Windows tips

...for SETI@home

These tips are for setting up the SETI@home client to be as efficient as possible, while still maintaining the normal usability of the PC.

More tips and information of the SETI can be found at our homepage at SETIWEB.ORG

The client was not designed to drag every last ounce of processing power out of your machine. It was designed to utilize the spare CPU cycles that are normally wasted on the infinite loop called idle time.

The default installation of the client is good at setting itself up to be unobtrusive. But the programmers were very conservative. A few small changes can effectively triple the client speed and still not hamper normal operation of your PC. investous review

Drawing the graph takes a lot of processor time.

In tests, it has been shown that more time is spent by the computer drawing the graph than is spent doing the analysis. You can better than double the speed by reducing the time spent drawing.

There are several ways to minimize the amount of time spent on drawing the graphics.

If you are using the graphic client as a screensaver, the default installation, you can set the client to show the graphic for a certain time before going to a blank screen. The client gets much faster when the screensaver blanks. In the Display Property sheet (Start - Settings - Control Panel - Display), switch to the Screensaver tab. Check that SETI@home is the selected screensaver and click the Settings button. There you will find a checkbox for 'Go to blank screen. Make sure this is selected. Then set the time for how long you would like to see the screensaver, when it activates, before the screen goes blank. Entering a zero here makes the screen go blank as soon as the screensaver starts. saxo bank review

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The command line version of the client does not have a graphic display. That avoids the problem completely but you will not get to see the graph at all. Using the graphic client without the display has very nearly the same speed as the CLI (command line interface client) but you can see the graphic whenever you want.

Use as many spare CPU cycles as are comfortable.

The graphic client can be run in the background while the PC is doing normal work. This accesses the spare CPU idle time that the screensaver mode does not try for. But it has an impact on the PC responsiveness to your work. A fast PC, 300 MHz or more with at least 64 Mbytes of RAM, can run the SETI@home graphic client in the background with no appreciable slowing of the machine for normal usage. Lesser machines have problems with response time that users will notice. The worst symptom is that the hard drive will thrash as program files and data are swapped to and from the disk. A 166 MHz machine with 32 Mbytes has a difficult time doing this. saxo bank reviews

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Let the client connect whenever it wants.

Each time the client finishes a work unit, it wants to connect to Berkeley to send the results and get another. It is capable of dialing the modem, transferring the data and hanging up unattended. Allowing this keeps the client from waiting until you notice that it needs attention. (The client icon in the system tray at lower right flashes when the client needs to connect but is not allowed to automatically).

If you choose to allow automatic connections, you should assure that the modem is instructed to hang up automatically after a timeout. That way the client cannot inadvertently keep the phone off-hook for an extended time. That setting is available on the modem properties sheet (Start - Settings - Control Panel - Modem - Properties)

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Use the latest client version.

The client version evolve over time as bugs are fixed, operation is smoothed, and features are added. Older versions are generally not usable with the project. Get the latest version from Berkeley at http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu/download.html

Use only clients issued at Berkeley.

It is possible to write a client that executes the mathematical analysis of the data faster than the Berkeley client does so. That has been discussed at great length on the USENET newsgroups. The basic issue is the workhorse routine that does the conversion from samples to the spectrum. Berkeley has used a tried and true Fast Fourier Transform that is well known in the mathematics and programming world. But it is not the fastest by a long shot.

Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of the project programmers and scientists to decide how the data should be analyzed. Making ad hoc changes introduces the possibility of errors into the data set that cannot be accounted for. That would undermine the project.

Keep an eye on the client.

Although the client was designed to not require interaction with the user - that is, to run successfully on its own - it has not worked out this way. In many situations, the client can hang-up with a message box on the screen announcing a problem that it could not handle. That message box may well be under other open windows and not be visible to you. In this case, the client is doing nothing and will stay that way until the message is discovered or the PC is rebooted.

The work-around here is to occasionally check the client operation by bringing it up. If there is a message, you will see it then.

Check for programs competing for spare cycles.

It is possible that other programs are already installed that want to use your spare cycles. Most do not. Most take CPU cycles as a normal application does and the client is not attempting to use these cycles. The few programs that do want idle cycles are usually important to the application that installs them. It is a judgement call on your part whether to disable these.

Disabling virus protection software is not recommended. These are installed on purpose and have an important task to perform. They are generally non-intrusive and do not effect the client performance much.

Microsoft Office usually installs Fast Find. This is a program that runs through all the files on your PC and keeps an index that is used to help locate files when using the Find utility. This program eats a tremendous amount of spare CPU time. If the normal Find utility is sufficient for your usage, then removing Fast Find from the startup menu will greatly increase the SETI@home performance. This is also a judgement call. The SETI@home project has never asked that other applications be modified in any way to suit the needs of the client.

Leave your PC on and tweak the power saver settings.

Naturally the client cannot operate if the PC is off. The default installation of Windows will often set the system to power down some components when the PC is not being actively used by an operator.

Allowing the monitor to turn off is a good idea. It saves power and potentially extends the life of the monitor. It has no impact on the client operation. If you have a monitor with Energy Star capabilities, or a sleep mode, go ahead and use it.

Allowing the hard disk to spin down slows the client a lot. The client want to write to the disk often to update the status.txt file. If the hard drive manages to shut down (most will not) then the client waits each time for it to spin up again. This can slow the client dramatically.

Worst of all is allowing the CPU to go into a sleep mode. This stops all processing of the client. Many PCs also have a standby mode. This is essentially the same thing but controlled by Windows.

Reset your machine every few days.

Windows has a long history of getting slower and slower as days pass by. This is due to processes that use resources and then do not properly release them back to the operating system. Occasionally resetting the PC will speed things back up.

Consider using some add-on programs.

There are many useful, and interesting programs that allow the client data to be monitored and displayed. Check out a list of these in our links section.

And then there are us nerds...

The tips above will bring you very close to the maximum possible speed for the SETI@home client. But of course some of us are not to be satisfied with 90% speed. We want to see just how fast we can push it. The problem here is that further tweaks start dramatically impacting the PC usability. Disabling other programs that want to use the CPU takes away functionality from the machine.

These tips are not for the normal users. The author here does not use them. All the above tips are in place on the machine being used every day for a multitude of other purposes. But, just for the sake of completeness, here are the best tips for pushing the envelope.

Replace Windows with Linux. Tests are showing that a Linux machine can get about 25% faster than a Windows PC with the above tips installed. You must be willing to spend a lot of time on the learning curve to accomplish this but there is virtue in learning a new operating system.

Remove background processes from Windows. There are a fair number of processes that are running behind Windows. The icons that appear in the System Tray, at lower right where the clock is, are some of these processes. You will of course lose the functionality provided by the processes but the speed of the client may increase a few percent. The task list, available with the Ctrl-Alt-Del keystroke, will show several more processes running. Some of these may be safely stopped, but use caution.

Change the screen resolution and color depth. If you are using the graphical client, and showing the graph, it can be made faster at other display settings. The best is usually 800 x 600 with 256 colors but it varies according to the video card used.

Leave the machine alone. Using the machine adds to the time it takes to complete a work unit. For every hour that the machine is used by a human, about a half hour is added to the processing time for the work unit.

Use Windows NT instead of Win 9x. NT is more efficient in the operation of the CPU. It is appreciably faster than Windows 95 or 98 in running the client.

Disable all power saver modes for the CPU, hard disk and motherboard. Allowing the CPU or other components to enter a sleep mode will slow or stop the client.

There are many more tips in this category. Certain tweaks of the file system, virtual memory and BIOS have an appreciable effect on the client speed. But these vary between PCs and can be a dangerous playground. We will leave these to the bold among you.

If you have more tips and tweaks, we would like to include them here. Please send them to webmaster@setiweb.org