Remotely controlling a distant PC is not exactly a new fad. It’s been around ever since computers got networked. Before the era of GUI-based operating systems users and administrators alike would log on to distant systems using telnet and could issue commands on a remote computer located anywhere, as long as a network path to it was available. Things got a bit more complex when GUI-based operating systems such as Windows or Mac OS became popular. It wasn’t long, though, before solutions started to appear. The Remote Desktop Connection app from Microsoft has been on every Windows PC for a while and tons of third-party tools have come and gone. Today, we’re having a look at some of the best computer remote control tools available.
Before we begin, we’ll spend some time discussing computer remote control in general. We’ll see what it is and what it can do for you. The usefulness of computer remote control is not the same for administrators who need access to the servers they manage as it is for users trying to access their office computer from their home. Since security is always an important issue—or, at least, it should be—we’ll also talk about the security of using computer remote control. Next, we’ll talk about selecting a remote control solution, what you should look for and what you should avoid. As you might expect, this is largely dependent on your specific needs. Armed with all this knowledge, we’ll tackle the core of the matter and review the best computer remote control tool we could find.
What Can Computer Remote Control Do For Me?
The reasons why anyone would need computer remote control are almost as diverse as there are users. Some telecommuting users need to access their work computer from home. Others do the opposite and want to access their home computer from work. Or perhaps your organization’s IT department needs the ability to remotely control its user’s computers to fix problems. No matter what the reason, controlling remote computers is a key component of many organizations.
Whether you call it computer remote control or remote desktop connection, it has never been easier to connect to an office computer from another computer or even from a mobile device. If you, or your employees, need to work from home on a regular basis or if you are out to dinner and suddenly remember that important email that must be sent before morning, computer remote control will let you access your work computer from your personal devices, no matter where you may be.
Computer remote control is also a useful tool for network and systems administrators. They let them access computers remotely as if they were sitting right in front of them. They could be in the server room a few feet away or in a different country. These tools let administrators access any server to perform their administrative duties and troubleshooting tasks. Many of the tools we’ve found are suitable for corporate IT environment but can also be used at home. Some remote control tools even allow for web conferencing. You can use them for webinars, demos, presentations, or classes. They can also be used when working on group projects where everyone is scattered across the country.
How About Security
One of the concerns many users have with computer remote control is the idea that if you can access your work computer from home—or your home computer from work, someone else may be able to as well. This raises the question: Is computer remote control safe?
All of the best tools reviewed here allow let customize the security settings for your remote session. These features typically include things such as blanking the screen of the host machine while you are accessing it, locking its keyboard and mouse, and automatically disconnecting the session if it is idle for too long. These features can typically be adjusted to your liking and you can create or change credentials to access either or both of the program’s dashboard and the remote computer.
When working with remote computers, you need to make sure you do it over a secure connection. This is especially true when you are using them to access sensitive or proprietary information. The industry standard is to use 128-bit encryption, but many financial and government institutions are moving toward 256 bits. Both encryption methods enough security for most situations. 128-bit encryption will protect you from threats while maintaining good performance. While 256-bit encryption provides a more secure connection—perhaps more than required, the bigger encryption can have a hit on performance.
Every single computer remote control tool includes user authentication and password protection. Some also offer IP address filtering, allowing you to either block access from specific computers or allow access only from specific computers. This is can be helpful in protecting businesses from former employees gaining access after their employment ends. Blanking the remote screen is another popular security feature which will prevent anyone near the remote PC from seeing what you’re doing, allowing you to work in privacy even when your computer is in an open office. Automatic idle disconnection is another common feature which protects your computer from someone accessing it in case someone forgot to log out from the session.
Choosing Computer Remote Control Tools
Although the functionality, security and usability of each tool are important factors when evaluating different tools, the most important is to keep your needs in mind. The best tool for someone looking to access his office PC from home might not be the same as the best tool to access servers in the server room.
Another factor that is very important to some—but much less so to others—is customer support. Some of these tools are quite complex and they intertwine with elements of the operating system such as the display, the keyboard and the mouse. There is a considerable potential for problems here. You may want to look closely at the support that is offered with each solution.
Most vendors offer a thorough knowledge base that you can use to find solutions to problems that arise. However, the quality of the help may differ for each supplier. All of our top products have technical support via email or help ticket but the some provide free telephone and/or chat support. User manuals, help files and FAQs are also helpful. This is particularly true when the live tech support is only available during business hours or is located in different time zone. Issues don’t always show up during the daytime.
The Best Remote Control Tool
Our first entry is from SolarWinds, a well-known maker of excellent network and system administration tools. Its flagship product, the SolarWinds Network Performance Monitor is generally seen as one of the very best network bandwidth monitoring tools. SolarWinds is also famous for its free tools. They are smaller tools, each addressing a specific need of network administrators. Examples of those free tools are the Advanced Subnet Calculator or the Kiwi Syslog Server.
The Dameware Mini Remote Control is SolarWinds’ offering for computer remote control. The product is sold as a tool for customer support and help desk needs although it could be used in other contexts. It will let you remotely control Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X computers, laptops, and servers from a single console. This tool can even access sleeping or powered off computers. As such, it can come in handy when you have to work on your user’s computers after hours.
- FREE Trial: Dameware Mini Remote Control
- Official Download Link: https://www.solarwinds.com/dameware-mini-remote-control/registration
On the security front, the tool can enforce two-factor authentication in security-sensitive environments using Smart Card login and authentication. It also has flexible user access control. You can set permissions for accessing remote computers based on user roles, or use Active Directory integration in a centralized mode.
As one would certainly expect, the software requires a remote connection agent to be running on each computer you want to connect to. To make the deployment easier, you can easily create and deploy custom MSI packages for the installation of the MRC Client Agent Service. The software also includes a handful of remote session tools such as a chat function, a messenger, screenshot capture, file transfer, and more.
Pricing for the Dameware Mini Remote Control is per technician and varies between $190 and $265, depending on the number of licenses purchased. The license lets you connect to an unlimited number of remote-controlled devices and the support for the first year is included in the price of the product. There are no other hidden or monthly fees. You can also download a free trial version which is fully functional for 14 days.
Our next tool is also from SolarWinds. In fact, The Dameware Remote Support is the Dameware Mini Remote Control big brother. You can think of it as the Mini Remote Control on Steroids. At its base, it is a similar tool but it comes with extended functionality. All the features of the Mini Remote Control are included in this product which combines remote control and systems management tools in one easy-to-use package.
- FREE Trial: Dameware Remote Support
- Official Download Link: https://www.solarwinds.com/remote-support-software/registration
Dameware Remote Support allows administrators and help desk attendants to remotely troubleshoot Windows computers or servers without having to initiate remote control sessions. Using the built-in system tools and remote administration capabilities of Dameware Remote Support, one can remotely reboot systems, start/stop services and processes, copy/delete files, view and clear event logs, and more. It is also a remote administration tool that helps you remotely manage multiple AD domains, groups, and users. You can use it to remotely unlock user accounts, reset passwords, and edit Group Policies from a single management console.
The software also provides remote access to several system tools and TCP utilities such as ping, tracert, DNS lookup, FTP, and telnet. This tool also features a built-in exporter tool to help easily export AD properties, software information, and system configurations from remote computers in easy-to-use .csv or .xml formats.
The pricing structure for Dameware Remote Support is similar to that of Dameware Mini Remote Control, only a bit more expensive. Individual licenses vary from $295 to $370 with unlimited remote-controlled devices and one year of support. And like its little brother, a 14-day trial version is available.
3. VNC Connect
VNC—which stands for Virtual Network Computing—was one of the first computer remote access solution to enjoy enormous popularity. The company behind VNC is now known as RealVNC and its current computer remote control product is called VNC Connect. Among the product’s main characteristics, it is easy to deploy and administer, it is responsive, and it is intuitive to use. So intuitive that no training should be required for users. The product is also very flexible. It can provide both attended and unattended access, it allows direct and cloud connectivity, and it can be pre-installed or used in a connect-on-demand fashion. The software also comes with a few extra features such as file transfer, remote printing and chat
VNC Connect has built-in security. Sessions are encrypted end-to-end using up to 256-bit AES encryption. Authentication is mandatory at the point of connection and never delegated to the cloud. Advanced features let you protect your computers with multi-factor authentication, single-sign-on (SSO), granular access control and rich session permissions. This product is also powerful and efficient. As the original inventor of the VNC technology, the RealVNC knows how to create a responsive screen sharing experience that’s as good as being there. It uses a patented technology to automatically optimize to the speed of the network. It is also especially effective in low-bandwidth and high-latency environments.
VNC Connect is available in a free Home version that can only be used for non-commercial applications and is limited to 5 remote computers and 3 users. There is also a Professional version which only allows cloud connections and is priced at $40/year per remote computer and an Enterprise version which allows both direct and cloud connection for $55/year per remote computers. You can also get the paid versions for instant, client-less access only for $200/year per technician and $400/year per technician, respectively. A free 30-day trial is available on all paid plans.
Although somewhat younger that VNC, TeamViewer is another immensely popular computer remote control solution. This is a full-featured, enterprise-grade remote control platform which can run under all desktop and mobile platforms, including Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and even Chrome OS and BlackBerry OS. The tool’s interface is possibly the most stylish and up-to-date of all the remote access software on our list. Perfectly suited for corporate use, TeamViewer is very well designed, with security-conscious professional users in mind.
TeamViewer is a feature-rich product, although it may lack some ancillary features found on other products. It is first and foremost a computer remote control tool. One of its greatest strength is the number of supported platforms, both as the controlled devices and as the controlling device. You can use this product to access almost any Internet-connected device from any other. The product’s advanced screen scaling technologies ensure that any remote device screen is correctly rendered on your device. You could, for instance, access a computer with a UHD 4K display from a smartphone.
The TeamViewer pricing structure is rather complex. You can get the single user version for $49/month. It will let you remote control up to 200 devices from one computer but it only supports one concurrent session. The multi-user version is similar although you can control remote devices from many computers but still only one at a time. Its cost is $99/month. There’s also a team version for $199/month which is similar to the multi-user but allows 3 simultaneous sessions.
LogMeIn is yet another immensely popular computer remote control platform. It is probably better suited for remote users requiring access to their office computer or travelling users who need to access their home desktop. The product provides several advanced features geared specifically at this type of users. In addition to remote control, there are advanced file transfer and management capabilities. You’ll be able to transfer files to and from the connected computers. For instance, if you realize you left a document you intended to work on from home on your office computer, you can easily connect to it from home and transfer the document. You’re then free to work on the document offline.
LogMeIn also has a unique feature in that it comes with 1TB of cloud-based storage. You can copy files at will to this storage space and access them from anywhere. In addition, you get all the usual features found on similar tools such as remote printing, screen sharing and password management. Another area where LogMeIn excels is with multi-monitor displays. While some tools will only let you remotely view the main screen, this tool will let you view all your monitors simultaneously, just as if you were sitting in front of the remote computer.
LogMeIn individual plans start at $30/month billed annually with access to up to 2 computers. there’s also a power user plan for $70/month with access to up to 5 computers and a $129/month small business plan which doubles that. A free 14-day trial is available should you prefer to try the product before purchasing it.
GoToMyPC is one of those tools that’s better geared at accessing your office computer from home or vice-versa than working on a data center server. In fact, this tool is quite similar to LogMeIn. It has been around for about ten years and it is loaded with all the essential features and then some. Unsurprisingly, the tool’s main feature is remote access. It will let you access a Windows or Mac computer from anywhere and from almost anything. There are client applications for desktops operating systems but also for Android- and iOS-based devices as well as the Amazon Kindle.
Installing GoToMyPC is a snap. You just download the app and launch the installer. Installation and configuration don’t even require a restart. Once installed, you can use it right away. In addition to remote control, it also has file transfer and copy and paste between the connected computers. There’s support for multi-monitor setups and sound is carried from the host to the client.
GoToMyPC is available in a Personal version at $44/month per computer and a Pro version at $83/month per two computers. The Personal version supports only one user whereas the Pro one can accommodate up to fifty. Larger enterprise licenses can also be acquired and a quote can be obtained. A free trial is available but it will only last seven days.