SplashTop 30fps GPU Enabled Remote Desktop
Readers of our last blog article will recall we suggested that MacStadium customers who want to get the best possible video performance from their hosted server should try a new-ish remote control program called Splashtop Remote. Today I am going to walk you through the process of installing Splashtop Remote and its virtual display driver on your Mac Mini, and how you can then unlock all possible video modes and accelerated performance using a custom-built DisplayPort dongle available for only $2 per month from MacStadium.
If you are just starting out with your hosted Mac Mini you will still need to download and install some version of VNC viewer in order to make the initial connection and then install the server side of Splashtop Remote. This is not very complicated, but the VNC client you choose will depend on what kind of computer you are connecting from.
If you are connecting from a PC, just head on over to the official UltraVNC page on SourceForge (beware imitators), download UltraVNC and install it. During the install, choose “UltraVNC viewer Only” when prompted. You do not need the mirror driver, since you will be connecting from this computer but not to it.
If you are connecting from another Mac the procedure is pretty much the same, but instead of UltraVNC you will want to grab the latest Chicken of the VNC client from its official SourceForge page.
Now start up whichever client you installed and establish a connection to your Mac Mini using the IP address and password supplied in your registration e-mail. After logging on you should see your Mac Mini’s desktop.
Open a Safari browser and browse to the Splashtop website, www.splashtop.com. Click on the Get Streamer button in the top right corner of the web page, then click on the downloads button in the top right of the Safari window. When the Splashtop streamer is done downloading, double click on the .dmg to extract the installer to your desktop. From the new window on your desktop double click Splashtop Streamer.pkg to begin the software installation. Mash continue a few times, accept the End User License Agreement and Bob’s your uncle – you should see a new Splashtop icon in the status bar at the top right of your screen.
Even though Splashtop is now installed, it will not accept connections until you’ve completed another couple of steps. First, pull down the new Splashtop icon from the status bar and choose Preferences… Go to the Others tab and enter a password, then confirm it. Note that passwords must be at least 8 characters and must contain at least one number and one letter. When Splashtop shows two orange (?) check marks next to your passwords you know that the password was successfully saved.
Next you need to install the Splashtop virtual video driver. Conceptually this is similar to the mirror driver in VNC –it enables the Splashtop client to take advantage of the Mac’s graphics processing unit to accelerate video performance. There’s also an important hardware component to getting full video performance from your Mac Mini, but we’ll get to that in just a moment. For now just click on the Settings tab in Splashtop preferences, scroll down to the bottom of the list of options and mash the “Install Driver” button. You will be prompted to reboot, and you should go ahead. Now you are ready to connect to Splashtop. Be sure to close your VNC windows before you start up Splashtop because in my experience they don't always play well together.
I am happy to report to PC users that Splashtop has updated their website and has now made the Windows client available again. It’s still a bit difficult to find, but at least they host it themselves! : ) To get it on the current site, scroll to the bottom of the Splashtop home page and click on Products. Then on the Products page choose Other Products. You will find the Splashtop Windows client in the first column some ways down the page (or you can just click on the direct link here). The Mac and iPad clients are also available on the same page. Installing them is a simple matter that I won’t detail here. All you will need other than the appropriate installer is the IP address (same as you used to connect with VNC) and the password you set during the Splashtop Streamer configuration.
Now as I mentioned there is a hardware component to this trick as well. This is due to the fact that if a Mac Mini does not detect an attached monitor during boot up it will not load the video driver into memory (because that would just be a waste of memory, wouldn’t it?). As a consequence of this, Spashtop cannot accept incoming connections over the network unless the virtual display driver is installed as detailed above. But there is another reason why you’d want to have a monitor and the native GPU driver loaded – it greatly enhances video performance and enables several video modes that are otherwise not available to you.
Since MacStadium servers do not have monitors, we just need a way to fool the Mac into thinking a monitor is attached so that the video driver is loaded on boot. Enter the DisplayPort dongle. A dongle is just a funny word that computer guys use to describe hardware that dangles (dongles?) off the side of a machine. In this case it is a DisplayPort to VGA adapter that has been slightly modified by adding a common resistor between two particular pins on the VGA side. This is all that is needed to signal that a monitor is connected (even if it really isn’t). MacStadium will be happy to provide one of these dongles and attach it to your hosted server for only $2 per month. If you’re not sure if it’s worth it, check out the video that accompanies this blog post to see the difference in video performance. If you are doing anything that is remotely graphics intensive on your Mac Mini you definitely want this dongle.
So that’s it! You should now have Splashtop Remote installed, configured and tweaked for maximum video performance. With a decent Internet connection and client PC you should have no trouble getting 30 frames per second or better, enabling high quality full-motion video across a remote control connection, something that was impossible to come by until now.
If you have any questions about this article or anything else related to MacStadium, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. We aim to please our customers! Thanks for reading, back soon!
A full list of Splashtop version 1 clients for various devices can be found here.