Archive for the ‘matlab’ Category

February 21st, 2017

My new toy is a 2017 Dell XPS 15 9560 laptop on which I am running Windows 10. Once I got over (and fixed) the annoyance of all the advertising in Windows Home, I quickly starting loving this new device.

To get a handle on its performance, I used GPUBench in MATLAB 2016b and got the following results (This was the best of 4 runs…I note that MTimes performance for the CPU (Host PC), for example, varied between 130 and 150 Glops).

  • CPU: Intel Core I7-7700HQ (6M Cache, up to 3.8Ghz)
  • GPU: NVIDIA GTX 1050 with 4GB GDDR5


I last did this for my Retina MacBook Pro and am happy to see that the numbers are better across the board. The standout figure for me is the 1206 Gflops (That’s 1.2 Teraflops!) of single precision performance for Matrix-Matrix Multiply.

That figure of 1.2 Teraflops rang a bell for me and it took me a while to realise why…..

My laptop vs Manchester University’s old HPC system – Horace

Old timers like me (I’m almost 40) like to compare modern hardware with bygone supercomputers (1980s Crays vs mobile phones for example) and we know we are truly old when the numbers coming out of laptop benchmarks match the peak theoretical performance of institutional HPC systems we actually used as part of our career.

This has now finally happened to me! I was at the University of Manchester when it commissioned a HPC service called Horace and I was there when it was switched off in 2010 (only 6 and a bit years ago!). It was the University’s primary HPC service with a support team, helpdesk, sysadmins…the lot.  The specs are still available on Manchester’s website:

  • 24 nodes, each with 8 cores giving 192 cores in total.
  • Each core had a theoretical peak compute performance of 6.4 double precision Gflop/s
  • So a node had a theoretical peak performance of 51.2 Gflop/s
  • The whole thing could theoretically manage 1.2 Teraflop/s
  • It had four special ‘high memory’ nodes with 32Gb RAM each

Good luck getting that 1.2 Teraflops out of it in practice!

I get a big geek-kick out of the fact that my new laptop has the same amount of RAM as one of these ‘big memory’ nodes and that my laptop’s double precision CPU performance is on par with the combined power of 3 of Horace’s nodes. Furthermore, my laptop’s GPU can just about manage 1.2 Teraflop/s of single precision  performance in MATLAB — on par with the total combined power of the HPC system*.

* (I know, I know….Horace’s numbers are for double precision and my GPU numbers are single precision — apples to oranges — but it still astonishes me that the headline numbers are the same — 1.2 Teraflops).


January 4th, 2016

I stumbled across a great list of resources about the R programming language recently – a list called awesome-R. The list said it was inspired by awesome-machine-learning which, in turn, was inspired by awesome-PHP. It turns out that there is a whole network of these lists.

I noticed that there wasn’t a list for MATLAB so started the awesome-MATLAB list. Pull Requests are welcome.

May 22nd, 2015

Update: 2nd July 2015 The code in github has moved on a little since this post was written so I changed the link in the text below to the exact commit that produced the results discussed here.

Imagine that you are a very new MATLAB programmer and you have to create an N x N matrix called A where A(i,j) = i+j
Your first attempt at a solution might look like this

% Generate a N-by-N matrix where A(i,j) = i + j;
for ii = 1:N
     for jj = 1:N
         A(ii,jj) = ii + jj;

On my current machine (Macbook Pro bought in early 2015), the above loop takes 2.03 seconds. You might think that this is a long time for something so simple and complain that MATLAB is slow. The person you complain to points out that you should preallocate your array before assigning to it.

% Generate a N-by-N matrix where A(i,j) = i + j;
for ii = 1:N
     for jj = 1:N
         A(ii,jj) = ii + jj;

This now takes 0.049 seconds on my machine – a speed up of over 41 times! MATLAB suddenly doesn’t seem so slow after all.

Word gets around about your problem, however, and seasoned MATLAB-ers see that nested loop, make a funny face twitch and start muttering ‘vectorise, vectorise, vectorise’. Emails soon pile in with vectorised solutions

% Method 1: MESHGRID.
[X, Y] = meshgrid(1:N, 1:N);
A = X + Y;

This takes 0.025 seconds on my machine — a healthy speed-up on the loop-with-preallocation solution. You have to understand the meshgrid command, however, in order to understand what’s going on here. It’s still clear (to me at least) what its doing but not as clear as the nice,obvious double loop. Call me old fashioned but I like loops…I understand them.

% Method 2: Matrix multiplication.
A = (1:N).' * ones(1, N) + ones(N, 1) * (1:N);

This one is MUCH harder to read but you don’t worry about it too much because at 0.032 seconds it’s slower than meshgrid.

% Method 3: REPMAT.
A = repmat(1:N, N, 1) + repmat((1:N).', 1, N);

This one appears to be interesting! At 0.009 seconds, it’s the fastest so far – by a healthy amount!

% Method 4: CUMSUM.
A = cumsum(ones(N)) + cumsum(ones(N), 2);

Coming in at 0.052 seconds, this cumsum solution is slower than the preallocated loop.

% Method 5: BSXFUN.
A = bsxfun(@plus, 1:N, (1:N).');

Ahhh, bsxfun or ‘The Widow-maker function’ as I sometimes refer to it. Responsible for some of the fastest and most unreadable vectorised MATLAB code I’ve ever written. In this case, it brings execution time down to 0.0045 seconds.

Whenever I see something that can be vectorised with a repmat, I try to figure out if I can rewrite it as a bsxfun. The result is usually horrible to look at so I tend to keep the original loop commented out above it as an explanation! This particular example isn’t too bad but bsxfun can quickly get hairy.


Loops in MATLAB aren’t anywhere near as bad as they used to be thanks to advances in JIT compilation but it can often pay, speed-wise, to switch to vectorisation. The price you often pay for this speed-up is that vectorised code can become very difficult to read.

If you’d like the code I ran to get the timings above, it’s on github (link refers to the exact commit used for this post) . Here’s the output from the run I referred to in this post.

Original loop time is 2.025441
Preallocate and loop is 0.048643
Meshgrid time is 0.025277
Matmul time is 0.032069
Repmat time is 0.009030
Cumsum time is 0.051966
bsxfun time is 0.004527
  • MATLAB Version: 2015a
  • Early 2015 Macbook Pro with 16Gb RAM
  • CPU: 2.8Ghz quad core i7 Haswell

This post is based on a demonstration given by Mathwork’s Ken Deeley during a recent session at The University of Sheffield.

April 8th, 2015

I recently got a 15 inch Retina Macbook Pro which contains an NVIDIA GT 750M GPU. It’s been a while since I last got a laptop with a decent GPU in it so I wondered how it would perform in MATLAB using the Parallel Computing Toolbox.

Of course I didn’t read any documentation; I simply fired up MATLAB 2015a and issued the gpuDevice command.

>> gpuDevice
Error using gpuDevice (line 26)
There is a problem with the CUDA driver or with this GPU device. Be sure
that you have a supported GPU and that the latest driver is installed.

Caused by:
    The CUDA driver could not be loaded. The library name used was
    '/usr/local/cuda/lib/libcuda.dylib'. The error was:
    dlopen(/usr/local/cuda/lib/libcuda.dylib, 10): image not found

This is because I didn’t install a load of CUDA-related stuff! Following these instructions did the trick!

>> gpuDevice()

ans = 

  CUDADevice with properties:

                      Name: 'GeForce GT 750M'
                     Index: 1
         ComputeCapability: '3.0'
            SupportsDouble: 1
             DriverVersion: 6.5000
            ToolkitVersion: 6.5000
        MaxThreadsPerBlock: 1024
          MaxShmemPerBlock: 49152
        MaxThreadBlockSize: [1024 1024 64]
               MaxGridSize: [2.1475e+09 65535 65535]
                 SIMDWidth: 32
               TotalMemory: 2.1470e+09
           AvailableMemory: 444055552
       MultiprocessorCount: 2
              ClockRateKHz: 925500
               ComputeMode: 'Default'
      GPUOverlapsTransfers: 1
    KernelExecutionTimeout: 1
          CanMapHostMemory: 1
           DeviceSupported: 1
            DeviceSelected: 1

I headed over to the MATLAB File Exchange to get the GPU Bench App for MATLAB and fired it up. The summary of the results is below. Click on the image to see the detailed results.

Nvivida 750M Performance


The double precision performance of this GPU card is very poor – MUCH slower than the CPU on the Macbook Pro.

Looking on the bright side, the numbers for the CPU are pretty good for a laptop!

February 19th, 2015

I’ve been working at The University of Manchester for almost a decade and will be leaving at the end of this week! A huge part of my job was to support a major subset of Manchester’s site licensed application software portfolio so naturally I’ve made use of a lot of it over the years. As of February 20th, I will no longer be entitled to use any of it!

This article is the second in a series where I’ll look at some of the software that’s become important to me and what my options are on leaving Manchester.  Here, I consider MATLAB – a technical computing environment that has come to dominate my career at Manchester. For the last 10 years, I’ve used MATLAB at least every week, if not most days.

I had a standalone license for MATLAB and several toolboxes – Simulink, Image Processing, Parallel Computing, Statistics and Optimization. Now, I’ve got nothing! Unfortunately for me, I’ve also got hundreds of scripts, mex files and a few Simulink models that I can no longer run! These are my options:

Go somewhere else that has a MATLAB site license

  • I’ll soon be joining the University of Sheffield who have a MATLAB site license. A great option if you can do it.

Use something else

  • Octave – Octave is a pretty good free and open source clone of MATLAB and quite a few of my programs would work without modification. Others would require some rewriting and, in some cases, that rewriting could be extensive! There is no Simulink support.
  • Scilab – It’s free and it’s MATLAB-like-ish but I’d have to rewrite my code most of the time. I could also port some of my Simulink models to Scilab as was done in this link.
  • Rewrite all my code to use something completely different. What I’d choose would depend on what I’m trying to achieve but options include Python, Julia and R among others.


  • If all I needed was the ability to run a few MATLAB applications I’d written, I could compile them using the MATLAB Compiler and keep the result. The whole point of the MATLAB Compiler is to distribute MATLAB applications to those who don’t have a MATLAB license. Of course once I’ve lost access to MATLAB itself, debugging and adding features will be  um……tricky!

Get a hobbyist license for MATLAB

  • MATLAB Home – This is the full version of MATLAB for hobbyists. Writing a non-profit blog such as WalkingRandomly counts as a suitable ‘hobby’ activity so I could buy this license. MATLAB itself for 85 pounds with most of the toolboxes coming in at an extra 25 pounds each. Not bad at all! The extra cost of the toolboxes would still lead me to obsess over how to do things without toolboxes but, to be honest, I think that’s an obsession I’d miss if it weren’t there! Buying all of the same toolboxes as I had before would end up costing me a total of £210+VAT.
  • Find a MOOC that comes with free MATLAB – Mathworks make MATLAB available for free for students of some online courses such as the one linked to here. Bear in mind, however, that the license only lasts for the duration of the course.

Academic Use

If I were to stay in academia but go to an institution with no MATLAB license, I could buy myself an academic standalone license for MATLAB and the various toolboxes I’m interested in. The price lists are available at

For reference, current UK academic prices are

  • MATLAB £375 + VAT
  • Simulink £375 + VAT
  • Standard Toolboxes (statistics, optimisation, image processing etc) £150 +VAT each
  • Premium Toolboxes (MATLAB Compiler, MATLAB Coder etc) – Pricing currently not available

My personal mix of MATLAB, Simulink and 4 toolboxes would set me back £1350 + VAT.

Commercial Use

If I were to use MATLAB professionally and outside of academia, I’d need to get a commercial license. Prices are available from the link above which, at the time of writing, are

  • MATLAB £1600 +VAT
  • Simulink £2400 + VAT
  • Standard Toolboxes £800 +VAT each
  • Premium Toolboxes – Pricing currently not available

My personal mix of MATLAB, Simulink and 4 toolboxes would set me back £7200 + VAT.

Contact MathWorks

If anyone does find themselves in a situation where they have MATLAB code and no means to run it, then they can always try contacting MathWorks and ask for help in finding a solution.


January 27th, 2015

Linear Algebra – Foundations to Frontiers (or LAFF to its friends) is a popular, high quality and free MOOC that, as the title suggests, teaches aspects of linear algebra in a way that takes the student from the very basics through to some cutting edge techniques. I worked through much of it last year and thoroughly enjoyed the approach it took — focusing on programming aspects from the very beginning. The course authors are also among the developers of the FLAME project, a high performance linear algebra library, and one of the interesting aspects of the LAFF course (for me at least) was that it taught linear algebra in a way that also allowed you to understand the approaches used in the algorithms behind FLAME.

Last year, all of the programming assignments in LAFF were done in Python, making use of the IPython notebook. This year, the software stack will be different and will be based on MATLAB. I understand that everyone who signs up to LAFF will be able to get a free MATLAB license from Mathworks for the duration of the course. Understandably, this caused quite a bit of discussion between the LAFF team and software/language geeks like me. In a recent Facebook thread, I asked about the switch and received the reply

‘MATLAB will be free during the course. There are open source equivalents, but Mathworks staff is supporting the use of MATLAB (staff for us). There were some who never got the IPython notebooks to work properly. We are really excited at the opportunity to innovate again and perhaps clear up snags in the programming issues we had. It was complicated to support IPython on all of the operating systems and machines that participants use. MATLAB promises to be easier and will allow us again to concentrate on the Linear Algebra’ – LAFF UTx

I’m sufficiently interested in this change from IPython to MATLAB that I’ll be signing up for the course again this year and I encourage you to do the same — I believe that the programming-centric teaching approach taken by LAFF is extremely well done and your time would be well-spent working through the course.

The course starts on 28th January 2015 so sign up now!

Here’s the trailer for last year’s course.

October 22nd, 2014

Many engineering textbooks such as Ogata’s Modern Control Engineering include small code examples written in languages such as MATLAB. If you don’t have access to MATLAB and if the examples don’t run in GNU Octave for some reason, the value of these textbooks is reduced.

Professor Kannan M. Moudgalya et al of the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay have developed an ambitious project that has ported the code examples of over 400 textbooks to the open-source computational system, Scilab.

The Textbook Companion Project has free Scilab code for textbooks from a range of subject areas including Fluid Mechanics,  Control Systems, Chemical Engineering and Digital Electronics.


September 22nd, 2014

The Mathematics department at The University of Manchester runs a third year undergraduate module called ‘Problem solving by computer’ which invites students to solve complex mathematical problems by doing a little programming. Along with some interesting mathematics, the course exposes students to a wide variety of languages and numerical libraries including MATLAB, Octave, NAG, Mathematica and, most recently, Python.

Earlier this year, Python was introduced as an option for students who wanted to use it for a project in this course and, despite only being given two lectures in the language, quite a few people chose to use it. Much of this success must be attributed to the Python for MATLABers notes written by Manchester PhD student, Sophia Coban which is why I’m providing links to them here.

June 18th, 2014

Something that became clear from my recent comparison of Numpy’s Mersenne Twister implementation with MATLAB’s is that there is something funky going on with seed 0 in MATLAB. A discussion in the comments thread helped uncover what was going on. In short, seed 0 gives exactly the same random numbers as seed 5489 in MATLAB (unless you use their deprecated rand(‘twister’,0) syntax).

This is a potential problem for anyone who performs lots of simulations that make use of random numbers such as monte-carlo simulations. One common work-flow is to run the same program hundreds of times where only the seed differs between runs. This is probably good enough to ensure that each simulation uses a random number stream that is statistically independent from all of the others — There is a risk that some streams will overlap but the probability is low and most people are content to live with that risk.

The practical upshot of this is that if you intend on sticking with Mersenne Twister for your MATLAB monte-carlo simulations, it might be wise to avoid seed 0. Alternatively, move to a random number generator that guarantees non-overlapping, independent streams – something that any implementation of Mersenne Twister cannot do.

Here’s a demo run in MATLAB 2014a on Windows 7.

>> format long
>> rng(0)
>> rand(1,5)'

ans =


>> rng(5489)
>> rand(1,5)'

ans =

June 16th, 2014

When porting code between MATLAB and Python, it is sometimes useful to produce the exact same set of random numbers for testing purposes.  Both Python and MATLAB currently use the Mersenne Twister generator by default so one assumes this should be easy…and it is…provided you use the generator in Numpy and avoid the seed 0.

Generate some random numbers in MATLAB

Here, we generate the first 5 numbers for 3 different seeds in MATLAB. Our aim is to reproduce these in Python.

>> format long
>> rng(0)
>> rand(1,5)'

ans =


>> rng(1)
>> rand(1,5)'

ans =


>> rng(2)
>> rand(1,5)'

ans =


Python’s default random module

According to the documentation,Python’s random module uses the Mersenne Twister algorithm but the implementation seems to be different from MATLAB’s since the results are different.  Here’s the output from a fresh ipython session:

In [1]: import random

In [2]: random.seed(0)

In [3]: [random.random() for _ in range(5)]

In [4]: random.seed(1)

In [5]: [random.random() for _ in range(5)]

In [6]: random.seed(2)

In [7]: [random.random() for _ in range(5)]

The Numpy random module

Numpy’s random module, on the other hand, seems to use an identical implementation to MATLAB for seeds other than 0. In the below, notice that for seeds 1 and 2, the results are identical to MATLAB’s. For a seed of zero, they are different.

In [1]: import numpy as np

In [2]: np.set_printoptions(suppress=True)

In [3]: np.set_printoptions(precision=15)

In [4]: np.random.seed(0)

In [5]: np.random.random((5,1))
array([[ 0.548813503927325],
       [ 0.715189366372419],
       [ 0.602763376071644],
       [ 0.544883182996897],
       [ 0.423654799338905]])

In [6]: np.random.seed(1)

In [7]: np.random.random((5,1))
array([[ 0.417022004702574],
       [ 0.720324493442158],
       [ 0.000114374817345],
       [ 0.30233257263184 ],
       [ 0.146755890817113]])

In [8]: np.random.seed(2)

In [9]: np.random.random((5,1))
array([[ 0.435994902142004],
       [ 0.025926231827891],
       [ 0.549662477878709],
       [ 0.435322392618277],
       [ 0.420367802087489]])

Checking a lot more seeds

Although the above interactive experiments look convincing, I wanted to check a few more seeds. All seeds from 0 to 1 million would be a good start so I wrote a MATLAB script that generated 10 random numbers for each seed from 0 to 1 million and saved the results as a .mat file.

A subsequent Python script loads the .mat file and ensures that numpy generates the same set of numbers for each seed. It outputs every seed for which Python and MATLAB differ.

On my mac, I opened a bash prompt and ran the two scripts as follows

matlab -nodisplay -nodesktop -r "generate_matlab_randoms"

The output was

MATLAB file contains 1000001 seeds and 10 samples per seed
Random numbers for seed 0 differ between MATLAB and Numpy

System details

  • Late 2013 Macbook Air
  • MATLAB 2014a
  • Python 2.7.7
  • Numpy 1.8.1