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How To Build The Best Folding Rig

Folding performance

To help you choose the right graphics cards for your dedicated folding rig, we benchmarked a selection of cards and graphed the results below. The graph below is sorted by price, not ppd, so you can see the most cost-effective cards. One aspect to bear in mind is that because the number of atoms varies between the different projects, some projects fold faster on certain GPUs, so your card may not produce exactly the same ppd as our cards produced. A good rule of thumb is that if a project has a large number of atoms, it will run slower on a GPU with a small number of stream processors.

We’ve also graphed the peak power consumption of our test PC with a single graphics card installed when folding, so you can see how power-efficient each card is.

Folding performance

  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 295
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 285
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 (rev 2)
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 275
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 280
  • Nvidia GeForce GTS 250
  • Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX+
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 260
  • ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2
  • ATI Radeon HD 4850 X2
  • Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT / 9800 GT
  • Nvidia GeForce 9600 GSO
  • Nvidia GeForce 9600 GT
  • ATI Radeon HD 4890
  • ATI Radeon HD 4870
  • ATI Radeon HD 4850
  • ATI Radeon HD 4770
  • ATI Radeon HD 4830
  • 13542
  • 8092
  • 7715
  • 7373
  • 6771
  • 5439
  • 5439
  • 5184
  • 5171
  • 4989
  • 4483
  • 3686
  • 3190
  • 2742
  • 2453
  • 2063
  • 1910
  • 1855
0
2500
5000
7500
10000
12500
15000
Points per day (ppd)

As you can see the top half of the graph is dominated by GeForce cards. ATI may have been the first to support folding, but Nvidia is well ahead when it comes to raw folding performance. The awesome performance of the GTX 295 shows how much better folding scales than SLI when it comes to multiple-GPUs.

Folding power consumption

This is the total power draw of the PC, not just the graphics card

  • ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2
  • ATI Radeon HD 4850 X2
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 295
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 275
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 285
  • ATI Radeon HD 4890
  • ATI Radeon HD 4870
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 280
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 260
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 260 (rev 2)
  • Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX+
  • ATI Radeon HD 4770
  • ATI Radeon HD 4850
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 250
  • Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT / 9800 GT
  • Nvidia GeForce 9600 GSO
  • ATI Radeon HD 4830
  • Nvidia GeForce 9600 GT
  • 433
  • 401
  • 339
  • 288
  • 268
  • 273
  • 270
  • 268
  • 251
  • 248
  • 245
  • 226
  • 222
  • 212
  • 215
  • 209
  • 201
  • 182
0
100
200
300
400
Watts

Unfortunately, the power graph efficiency graph doesn't look good for ATI either - it's cards draw considerably more power when folding than Nvidia's much faster cards.

Software choices

As you’re building a dedicated folding rig from scratch, you can choose which OS to install. As you cannot easily run the GPU folding clients on Linux or MacOS your first and only choice is some version of Windows. While you can pick up an OEM copy of Windows XP and Vista for a similar price, XP is better than Vista for a folding rig. When developing Vista, Microsoft decided that the operating system would switch off graphics cards not connected to an output device (a monitor). Although you can work around this problem by connecting the additional graphics card(s) to another monitor and extending the desktop, or using dummy plugs, XP doesn’t suffer from this limitation, so it’s far easier to set up with multiple graphics cards. Nvidia is lobbying Microsoft to remove this limitation in Windows 7, but so far, there’s been no official statement from Microsoft.