Windows XP Professional’s Remote Desktop feature can be a handy tool for users who need access to their desktop PC when away from the office. Its default settings should provide adequate performance. However, you can tweak the behavior of a remote desktop session to optimize the speed and performance. For example, if you have a user who connects over a slow modem, you can disable the wallpaper or adjust the screen resolution to save bandwidth. In this article, I’ll show you how to fine-tune remote desktop connections for your users.

Need more information?

To learn the basics of Remote Desktop for Windows XP, read Brien’s article “Take control with Windows XP Remote Desktop.”

Starting Remote Desktop
Go to the Windows XP local/client PC and select the All Programs | Accessories | Communications | Remote Desktop Connections commands from the Start menu. You’ll then see the Remote Desktop Connection dialog box. Click the Options button to reveal five tabs that you can use to fine-tune the connection.

The General tab
The General tab is where the user specifies which computer he or she wants to attach to (the remote/host computer). As you can see in Figure A, a user can also choose to save the connection’s password. Clicking the Save As button allows him or her to save the settings for a connection to a specific computer, which can be a real time-saver if you have users who connect to multiple computers.

Figure A
The General tab allows you to control authentication information and to save your settings.

The Display tab
The Display tab allows you to control the way that the remote desktop is displayed on the user’s local system. As you can see in Figure B, the Remote Desktop Size slide bar allows the user to control whether the remote session runs in full-screen mode or in a window. If the user decides to run the session in a window, he or she can also control the size of the window.

Figure B
The Display tab allows you to custom tailor the display settings for the remote system.

This tab is also where you control the color-palette settings. As you can see in the figure, my system is set to use 24-bit color. However, I only get 24-bit color if the host system is also configured to use 24-bit color or higher. The client system will always use the same color palette as the host. If performance becomes an issue, you can sometimes give it a boost by reducing the color set.

The Local Resources tab
The Local Resources tab, shown in Figure C, allows the user to control which features apply to the local system and which features apply to the remote system. For example, you can control whether or not sound from the host system should be played on the client system (sound requires a lot of bandwidth and should disabled to improve performance). You can also control whether shortcut-key combinations, such as [Alt][Tab], apply to the client system or the host system. Or you could apply such key combinations to the host system only when it’s running in full-screen mode. From this tab, you also control whether disk drives, printers, and serial ports that you may reference apply to the client system or to the host machine.

Figure C
The Local Resources tab controls whether various resources are presumed to be on the local or remote system.

The Programs tab
As you can see in Figure D, the Programs tab allows you to specify an optional program to run upon connecting to the host. You can also specify in which folder that program should be run.

Figure D
The Programs tab allows you to launch a program upon connecting to the host.

The Experience tab
The Experience tab, shown in Figure E, allows you to enable or disable Remote Desktop features based on connection speed. The drop-down list allows you to select your connection speed from the following options:

  • Modem (28.8 Kbps)
  • Modem (56 Kbps)
  • Broadband (128 Kbps to 1.5 Mbps)
  • LAN (10 Mbps or higher)

When you select a connection speed, Remote Desktop automatically enables or disables features, depending on the connection’s ability to use those features in an efficient manner. Although you can always override the default settings, performance may suffer. The more features you enable, the slower Remote Desktop’s performance will be.

Figure E
The Experience tab allows you to enable or disable features based on your connection speed.

Squeeze that bandwidth
The overriding factor in determining Remote Desktop’s performance is the connection speed between the client and host machines. So tailor those configuration settings to your users’ connection speeds. Don’t let your users attempt to run Remote Desktop over a 28.8-Kbps modem connection with sound, a high color palette, and all the Experience features enabled. Even on a fast connection, I recommend having your users start with most of the configuration options disabled and then enable the options one at a time, testing the performance each time an option is added. Eventually, they’ll find a balance of options and performance that satisfies their needs.

What do you think?

How would you rate Windows XP’s Remote Desktop feature? How does it compare to pcAnywhere and/or VNC? Do you or your end users use Remote Desktop regularly? Post a comment to this article and let us know what you think.