Stanford University's [email protected] distributed computing project has seen its capacity more than double in the last month thanks to the addition of idle processor cycles from hundreds of thousands of PlayStation 3 (PS3) consoles.

Total computing power of the system is now at around 700T Flops (floating point operations per second), with nearly 400T Flops of that coming from roughly 250,000 PS3 consoles, Sony said. An application supporting the program, which seeks to better understand how proteins fold, was made available to PS3 owners last month with a system software update.

Statistics on the project's home page back up Sony's claim and reveal that the number of T Flops from consoles is more than double that from Windows PCs, which are the second largest group of clients running the software.

Researchers are keen to unlock the mysteries of protein folding because it's suspected that misfolds in proteins are the cause of several diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, cystic fibrosis, BSE and some forms of cancer.

The computer power needed to perform the modelling and calculations is immense and doesn't rely on fast networking as much as pure processing power so the Stanford system divides the work up and sends it out to thousands of PCs - and now game consoles - to be carried out when the machines are otherwise idle.

The addition of the PS3 consoles and the publicity surrounding it have also helped increase participation of PC owners in the project. The number of active PCs has jumped 20 percent in the last month, Sony said.

PC versions of the client for Windows, Mac OSX and Linux are available for download from the university's project page.

Today, Sony said it has published an updated version of the PS3 application that improves calculation speed.

Sony said that it intends to support other distributed computing projects in a "wide variety of academic fields such as medical and social sciences”.

See PC Advisor's PS3 review.