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Matlab or Battery Life: Pick… two?

Programming homework between classes used to mean “bring your charger.” Used to.

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As a consequence of getting eaten alive by a pair of programming-intensive projects, I’ve been spending a large amount of time with the infamous Matlab: linear algebra crutch and resource hog extraordinaire. And while I used to always bring a charger with me when I went to work in my PhD candidate friend’s office, I discovered that Remote Desktop Connection (RDC) is a surprisingly usable alternative to local coding that can significantly boost my endurance away from a wall outlet.

Despite turning my Macbook Pro into an expensive thin client requiring a steady trickle of Wi-Fi to run, RDC has proven to be an efficient way to access the software suite of CAEN’s Virtual Sites (U of M’s IT thingy). On campus, the network latency between the remote desktop and my local router is less than a millisecond (measured in the library). At my apartment, the ping goes up to 25 ms, which is still quite snappy. For text-based applications, this is perfectly usable. Even animations will be displayed reasonably well. I would avoid using Solidworks, however.

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RDC is very intelligent about screen refreshing, and the compression it uses is both crisp and light on the network. For a 1440×900 display with a single column of scrolling text, I measured about 15 kB/s being streamed to my computer. It dropped to about 3 when the output paused, which I was impressed with. This is vastly superior to a solution like LogMeIn, which is routed through potentially distant servers. RDC also doesn’t run on top of a browser, which makes it that much lighter. Microsoft’s done a good job of optimizing the program.

Running RDC at half brightness brings my Mac’s battery life pretty much back up to 100% of it’s rated endurance on Wi-Fi. And that’s also impressive, considering I installed a secondary 7200 RPM hard drive in my machine. Extrapolating from multiple days of programming, expected battery life for programming remotely is about 6 hours.


It’s somewhat unfortunate that I only discovered the utility of RDC and remote computing as my time at Michigan’s drawing to an end. But I think it’s an interesting thing to learn nonetheless. One of my IT friends thinks I’m a noob for discovering this now, but no one ever showed me how slick this system is… T_T

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