Foldingathome with the Nvidia Geforce 210

I installed the Folding@home client on every computer in the house with something newer than a Pentium 4 in it. But GPU power is much better than CPU power. Even my lowly Nvidia Geforce 210. Here’s how I fixed an opencl.dll not found error, though I never was able to get much use from Foldingathome with the Nvidia Geforce 210.

Both Nvidia drivers and the Foldingathome client are finicky. When in doubt, uninstalling and reinstalling can work wonders. But while I was able to get the client to recognize my Geforce 210, I was never able to get it to fold.

Foldingathome can work with an Nvidia Geforce 210

foldingathome with the Nvidia Geforce 210
Some tweaking with the driver and the client is usually all it takes to get Foldingathome working with the Nvidia Geforce 210.

With the COVID-19 virus running rampant, a lot of good people are donating computing power to Foldingathome. With the Foldingathome client, you can specify which disease you want to support, but COVID-19 isn’t one of them. Not to worry. Just select “Any Disease” when you install it. As of this writing, in April 2020, COVID-19 is getting priority.

Your computer may or may not get work right away. With so many people offering computer time, there’s a fair bit of competition for work. And until Folding@home understands your computer’s capability, it can take a while for it to get work, especially if you’re offering up low-end hardware. Higher-end hardware tends to get work more quickly, since Foldingathome can have a higher degree of confidence the work it hands out will finish in 24 hours. Just be patient. Eventually your system will get some work to do, and every little bit counts.

The key is to clear the error message, then just be patient. Once there’s work for your computer to do, the client will grab it and start folding proteins.

Opencl.dll not found

On my AMD Phenom-based system running Windows 10, the CPU got work within a day or so of me installing the client. But the GPU wouldn’t work, and I got mixed information online about it. Some said the Geforce 210 isn’t worth the effort and wasn’t supported. Others said any CUDA-compatible GPU will work, and Nvidia’s site does say the 210 is CUDA-capable.

I’ve been letting the Nvidia Experience app check for driver updates and update it automatically. But it’s been a couple of years since it had an update to download. I found that when I downloaded the most recent driver (342.01 in my case) myself, ran it manually, selected custom installation and chose every option, then selected the clean install option which replaces all files and resets everything to the default configuration, then it worked.

Well, it worked after I rebooted. Once I rebooted, Foldingathome detected my GPU as an Nvidia Geforce 210, including CUDA and Opencl, and the error messages disappeared.

I’m sure it’s possible to install less than everything and make it work, but “work” is relative. Some people buy these cards just to run Microsoft Office, in which case you can probably uncheck every option and it’ll still work. If you want to use the GPU as a GPU, you’re much more limited in what you can cut back. I just wanted to get it working quickly.

But I never did get it to fold. Eventually I gave up and deleted the GPU slot, to free up a CPU core for folding. Folding on four CPU cores accomplishes more than folding on three cores and tying a fourth up for GPU work that will never come.

Reinstalling Foldingathome

One of my coworkers had an issue with Foldingathome not seeing his GPU either. In his case, uninstalling the Foldingathome client and reinstalling it worked. Sometimes Folding@home doesn’t download the GPU configuration file right away, so it doesn’t necessarily know what to do with your hardware at first. Reinstalling can make it re-evaluate everything, and then it will work.

In one case on another computer with a GTX 1030-based card, I was able to make it work by adding a GPU slot and selecting -1. But failing that, there’s always the uninstall and reinstall option.

A funny story

A night or two after installing the Folding@home client, I heard a disturbing sound. It was obviously the sound of something breaking and falling. Something metal, and heavy. The last time I heard a sound like that, it was the sound of my overpriced Carrier furnace giving up the ghost well before its time, which led to my expensive Geothermal project. Carrier doesn’t make those, not that I would have considered Carrier.

But all seemed well. I couldn’t find anything that had fallen, and we still had heat.

The next morning, I noticed the computer was powered off. I turned it back on. The computer displayed the video card’s POST message, then powered right back off. Not good. Usually that means a dead power supply, or worse yet, a motherboard issue.

It wasn’t the power supply

So I dragged my last recent-ish power supply out of my spare parts stash and opened the computer up. And I found a surprise. The CPU fan and heat sink were in the bottom of the case. That struck me as odd. It had been attached for years.

So I went to reattach the heat sink, and it wouldn’t catch. Eventually I figured out the tab that the heat sink clips onto had sheared off. I guess the stress of running the CPU full bore for a sustained period of time caused the plastic to give out. And that big heat sink falling to the bottom of the case was the thing I heard go bump in the night. It’s a wonder it didn’t short anything out on its way down.

You can still buy a Socket AM3 bracket, but you can’t get one quickly. So I removed the bracket, drilled a 7/64-inch hole in it as high up as I could, then ran a 6-32 thread-cutting screw through it. When I put the bracket back on the board, the screw had plenty of clearance. I cleaned off the old thermal compound, squirted a bit of fresh compound onto the CPU, then clipped the CPU cooler back on. That let me put the system back into service, without waiting a month for a new bracket to arrive.

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