March 8th, 2011

Startup Weekend Portland progeny CPUsage ready to put your machine’s idle time to good use

Startup Weekend Portland progeny CPUsage ready to put your machine’s idle time to good use

Now, I know you’re on your computer quite a bit. Trust me. I know. But there are times when your machine is just sitting there. Idle. Still on. But idle. What if—instead of sitting there all lonely—it could be doing good?

That’s the idea behind CPUsage, a young Portland startup that’s looking to put your machine’s idle time to good use. And maybe gives you a little something in return.

CirrusGrid harnesses the idle time on personal computers worldwide by offering computer owners valuable rewards in exchange for their “down time.” This enormous grid of unused computer power is the infrastructure CPUsage offers to their customers. To participate, computer owners simply sign up for an account and download CPUsage Cirrus software at Then, when a computer is left on but unused, CPUsage will securely harness the machines processing power and reward computer owners with redeemable points. Computer owners may then save up points and redeem them for rewards that include gift cards to popular retailers, electronics or even video game system credits.

It’s an interesting concept. And it always has me harkening back to last century when we had that screensaver for dedicating our idle computer time to the search for extra terrestrial intelligence (SETI). Remember that thing? I mean, yes, SETI@home is still around. So you can still search for E.T.

CPUsage works on basically the same principle. Much like that buzzword du jour “the cloud.” But they’ll be harnessing a distributed network of personal and business computers instead of a server farm. And they’ll be supporting a different group of people.

What kind of people? Well, people who need to process massive amounts of data quickly. People like life and bio science, rendering, and other folks with high throughput computing needs.

It’s worth noting that the company was founded during Startup Weekend Portland in March 2010. It’s also worth noting that there’s another Startup Weekend Portland being held April 1, 2011 at OTBC.

For more information, visit the CPUsage site or read the press release.

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6 Responses to “Startup Weekend Portland progeny CPUsage ready to put your machine’s idle time to good use”

  1. Although I like the idea of giving idle time to worthwhile efforts, I think we often fail to recognize the hidden cost of them. An idle computer may hum along at 10-20 watts power consumption, while one that is heavily taxing the CPU will run at 40 to 80 watts power consumption (depending on laptop vs desktop, and particular CPU.) If we choose to leave our computers on when they would otherwise be off in order to participate, or if they are prevented from going into sleep mode, then even more electrical power is consumed.

    When you consider the millions of computers that participated in SETI@Home, it may have saved the researchers a lot of money, but it was a very inefficient mechanism to get computer power from an energy perspective.

    Modern server clusters that are designed for energy efficiency deliver far more MIPS/watt than a collection of varied individual computers.

    I realize it’s a tradeoff: the carbon footprint of hardware saved vs the carbon footprint of electricity consumed, but I’d like to see at least the mention of the power consumption associated with millions of personal computers donating process time.

  2. Jmartens says:


    Thanks for your comment. You are right in that leaving a computer on when it would otherwise be off does add significantly to power consumption. We are really targeting people that leave their computers on anyway. In our (statistically limited) surveys, 70% of responders only turned their computers off once per week or less often.

    Another item to consider is everything else that goes into the data centers that we compete against. Not only are you running those computers, they have to be built with plastics and precious metals. There is also a facility construction footprint, travel footprint for admins, and a host of other factors that increase costs and carbon footprints. Considering all those, we believe CPUsage results in a significant net decrease in the carbon footprint and hope to one day soon quantify that belief.

  3. Rick S. says:

    As the author noted, SETI@Home is still around after about 13 years. It has evolved — instead of running as a proprietary program, SETI@Home is now just one of more than 40 distributed computing projects running on the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. (BOINC) platform. BOINC is supported by the National Science Foundation.

    Just a few other “down to Earth” disciplines using BOINC for research are Biology, Medicine, Astronomy, Physics, Chemistry, and Earth Sciences.

    Participants do not get compensated for their PC’s overtime — their motivation is altruistic (plus bragging rights).

    I have been a participant for 12-13 years, primarily on the SET@Home project (I’m in the top 1.5% worldwide [bragging rights]) and Rosetta@Home, a project “…to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases.”

  4. @JMartins: Still, there is a difference between a computer that is on and idle (about 10-15 watts power consumption for laptops and 20-30 watts for desktops, and a computer that is on and doing computationally intensive tasks: about 50-100 watts.

    I’m not just making remarks off the cuff: I studied this extensively in 2002 to 2003 when I looked into launching a low power consumption computer business. I measured dozens of different computer models using a Brand Electronics Digital Power Meter at sleep, idle, web browsing, and cpu-intensive tasks.

  5. Richard says:

    Another perhaps unseen side effect…. Is nearly free home heating!

    Every watt of electricity your computer uses doesn’t just vanish…. It comes out of the back of your computer as heat, warming the room it is in.

    Providing CPusage pays enough to cover most of the electricity bill, its nearly free home heating as well as performing a usefull task, Getting twice the work out a given amount of energy!

    So CPusage is also a potentially awsome GREEN idea for warming our homes!

    A good CPU power to cost ratio quiet PC giving out heat 24/7 in every room would likely be more than adequete for keeping the chill from the air in an entire home, providing it is well insulated and not drafty…

    And likely would not cost much more than a good central heating system.

    You could take this concept to the extreme, as an alternative heating system…

    all you would need for each machine would be a cheap case, a couple of quiet case fans, a good value Motherboard, a high end high wattage but good price vrs performance CPU, a basic reliable powersupply, Linux operating system to cut costs, The minimum amount of value ram to run the OS and the program. And no need for even a real hardDrive, just a cheap usb flash pendrive with enough room for a lite distro of linux and the program…

    Onboard graphics on the motherboard, untill CPusage can utilise GPU cycles.

    theoretically atleast Each machine would not even need it’s own Keyboard/mouse/ monitor.
    as you would just plug in a keyboard/mouse/monitor to start up the machine, install the OS, the program, set it running and then take everything away again.
    Hopefully these setups would be stable enough to not have to keep plugging it all back in every week to restart each machine from crashes and ect…

    I’ll certainly be building a low cost quiet heater/PC running CPusage to cover the electricity costs and trying out the concept personally.

  6. Richard says:

    Just thought, You could always just setup a “Heater/PC” to login automatically and run CPusage on startup…. So if one does crash, just a push of the reset button would get it up and running again…..

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