use laptop as thin client
April 12, 2012 7:40 PM   Subscribe

RDP into personal desktop from work laptop over LAN/wifi - suggestions to get the best possible "thin client" experience at home? Is it a bad idea to use my work computer this way?

My personal laptop is on its last legs and I really want to replace it with a desktop.
I love having a laptop around to browse the web while sitting around the house/lying in bed. Since I have a decent work-provided laptop, I want to use Remote Desktop Connection over my home LAN/wifi to get the best of both worlds.

Have you done this? I'm trying out the setup right now (RDP into my personal laptop from my work laptop) and the overall experience seems pretty good- screen refresh rates are a bit choppy, but definitely bearable for most web surfing.
Are there things I can do to optimize the experience? Streaming video at a reasonable framerate is probably asking too much, right? Am I right in assuming that my wifi is the bottleneck, or will having a faster parent computer change anything?
In short, do you have any advice for me?

Secondary question: There are things I do on my personal computer that I'd rather not do on my work computer. Should I feel comfortable using my remote session the same way I'd use my desktop?
My employer's use policy is not draconian - many of my peers travel extensively and basically use their work computers for 100% of their computing tasks. What risks am I taking?
posted by hot soup to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It depends on your setup, but most likely it's your broadband service that's the bottleneck; the wifi link to your router is orders of magnitude faster.

In the RDP client, expand the Options and check out the Experience tab, which lets you control things like wallpaper and fancy graphics effects.

I can't really speak to the security aspect; I'm curious myself to hear about that.
posted by Rat Spatula at 7:44 PM on April 12, 2012

You want to run this remote session through a VPN or over an SSH tunnel. If you don't know what that means, you should hold off on doing this until you talk to your IT staff.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:45 PM on April 12, 2012

Response by poster: Sorry, this probably wasn't clear - the planned setup is as follows:

Personal Desktop connected to home network
Work-provided laptop also connected to home network on wifi

I want to use the work laptop to open a remote session of my personal desktop while on the same local network (home) as the desktop, theoretically enabling me to use my work laptop as my personal computer within my house.

Shouldn't this bypass my broadband connection entirely? Also, it doesn't seem like an SSH tunnel should be necessary in this use case since I'm just connecting to my personal computer over a secure local network, but please correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by hot soup at 7:58 PM on April 12, 2012

I agree with both of your conclusions.
posted by Rat Spatula at 8:03 PM on April 12, 2012

when you're in an RDP session, all your keystrokes and mouse moves end up at the remote computer. unless there's some sort of logging software on there (which doesn't seem like there would be), there's really nothing being kept on your laptop. the one caveat to that is sharing - if you turn that on, your work laptop's drives, printers and clipboard will be shared with your desktop machine. (and by that I mean your laptop's drives will show up in My Computer/Computer, and when you copy or cut something on your desktop, you'll be able to paste it on your laptop. this can be turned off.)

as far as speed goes, you may want to think about upgrading your WiFi. if you have, for example, a G-capable router but your laptop supports N, upgrading your router to a N router would make the remote desktop experience smoother. there are also faster versions of N too - things with multiple antennas and all that. something like, say, this NetGear "Rangemax" would be faster than, say, this (much more inexpensive) D-Link. note that, for these dual-band type deals and all that, you may have to get a matching wireless adapter for your laptop (you can usually get a USB version). additionally, your desktop PC should be hard-wired if it can as that'll keep the wireless free for your laptop.
posted by mrg at 8:24 PM on April 12, 2012

How's video/youtube playback for you? That's the worst case scenario I can think of.
posted by sbutler at 8:46 PM on April 12, 2012

there's really nothing being kept on your laptop

I don't think that's necessarily true. Bitmaps are certainly being cached locally (i.e., so you can move a window around and the desktop picture beneath it doesn't need to be refreshed over the network), and any kind of video or 3D acceleration is going to make heavy use of local caching as well.

I would just boot the work laptop from a Linux installed on a USB disk, or boot into a virtual machine whose virtual disk is on an external drive. I've spent a lot of time fucking around with remote desktop solutions (because they are just so cool), and it's never been as good as a real local desktop, especially for multimedia. Or buy a cheap new laptop.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:57 PM on April 12, 2012

A new faster desktop to connect to will likely improve the experience. Especially if your current home laptop you are testing this out with is Windows XP. You'll see the best performance if your new home pc and work laptop are both running Win7. That said, I think it could get frustraing over time doing the majority of your home web browsing through RDP. If you do decide to go this route, be careful with Windows 7 versions. Home editions cannot act as remote desktop hosts. You need Professional, Enterprise, or Ultimate.
posted by mgr at 11:45 PM on April 12, 2012

I've been doing this for ages with Linux and FreeNX. It's awesome so long as you don't require heavy multimedia and/or games. Browsing the web and using applications is almost exactly like sitting at machine, even when I'm on a slow public wifi.

My experiences with RDP haven't been that great. It works, but it's a bit ungainly and very unpolished. For instance, the Microsoft RDP client for MacOS didn't recognize that I had reversed the mouse buttons (I'm left handed) and I had to change that setting on my remote desktop to get it right. This meant that whenever I was physically at the lab computer which had it's mouse on the right, I'd have to change it back. While this wasn't a terrible problem, it just highlights how bolted-on remote access is to Windows. More aggravating was a problem where if I scrolled a window too fast, it would go into an uninterruptable infinity scroll where I could only restore control by terminating the session and logging in again.

If all you want to do is use your desktop remotely while your connected to your own private LAN, I'd recommend skipping RDP (especially if you have the "wrong" version of Windows to make use of it) and downloading VNC.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 8:46 AM on April 13, 2012

Changing the settings on the RDP Client to use 15 bit color depth will probably improve performance (screen redraw etc) ... probably worthwhile for text based work / browsing, but not really for watching decent video or editing photos ;)
posted by dirm at 6:42 PM on April 13, 2012

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