Use Your Home Computer from Anywhere: A Comprehensive Guide to Remote Controlling Your PC

Windows to Windows: Use the Built-In Remote Desktop Connection

Windows users have a ton of options, but we really like Windows’ built-in Remote Desktop Connection for its Windows integration, high level of control, and the fact that it doesn’t require any additional software to set up. Note that you’ll need Windows Professional or higher for this feature to be available—Windows Home and Home Premium users will have to try one of the alternatives listed below—but that’s usually pretty easy to get at a low price. Here’s how to use it to access your Windows computer from another Windows machine.

Note that if you only want to access it from the inside of the network, you can just perform the steps in Option One, ignoring the first step of downloading and setting up Hamachi. Just fire up Remote Desktop, type in the name of the computer you want to access, and connect.

Option One: Connect to Your Home Network with Hamachi

Hamachi is a simple program that sets up a Virtual Private Network, or VPN, in just a few clicks. When you take your laptop out and about and you connect to your VPN with Hamachi, your computer acts as if its on your home network, which means you can access your other computers hassle-free—no need to forward ports or remember complicated IP addresses. It requires installing a separate program, but it’s a program we recommend you have anyway—in fact, you shouldn’t be using public wi-fi without it, since it keeps all of your data safe from prying eyes. Here’s how to use it in conjunction with Windows Remote Desktop.

Use Your Home Computer from Anywhere: A Comprehensive Guide to Remote Controlling Your PC

  1. Download and set up Hamachi on both your home computer and your remote computer using our how-to.
  2. On the computer you want to access remotely, click the Start menu and search for “allow remote access”. Choose the “Allow Remote Access to This Computer” option. You’ll get something like the window to the right. You’ll want to check one of the bottom two radio buttons, depending on how you’ll be accessing the computer. If you’re accessing it from another Windows 7 machine, you can use the more secure “Allow connections only from Remote Desktop with Network Level Authentication”. If you’re accessing it from other programs or versions of Windows, choose the “Allow connections from any version of Remote Desktop” option. Click OK when you’re done.
  3. On your remote computer, go to the Start button and search for “Remote Desktop”. Choose “Remote Desktop Connection”, and type in the name of the computer you want to access (like STEVESCOMPUTER or LIVINGROOM—the name you gave it when you installed Windows. (If you’re not sure what your computer is named, go to the Start menu, right-click on Computer, and scroll down to “Computer Name”.
  4. Click “Connect.” Log in with the username and password you use on your home computer to gain access.

That’s it! From now on, you should be able to connect to your home computer any time by starting up Hamachi, connecting to your VPN, and repeating steps 2 through 4. Remember that you need Hamachi running on your home computer and the computer you’re connecting with, so your best bet is to let it start up with Windows and run in the system tray.

Option Two: Forward the Ports On Your Router

Your second option is to forward the ports on your router so that you directly connect to your home computer from the internet. It takes a bit more initial setup, but you don’t need to install any extra software. That said, if you’re going to be browsing on public wi-fi, we recommend using Hamachi to secure your browsing anyway, so Option One is your best bet—but if you’re going to use Remote Desktop from a friend’s house or other secure location, you can use this method if you want.

Use Your Home Computer from Anywhere: A Comprehensive Guide to Remote Controlling Your PC

  1. From your home computer, log into your router’s administration page and forward TCP port 3389 to the computer you want to access, as described in this how-to.
  2. Find your home computer’s public ip by going to http://whatismyip.org and write down this IP address. Unfortunately, this public IP address could change at any time, leaving you without access. So, we actually recommend you also use a service like DynDNS to create a very simple domain name that you can use to connect your computer and using that instead.
  3. On the computer you want to access remotely, click the Start menu and search for “allow remote access”. Choose the “Allow Remote Access to This Computer” option. You’ll get something like the window to the right. You’ll want to check one of the bottom two radio buttons, depending on how you’ll be accessing the computer. If you’re accessing it from another Windows 7 machine, you can use the more secure “Allow connections only from Remote Desktop with Network Level Authentication”. If you’re accessing it from other programs or versions of Windows, choose the “Allow connections from any version of Remote Desktop” option. Click OK when you’re done.
  4. Once you’ve left the house, go to the Start button on your remote computer and search for “Remote Desktop”. Choose “Remote Desktop Connection”, and type in the IP address you found earlier (or your DynDNS name that you set up).
  5. Click “Connect.” Log in with the username and password you use on your home computer to gain access.

From now on, you can connect to your home computer just by repeating steps 4 and 5. There are no advantages to this method beyond not having to install Hamachi—they both run at about the same speed and the experience is otherwise identical once you connect.

As you can see, Remote Desktop requires a bit more initial setup than something like TeamViewer (see section 3 of this guide), but it’s really worth it for the speed and great Windows integration it brings you. Not only does it match the resolution of your remote computer, so it really feels like you’re using that machine—but you can copy and paste text or files just by pressing Ctrl+C as normal in the Remote Access window, then pressing Ctrl+V to paste them onto your current computer. I also recommend you check out the options available in the Remote Desktop Connection program—you can choose how much of your display to show, whether to show high quality graphics, which hard drives to share, share your printer, and lots more.

Its main downsides are that it isn’t exactly the prettiest option, and that it doesn’t support multiple monitors at all. The resolution thing might also be a downside for some. I like it because it makes it feel more like the computer’s in front of me, but it will resize all your windows to fit the new resolution and you’ll have to fix them once you get home. I recommend you give both Remote Desktop and TeamViewer a try, because they’re almost equally good in my opinion (though they each have their own strengths and weaknesses).

Other Windows to Windows Programs

As I said above, you should definitely try TeamViewer as described in the cross platform section below—it’s just as good as Remote Desktop, and if you have multiple monitors, it’s going to probably be even better. It’ll require a bit more setup (like creating a TeamViewer account and installing some software), but it’s worth it. Remote Desktop seems to be a bit more responsive when typing and clicking, though TeamViewer seems much smoother when it comes to moving around windows. Give them both a try and see which one you like better.

Other popular options for Windows include screen sharing clients like UltraVNC, which was one of your favorite remote desktop clients in our Hive Five. TightVNC is also popular (and available on Linux), though UltraVNC is a bit more feature-filled. Both clients let you access your computer from any web browser as well, which is nice, but they’re also a bit more complicated than Remote Desktop or TeamViewer. You can check out our how-to for TightVNC here.

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