5 amazing things your 3D card can do

Cure cancer, track hurricanes...

Graphics card technology never ceases to amaze us. ATI's new card, the Radeon HD 4770, is now on sale for under £100 and able to sustain over 60fps in Call of Duty 4. But given what we've discovered, a good framerate in a demanding game is the least surprising thing a modern graphics card like this can do.

Both ATI and Nvidia have programming platforms that allow anyone to write software to run on their cards. Graphics card architecture, essentially many simple processors working in parallel, can be leveraged in non-graphical applications. So when you're not in a game, you can free up your CPU by running a compatible program on a GPU. What's that? You want to know what sort of programs? Here you go.


Squish your videos
Crushing your video collection down to iPod size is a lengthy process, but both AMD and Nvidia cards have programs that make short work of encoding. Badaboom and Cyberlink's MediaShow Espresso take the boring chore and speed it up massively. This is the real showcase for the GPU, a commercial application with measurable results.

Make Music
It seems remarkably counter-intuitive, but Liquid Sonics, makers of music production software Reverberate LE and Filtrate LE, have ported their software to work on GeForce 8000s and above, to add reverb to music. They're not the only ones. Nebula 3, a program that emulates all kinds of vintage musical effects, also runs on CUDA. Download it here.

Track hurricanes
Scott Grauer-Gray and Chandra Kambhamettu, University of Delaware, and Kannappan Palaniappan, University of Missouri have written a paper that describes how graphics cards can be used to calculate how hurricanes propogate and predict their path. They used an Nvidia card to analyze images of Hurricane Luis and were able to speed up the motion tracking calculations by a factor of five. Their work could save thousands of lives. You can read how they did it at snipurl.com/icb0a.


Heal the world
Folding@Home calculates the mysteries behind protein folding. Proteins need to "assemble" themselves in order to perform certain functions. It's believed when they "misfold" it results in physical problems such as Alzheimer's disease, cystic fibrosis, and some cancers. Folding@Home's GPU program, paired with a ATI or Nvidia graphics card, will run at a faster rate than on your CPU. Get it at snipurl.com/hlxta.

Scan for cancer
TechniScan are a company that make medical scanning devices, and are looking to make headway into early detection of breast cancer without the need for uncomfortable mammograms. Looking to improve their tech's scan time, one company engineer, a gamer, used his GeForce 8800 GTX to test out if their number-crunching could be optimised better than on a normal processor. Running their imaging software on the graphics card saw a twelve-fold increase in speed. They now use Nvidia's industrial cards to power many of their medical products: www.nvidia.com/object/imaging.html