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posted by Fnord666 on Thursday February 15 2018, @04:43PM   Printer-friendly
from the just-nod-if-you-can-hear-me dept.

Crypto-currency craze 'hinders search for alien life'

Scientists listening out for broadcasts by extra-terrestrials are struggling to get the computer hardware they need, thanks to the crypto-currency mining craze, a radio-astronomer has said.

Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) researchers want to expand operations at two observatories. However, they have found that key computer chips are in short supply. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs [graphics processing units]... and we can't get 'em," said Dan Werthimer.

Demand for GPUs has soared recently thanks to crypto-currency mining. "That's limiting our search for extra-terrestrials, to try to answer the question, 'Are we alone? Is there anybody out there?'," Dr Werthimer told the BBC.

[...] Other radio-astronomers have been affected. A group looking for evidence of the earliest stars in the universe was recently shocked to see that the cost of the GPUs it wanted had doubled.

[...] Prof [Aaron] Parsons' radio telescope, the Hydrogen Epoch of Reionisation Array (Hera), is an American, British and South African project located in South Africa's western plains. [...] Three months ago, the Hera team had budgeted for a set of GPUs that cost around $500 (£360) - the price has since doubled to $1,000.

"We'll be able to weather it but it is coming out of our contingency budget." added Prof Parsons. "We're buying a lot of these things, it's going to end up costing about $32,000 extra."

When the inevitable flood of cheap GPUs onto the market happens, will it be a boon to science?

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  • (Score: 2) by RS3 on Thursday February 15 2018, @07:31PM

    by RS3 (6367) on Thursday February 15 2018, @07:31PM (#638393)

    I rarely have the stomach for the overly heated online discussions, but I'll bite: The main issue is that whatever the process is, "cryptocurrency mining", folding@home, SETI, etc, it will generally use a LOT, most, or all of your CPU time. So it's a matter of who gets that CPU / GPU time & computing power.

    It would be nice (pun intended for your *nix admins) if we could control how much CPU time a process hogs, but it's not always easy. It's usually after the process has started, you have to do it manually, and many processes seem to ward off attempts to change priority. I've seen, with Windows, it doesn't matter what priority you assign a process, it can still take up all available CPU time. I'm sure someone has a tricky util. to control this, but the average home user doesn't / won't.

    And the problem is that some (many) poorly designed computers, especially laptops, will overheat when run at full CPU. Even for the desktops that have good cooling and are kept clean of dust, pet hair, etc., the machine will consume significantly more watts, when running one of the aforementioned background processes, than an otherwise casual use computer.

    I was running folding@home on a computer. Fan speed increased but was very reasonable, slight additional heat output, machine user interface felt normal, so it seemed okay. Trouble was- it quit working one day, I tried to reinstall but it wouldn't start up for a limited-rights user, so I uninstalled it.

    But you have to wonder: maybe it was actually cryptocurrency mining, not gene folding...

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