Working remotely... from my living room
August 16, 2013 7:11 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible/remotely feasible to use my PC remotely from another room in the house?

For nearly 6 years I used a laptop for work but I got fed up with the unreliability and expense of them (and the burning hot thighs in summer), I guess they're really just not designed to be used 14 hours a day, 6-7 days a week and never turned off heh. At the start of the year, when the warranty ran out on my latest Dell, I copied all my files, firefox & thunderbird profiles etc to my desktop PC and things are great - my PC is way more powerful than any laptop in my budget and much more suited to the enormous PSDs that I'm getting sent lately (I recently upgraded to 8GB and I'm still running out of memory sometimes). But sometimes I miss being able to veg out of the couch with my laptop and still get some work done.

What I basically want is a laptop shaped "terminal" that I can use to operate my PC from another room (bonus points if the solution can also work over the internet for when I'm away from home and there's a work emergency - currently using my smartphone for that which is sub-optimal).

Is this even remotely doable, would a cheap laptop running RDC/VPN be just too slow to be useable? Are there other possibilities?

My main requirements are:
Cheap - I don't really want to spend more than £500 - less is better
To be able to remotely operate my desktop PC from another room, with reasonable speed.

I do still have my broken Vostro 1720 ( the DC-In is broken which means it needs a whole new motherboard or a new DC-In at least, but usually Dell just replaced the whole motherboard when I had this issue - and I had it frequently over the 3 year lifespan of the computer, the power cable was kept in place by a tiny piece of plastic that was always breaking then the cable wouldn't connect properly to charge the battery) and I suspect the parts would cost more than the machine is really worth
posted by missmagenta to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I use LogMeIn - the Free version - to control my home computers from work (and vice versa, and other computers in the house, and some of my customers' computers as well).

You could run that with a chromebook or other lightweight laptop. You could also do RDC or VNC (in its many flavors) but you'll want to get your security good and tight before doing it from outside your network.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:15 AM on August 16, 2013

You sound kind of techy so maybe this will float your boat - for this kind of thing I run a virtual server in Azure (previously on AWS, but we get Azure free through our MSDN sub) that I use Bitvise SSH Client / Server to tunnel into via RDC. It's always on and compiling / processing / idling, then I connect into it as needed from different locations.

I have everything I need on there to develop / write with, and can access it from anywhere. Nearly anything with a keyboard will support SSH + Remote desktop, so any cheap netbook with a copy of linux will do.

Cost is about 5-10 bucks a month depending on how hard you're running the machine. YMMV in regards to firewalling at your workplace or your security requirements.
posted by analoguezen at 7:21 AM on August 16, 2013

As an alternative to LogMeIn, consider TeamViewer.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:36 AM on August 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're doing this in-home only, Windows (depending on your version) has this already all built-in. It's called RDP and it works great.
posted by mhoye at 7:45 AM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

All you need to get started is a laptop and a Pro or better version of Windows on your desktop to run the Remote Desktop service.

Windows Remote Desktop will run on the thinnest of clients. The client machine doesn't actually do any serious computing work. The limiting factor is the network link. On a local network, it'll be silky smooth. It doesn't start to really break down until you're on the road trying to work over a VPN with a 2G cellular connection.

Logmein is fine for remote work, but it bounces your packets to a remote server, so it's silly to use from your living room. It also doesn't provide the same quality of user experience that the Windows Remote Desktop Connection client does. When you can connect directly to the desktop on the same network, RDC is the way to go.

Outside the house, Logmein is the cheap, easy answer. Getting Remote Desktop to work from outside the house is certainly possible, but rather more complicated.
posted by zjacreman at 7:48 AM on August 16, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yeah, it's totally doable. Sounds like you're using Windows. If you have a "pro" OS you can set up your desktop PC as an RDP host. Pretty much any Windows system can remote into an RDP host (and I suspect Linux/Mac too, but no promises).

I agree that RDP is snappy. Big graphic intensive things are the worst case scenario, but I'd still expect good responsiveness over a local wireless link.

If you have a downgraded OS on your desktop you'll need to use some other software. When I was looking at this myself a while ago I noticed there is a Chrome remote desktop tool out now:

You should be able to find a suitable cheap laptop in that price range. I got one I'm reasonably happy with for $500 off Amazon. Just watch the screen size, that's going to be the biggest annoyance.
posted by mattu at 10:40 AM on August 16, 2013

I use the Chrome Remote Desktop that mattu links to between two laptops and I am very pleased with it. You can set it up as a one time link that you have to accept on the remote device or you can set the remote device to be always available and require a PIN. You do need to have a Google account.
posted by soelo at 10:45 AM on August 16, 2013

2nding Teamviewer. I use Teamviewer 8 to access my desktop (in my bedroom) from every other room in my apartment using a laptop0= as well as my office at work using my work desktop.
posted by anthropomorphic at 12:07 PM on August 16, 2013

Another option would be to run a cable over to a TV in the living room that takes computer input, along with a wireless keyboard or extension cable.
posted by yohko at 12:33 PM on August 16, 2013

Teamviewer is free for personal use, and shouldn't need any firewall settings. I'd go for that. Set it on your desktop for unattended use, and use it everywhere else. Easy connections and file transfer, send restarts, etc.

Remote Desktop is a little clunkier, but it's good to have. You may have to adjust the remote connection settings on the desktop-- it's in My Computer -> Properties. RDP Protip: the menu you would normally get through Ctrl-Alt-Del? Use Ctrl-Alt-End.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:18 PM on August 16, 2013

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