somewhere between 15-35 hours on average for a Mac to process that chunk so the combined might of the over 600,000 computers signed up so far is required to even make a dent in the project. As the project has only been accepting participants for a little more than 4 weeks, the total enrollment could become even more enormous.

The web site has constantly updated stats that will make even the most data hungry viewer happy. This is where the Mac power is showing up. The Mac platform as a whole is averaging 28 hr 13 min 29.3 sec (as of this writing) per machine to analyze each 250K chunk. Compare this to Windows 95: 4.0 taking an average of 67 hr 26 min 59.5 sec per chunk, Windows 95: 4.10 taking 51 hr 40 min 12.1 sec per chunk, Windows NT: 4.0 taking 36 hr 36 min 52.3 sec, and even Windows NT: 5.0 taking an average of 29 hr 38 min 20.3 sec per chunk, and the Mac is kicking butt! At the same time, a couple of flavors of Unix are reporting in with averages as low as 11 hours and some change, and many more Unix types are averaging under 20 hours, so the Mac is by no means the fastest platform in this project. MacOS X Server is not represented yet.

To be sure, there is not telling what processors or configurations are being used on any of these platforms, but any way you slice it, the Mac/PowerPC platform is really showing its power.

The Mac Observer Spin: This is a fun project that has really shown that large scale distributed processing can really work. Think about it, there are already over 600,000 people around the entire world all contributing to this one project. This is a paradigm that will become increasingly used in the future to tackle enormous projects. Many have predicted that at some point, people could lease out their computers to tasks like this when they are not in use. While that may be farther away in the future, distributed processing is in fact a reality.

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