Some tips for running BOINC on older systems.
On February 26, 2011 I downloaded the BOINC project manager and signed up for my first projects. At the time, one concern of mine was if my old computers could handle the computations involved. But, these are volunteer grid networking projects, and I figured that any help I could offer, was better than no help at all.
In the three months since then, I’ve accumulated over 55,000 credits. Compared to some of the new monster machines, that’s less than one weeks work. I have also had to balance the computational needs of the BOINC projects against my own needs. One of the computers running projects is also my “main” personal computer.
I have two computers currently running the BOINC project manager:
HP NX6310 (main): Intel CPU T2300 @1.66GHz w/0.99GB of RAM
Dell latitude 100L: Intel Celeron CPU 2.40GHx w/640MB RAM
As you can see, both computers are obsolete. I’ve developed a simple set of techniques that keep me crunching projects while performing other work on these systems.
The Dell laptop runs BOINC projects exclusively. Recently I re-formatted the HD, and re-installed Windows with only the essential drivers to increase the memory available to the project manager. The installation of a client utility program allows me to access the Dell from my HP. So the Dell just sits on a bookshelf all by itself, crunching data like a cow chewing cud.
Since the HP is used for all of my daily activities, I’ve had to take a different approach to setting up the project manager, and selecting which projects run during the day. Through trial and error, I’ve come up with these tips on how to manage BOINC projects on older systems.
- Use the Windows un-installer to remove unused program. Also remember that software that is no longer supported may pose a security risk as well, so it’s just good housekeeping to toss the old junk on your HD.
- Remove drivers that support devices that are no longer hooked up to your system. Be careful doing this, make sure you know what you are removing. Drivers may support more than one device
- While the BOINC project manager is running, use the Windows Task manager to view running processes. Make a note of the BOINC projects that use large amounts of memory. If you use the computer for other things during the day, suspend the memory hogs.
If you plan on dedicating your old computer exclusively to BOINC projects you should just set the preferences for memory and CPU usage to maximum (100%). Select the option to leave applications in memory while suspended.
If you notice that the CPU fan in your computer runs excessively, set processor usage to 50%. Laptops tend to run hot so make sure your ventilation fan is not blocked. I found I could lower my laptops CPU temp by propping the back end up. This allowed greater clearance between my desk and the fan intake. It also angled the keyboard which makes it easier to type.
If you will be using the computer for other things while BOINC is running, I suggest setting memory usage to 50% (in use and idle). If you took my advice (step 3) above, you can select the option to leave applications in memory while suspended. However, if you don’t suspend memory hungry projects and are using the computer for other things, you available memory will slowly disappear and your system will become sluggish.
The BOINC project manager also allows you to schedule when your projects will run. This is one way to manage memory, CPU and network usage. You can set the BOINC projects to run only at night, or certain hours of the day. The issue I have with this is that it affects all of your projects. Some projects have a small footprint, so they could run in the background while I’m doing other things. I don’t want to arbitrarily shut all of my projects down during the day, so I’ve had to resort to selectively suspending projects that eat up memory.
My daily routine on the HP includes these steps to help keeping everything running smoothly:
- Morning: Re-set BOINC project manager memory use to 50%.
- Suspend projects that use lots of memory.
- Shut down the BOINC project manager.
- Re-boot computer.
- The computer memory is now cleared, and BOINC is running with a minimum memory footprint.
- Evening: Set memory use to 100%.
- Re-boot computer.
- After the BOINC project manager loads, Resume any suspended projects.
- The computer is now dedicated to the sole execution of BOINC projects until the next morning.
While it may take a bit of finesse to run BOINC projects on an older computer, it is a practical use of extra CPU time. Even though a computer may seem obsolete by today’s standards, these machines are still quite handy for grid networking projects.
I hope you found this information useful. Any comments, suggestions or additional tips are certainly welcome.