Gaming on a Macbook with Insane Battery Life
Dec 13, 2018

I watched one of LinusTechTips recent videos where he demoed game streaming from a service I hadn’t heard of called Shadow (coupon: RYA1BMUE). I was intrigued by the fact that you get a full Windows 10 VM with 8 cores, 12 GB RAM, and a GTX 1080 or Quadro P5000 to install whatever you want onto (besides mining) with very low latency.

It was only $15 after the coupon code (use mine if you decide to try: RYA1BMUE) so I said why not. So, after the initial setup there was massive latency of 1 second or more even though my ping is 7ms to the date center in New York. This was solved by rebooting the VM and it’s been fine ever since. However, there is still some latency so for multiplayer FPS games like CS:GO or Overwatch I would not recommend it. Anything singleplayer or co-op like Fallout 4 or Left 4 Dead it would be fine.

They must be overprovisioning their service so this is essentially how it works (my best guess):

  1. They expect most people to not be gaming while their service is active so they can overprovision and have more paying customers. This is actually a good thing because it brings the cost down for everyone substantially.
  2. Your individual VM storage lives on another server in the DC.
  3. When you open the Shadow software and launch your Shadow, it is spun up on a random server with your block storage attached.
  4. When you close the Shadow software, your VM is turned off after several minutes so someone else has the chance to use the hardware.

That’s a brief overview of my thoughts on it. Now, about laptop gaming.

There’s this little utility called Volta that can be used to undervolt and limit the maximum wattage of your CPU on macOS. On Windows you can use Intel XTU. I don’t think AMD has a way to do this yet.

Basically, what I did was limit the maximum wattage of my 2013 Macbook Pro 13” to 5w and ran Shadow for game streaming. My Macbook got a little warm but never hot (fan was off the whole time) as I played Left 4 Dead on a bed comforter.

Activity Monitor said I had about 6 hours of battery life while Shadow was running which is pretty good considering it was hogging about 40% of the CPU. I have a Ubiquiti AP so even playing over WiFi there wasn’t much of a difference between wired.

It’s fairly impressive but since I have a PC better than the VM, it would make more sense to stream the game locally for even less latency. I haven’t tested Steam in-home streaming with the capped power limit so that may work. Last time I tried it the quality wasn’t very good and it killed the battery quickly.

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