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Sony's Folding@home project gets Guinness record

The project, which uses distributed computing to allow scientists to do research related to proteins and serious diseases, is called the world's most powerful such system.

PlayStation 3 users have been able to connect their consoles online to Stanford University's Folding@home project, allowing researchers to tap into the machines' substantial processing power as they study the effects of a process called protein folding on a series of serious diseases.

It's a small thing, but Sony got some good news today related to its troubled PlayStation 3 video game console. In fact, the system helped set a new Guinness World Record.

The record was set by Stanford University's Folding@home project, a distributed computing system utilizing PS3s among other computers, to help scientists study the effects of a process called "protein folding" on a series of serious diseases.

Well, Guinness has apparently certified the project as the world's most powerful distributed computing system. According to a release from Sony, Folding@home topped 1 petaflop last month, meaning that it surpassed a thousand trillion floating point operations per second. By comparison, the well-known SETI@home project has topped out, according to Wikipedia, at around 265 teraflops, or 265 trillion floating point operations a second.

What has Sony excited is that it seems that much of the computing power behind Folding@home comes from the excess cycles of many hundreds of thousands of PS3 users' consoles. More than 600,000 PS3 users have signed up to be part of the project, the company says.

Any Guinness record is cool, of course, and Sony is probably very happy to have some good news come out of the PS3 program, since the much-ballyhooed console has struggled in its first year on the market and still finds itself in third place in the next-generation console wars behind Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Nintendo's Wii.

But while those machines may be outselling the PS3, neither can lay claim to a Guinness world record that reflects an attempt to help out with real science.

And though that may not translate into huge sales for Sony, at least it's some great PR spin fodder.