How to configure a remote desktop connection in Windows

Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection tool offers various settings you can tweak for better performance, reliability, and overall experience.

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With more people working from home due to the coronavirus, there's a greater need to connect to remote workstations and servers. One handy tool for accessing remote PCs is Microsoft's Remote Desktop Connection (RDC). Built into Windows and available for other platforms, RDC lets you configure and use remote sessions to work with PCs in other locations.

Using RDC's basic features, you can easily establish a connection to each remote PC. But by using some of the more advanced features and settings, you can fine-tune the performance, reliability, and overall experience of each session.

If you work for an organization, your IT department may already control these settings through Group Policy or other means; so, this process is more applicable to individuals and smaller businesses that don't centrally manage these options.

SEE: How to work from home: IT pro's guidebook to telecommuting and remote work (TechRepublic Premium) 

Launching the Remote Desktop Connection differs based on your version of Windows. In Windows 10, click the Start button, scroll down the list of apps, open the folder for Windows Accessories, and click the shortcut for Remote Desktop Connection. In Windows 8.1, press the Win key+S to launch the Search tool. In the search field, type windows remote desktop, and click the result. In Windows 7, click the Start button, open the Accessories folder, and select the shortcut for Remote Desktop Connection.

At the Remote Desktop Connection window, enter the computer name or IP address for the remote machine you want to access. Then, type your username in the appropriate field, and click the Connect button. But before you do that, let's check out some of the different settings. If you can't see the more advanced settings, click the Show Options button. The RDC window organizes its settings into different sections--we'll go through them one by one.

1. General tab

In the General tab, you can check or uncheck the box for Always Ask For Credentials. Unchecking this box spares you from having to enter your password each time you connect to the same machine. If you're concerned about this for security reasons, leave the box checked. If you've already saved your credentials and need to change or delete them, make sure the box is unchecked, and click the edit or delete link in the sentence above it.

The option to Save The Current Connection Settings To An RDP File is useful if you want to use the same remote connections on a different PC. If so, click the Save or Save As button, and copy the RDP file to your other PC. There, you can open the RDP file to access the same sessions so you don't have to reestablish them (Figure A).

Figure A

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2. Display tab

Click the Display tab. In the area for Display Configuration, you can set the initial size of your remote desktop session. By default, the session opens full screen with full resolution to use your entire monitor screen. If you'd like to see the session in a smaller, resizable window at a lower resolution, drag the slider bar to the left. Further, if you have a multi-monitor setup, you can check the box to Use All My Monitors For The Remote Session.

In the area for Colors, you can change the color depth of the remote session. Typically, you'll want to keep this set to Highest Quality, but if bandwidth issues slow down the performance of the connection, you can experiment with lower color settings as a possible remedy (Figure B).

You should opt to Display The Connection Bar When I Use The Full Screen, so that you can easily access the different controls for your remote session in full-screen mode.

Figure B

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3. Local Resources tab

Go to the Local Resources tab. In the area for Remote Audio, click the Settings button. Here, you can choose if and where sounds from the remote computer will be heard. If the audio from the remote PC is important, change the settings to Play On This Computer so you can hear them. You can then also decide whether to allow remote audio recording. If you changed the setting here, click OK.

In the area for Keyboard, click the drop-down menu button. Here, you can determine when and where any Windows keyboard shortcuts you press will apply, either on the remote PC or on your current PC.

In the area for Local Devices And Resources, you can check the boxes for any local resources you want to use during a remote session, such as your local printers and clipboard. Click the More button to view and select other devices you might want to use locally, such as ports, disk drives, and plug and play devices, and then click OK. Checking these boxes means that the remote PC has access to your local resources. For security reasons, you should limit the resources made available this way to only the essential ones (Figure C).

Figure C

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4. Experience tab

Click the Experience tab. In the Performance area, click the drop-down menu to choose your connection speed. By default, you'll want to keep this set to Detect Connection Quality Automatically. However, if you are running into performance issues with your sessions, you can play with other types of connections to see if the speed improves.

The setting for Persistent Bitmap Caching should remain checked as this option tries to speed up performance by storing the same remote images locally so they don't have to be transmitted again and again. The setting for Reconnect If The Connection Is Dropped should also stay checked if you wish to reestablish a dropped connection automatically (Figure D).

Figure D

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5. Advanced tab

Finally, move to the Advanced tab. In the area for Server Authentication, click the drop-down menu. This setting determines how to handle connections to computers that aren't verified. Depending on the types of machines to which you'll connect (e.g., workstations versus servers), you typically want to keep this set to Warn Me so you have some control over it.

The area for Connect From Anywhere applies if your organization uses a Remote Desktop Gateway to allow connections to internal PCs from outside the firewall. If so, this would be a setting determined by your IT department. Click the Settings button to see how this is configured. Unless instructed otherwise, leave it set to Automatically Detect RD Gateway Server Settings (Figure E).

When done, you can connect to a remote PC or close the RDP window.

Figure E

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