Use multiple monitors with Windows 7's Remote Desktop Connection

In Windows 7 you can connect to a remote computer and take full advantage of your local system's multiple monitors. Greg Shultz explains how.

If you're using multiple monitors on your system setup and you regularly connect to other systems via Remote Desktop, you know how frustrating it is to go from a multiple-monitor display to a single-monitor display for your remote connection. If so, you'll definitely want to learn how you can take advantage of multiple monitors in Microsoft Windows 7's Remote Desktop Connection.

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However, before I go any further it is important to understand right off the bat that multiple-monitors support in Windows 7's Remote Desktop is available only on Windows 7 Ultimate and Windows 7 Enterprise. (It is also available in Windows Server 2008 R2.) Furthermore, both the local and remote systems must be running one of the supported versions. For example, Windows 7 Ultimate is running on the local and Windows 7 Enterprise is running on the remote.

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As long as you have the proper configuration, Windows 7 provides you with real multiple-monitor support as opposed to the monitor-spanning feature that was introduced in the previous version of Remote Desktop Connection. This means that in Windows 7 you can use this feature to connect to a remote computer and take full advantage of your local system's multiple monitors on your remote system.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll describe Windows 7's Remote Desktop support for multiple monitors and show you how to configure it for connecting to other Windows 7 systems. I'll also show you how to use Remote Desktop's monitor-spanning feature when connecting to, and from, Windows versions that do not support the multiple-monitors feature.

What's the difference?

Figure A

Figure A

There are three types of configurations you can use when using Remote Desktop on a system with multiple monitors.

Configuring a multiple-monitors connection

Figure B

Figure B

Selecting the Use All My Monitors for the Remote Session check box is all that is needed to enable the multiple-monitor feature.

When you connect to the remote system, the remote system's monitor will instantly fill your multiple monitors, just as if it were physically connected to the monitors.

Configuring a monitor-spanning connection

As I mentioned, in a connection configured with the monitor-spanning feature, Remote Desktop allows you to drag or span the window across multiple monitors. However, there are a couple of caveats. First your multiple monitors must have the same screen resolution. Second, the monitors must be aligned, or positioned, side-by-side. Third, the combined screen resolution of your multiple monitors must be under 4096 x 2048.

To launch Remote Desktop Connection with monitor-spanning support, just click the Start button and type the following command in the Start Search box. (Alternatively, you can open a Command Prompt window and type the same command.)

Mstsc /span

When you do, you'll see the standard Remote Desktop Connection dialog box, and you can launch the connection as you normally would. As soon as you make a connection, you'll immediately see the desktop of the remote system spread across your multiple monitors. If you need to have access to both the local and remote desktops, you can reduce the size of the remote system's desktop to only one monitor by clicking the Restore Down button on the Remote Desktop window. As a shortcut, you can also use the keystroke: [Ctrl][Alt][Break].

Figure C

Figure C

When you resize the remote desktop's spanned window, you'll have to use scroll bars to view the entire screen.

Creating a shortcut

Of course, using a command line to launch your Remote Desktop connection isn't the most convenient way to use the monitor-spanning feature. Chances are that you already have a Remote Desktop Connection RDP file saved on your desktop. If so, you can create a standard Windows shortcut that will incorporate both the special command line and your RDP file.

mstsc /spanFigure D

Figure D

You can create a standard Windows shortcut that will incorporate both the special command line and your RDP file.

You can now use this shortcut to launch your remote desktop connection and span the Remote Desktop window across all the available space on your multiple monitors. Of course, the spanned desktop won't exactly behave like a multiple-monitor setup when you open multiple windows. As such you'll have to use a little creative click-and-drag resizing to reposition the windows on the spanned desktop.

What's your take?

Do you have a multiple monitor setup? Do you regularly use Remote Desktop? Will you take advantage of Windows 7's Remote Desktop support for multiple monitors? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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