In two previous posts I wrote about how to use RDP and VNC to access the graphical desktops of the virtual machines on my headless workstation. Both have in common that the desktop of the remote virtual machine is put into a window on my client machine. That is great for many purposes and when used at the resolution of the screen connected to my client machine in full screen mode, it is almost like working directly on that machine. Also, the whole desktop with all applications running on it can just be ‘minimized’ to the dock when not needed for a while. For Linux virtual machines, there’s a third option that is even cooler for some use cases: Remote X over SSH!
Once upon a time web pages were simple enough to save them locally for reference or future lookup with the browser’s built-in tools. And to just preserve how the web page looks, ‘print to PDF’ was my first choice. The problem with printing to PDF these days is, however, that the browser tries to format the web page for A4/letter format, which often destroys the layout of the page. In many cases, parts of the web page are missing or horribly distorted, and content is cut between A4/letter pages. Pretty much unusable. But have you noticed that Firefox has a handy ‘screenshot utility’ that does the job perfectly?
In the previous episode I’ve described how to use the Remmina remote desktop client in combination with the Virtualbox RDP remote screen capabilities to graphically interact with my virtual machines on my headless workstation server. While this works great it has two disadvantages: RDP requires a lot of bandwidth in combination with low latency. This means that it does not work well over the Internet, even over a 100/40 Mbit/s (dl/ul) link. The other issue is that Remmina’s remote clipboard function in combination with RDP, Virtualbox and Ubuntu 20.04 sometimes freezes the connection for 5 to 10 seconds, which hinders me quite a bit even for local use. So perhaps VNC can be used to work around the two issues?
In addition to running computing intensive applications on my new (refurbished) HP Z440 workstation the other main use case for me is to offload the virtual machines I am running on my notebook today. While I do have 16 GB of RAM in my notebook it becomes more and more difficult to run two virtual machines at the same time. Memory requirements are growing and particularly Windows starts doing all sorts of things in the background when it thinks it is ‘unused’ for some time, which is a heavy toll on CPU load, power consumption and speed while I’m working on the host system. Also, I do have some applications I run in a virtual machine which are heavily single threaded and some graphical functions are relatively sluggish on a 5 year old mobile processor. So more often than not these days, I only run one virtual machine at a time and in the case of the Windows VM, I pause it whenever I don’t use it so Windows doesn’t run wild with background tasks. Long story short, the idea with the workstation is to run those VMs on that machine and to remotely access their ‘virtual’ screens over the network. Added benefit: With 32 GB of RAM on the workstation, I can be much more generous with assigning RAM to the VMs than on the notebook.
I guess you have noticed the one or other of my recent articles over the past few weeks about the experience I have gained with my new ‘refurbished’ workstation. While I previously thought that single core performance of x86 processors in high end workstations and particularly in data centers must be so much more powerful than the CPU in my notebook, my recent experience tells me otherwise.
High processing power comes with high power consumption. I guess that can’t be helped much but one way to reduce the power bill for that number-crunching ‘headless’ workstation under the desk without screen and keyboard is to suspend it at night and at times during the day when it is not needed. As long as it can be done from my notebook and as long as it’s as easy as pressing the COMMAND+L key that locks the screen of my notebook and puts the display on the desk into power save mode, that should not be too hard to do in practice.
In the previous post I ran FFmpeg and Handbrake on the 6 core CPU of my workstation and got a good but still modest 2.5x speedup of the video encoding task compared to running the same operation on notebook. I would have expected at least a 5x speedup and I’m still puzzled why I didn’t get there. But I have moved on for the moment and have taken a closer look if I could make FFMpeg and Handbrake use the H.264 hardware encoder on the Nvidia Quadra M2000 GPU instead of running this tasks on the CPUs.
This is part 2 in my article series on using a Xeon based 6 core 12 thread workstation at home to offload CPU intensive tasks from my notebook to a more powerful and fast server. At the end of the introduction I had an example of how my picture fix, rotate compression tool runs 5 times faster on that machine than on my notebook, which significantly reduces my wait time in many everyday scenarios. So how do other programs fare when running them on the workstation?
It was 2004 when I bought my last workstation for use at home, a Siemens Fujitsu Pentium 4 tower PC. After that I shifted to notebooks as they became cheap and powerful enough to do almost everything with them I wanted to do. Even my 5 year old refurbished Thinkpad X250 is an excellent machine for pretty much all I want to do, and it handles my 21:9 monitor with a resolution of 3440×1440 pixels without breaking a sweat. Even my 7 year old X230 can easily do that, while running two virtual machines, one with Windows and one with Ubuntu alongside. But it has its limits especially for computing intensive things as I recently discovered. Not finding the performance I was looking for in the cloud for a reasonable amount of money I was wondering if a workstation at home would be something that could push the limits?
There has been a time when DVDs where the main medium for backups and for acquiring audiovisual content. These days might long be over but I still have quite a collection that I would like to keep. Unfortunately their lifetime is not endless and most of my devices no longer have a DVD drive. And those that I still have are not very reliable anymore and have started refusing to read more and more of those DVDs lately. So it was time to think about how to preserve the content and make it more easily usable with current devices.