VNC Computer Setup
After chronic frustration with an aging Mac Book Pro whose ability to process the climate datasets central to my workday grew increasingly questionable, I decided change was necessary. A friend of mine using a Microsoft Surface through VNC to his home laptop was having good results, and so I investigated similar options on an Apple platform. While a headless Mac Mini would be a good contender, even the new batch of processors unveiled in October had limited processor potential and no after-market RAM expandibility. Since I was very happy with my dual-monitor setup at home, I was less interested in shelling out on an iMac. Another option, the old Mac Pro 8-core towers, seemed attractive with its vast army of ports, drive bays, and parts swapability, you wouldn’t be getting the latest i7 processors and the 980W power supply is just nausea-inducing. Lastly, the new Mac Pros are designed for video professionals and are simply pointless for a workflow consisting primarily of statistical processing.
I ended up opting for the 27″ quad-core iMac and have been extremely satisfied over the past month that I’ve had it. Instead of using Chicken of the Sea or other VNC apps, I’ve been using Apple’s built-in Screen Sharing which works well if you can send video to a device with comparable resolution as the iMac. Running a remote browser with 30 tabs on a 13″ laptop screen is not an option, so some elements of your workflow would greatly suffer if you’re on the road and don’t have an external video connection. I’ll have to face this only in December when at AGU’s 2014 Meeting, but haven’t yet. The setup is only possible when you have a fixed ethernet connection on both the local and remote sides. You can check out Speedtest to test your connection speed and FiOS (incredibly and/or disturbingly) boosted upload speeds against WiFi ~80x when plugging. You’ll need to do the same to have any semblance of a steady connection on the remote side, even if you have incredibly fast download speeds.
The biggest downside has been that Screen Sharing does not have a blinders option available yet, and likely won’t since users with privacy concerns are being sent to pay for Remote Desktop. What this means is that the iMac display remains on so long as you’re remotely connected – there is no option to blank the screen when in use. This fact has been poorly advertised and people elsewhere have had to devise workaround solutions, such as covering their iMacs with garbage bags and the like.
Among the many upsides? No longer having to haul the laptop on my back when biking to work. And when it’s raining every Thursday as has been practically the case the last few weeks in New York, you can get soaked and still have no worries.