How to set up Remote Desktop on Windows

Martin Brinkmann
Feb 26, 2018
Updated • May 22, 2018

Remote Desktop is a built-in feature of Microsoft's Windows operating system which enables you to control a Windows PC from remote devices using Microsoft's Remote Desktop client app.

All versions of Windows support remote connections, but only professional or Enterprise editions can be configured to accept remote connections. In other words, if you manage a PC with Windows 10 Pro, you may enable Remote Desktop on that device to connect to it remotely. You cannot do so, however, if you manage a Windows 10 Home PC.

Unsupported Windows versions

Remote Desktop support can't be activated on the following versions of Windows:

  • Windows 7 Starter
  • Windows 7 Home Basic
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 10 Home

Do you need Remote Desktop functionality?

Remote Desktop functionality is disabled by default on Windows. Most Windows users don't require the feature, and you should make sure that you do need it before you set up a Windows PC so that it accepts remote connections.

Also, you need to decide whether you require access from within a computer network or from outside the PC's network.

If you work with a single PC only, you don't require Remote Desktop functionality unless someone else requires it. This can be a support technician, a knowledgable friend, or anyone else who assists you when you run into issues using the Windows machine.

Some support technicians may prefer third-party programs like TeamViewer or Anydesk instead. Remote Desktop does not need to be enabled if these third-party programs are used.

Enable Remote Desktop on Windows

You have two main options to turn on Remote Desktop functionality on a Windows PC that supports it.

  1. Use the Microsoft Remote Desktop Assistant tool to set it up.
  2. Set it up without Microsoft's program.

Microsoft suggests that you enable Remote Desktop access only in trusted networks, for instance, in a home network, and not in public networks or environments with tight access controls.

Microsoft Remote Desktop Assistant

Download the 16 Kilobyte Remote Desktop Assistant from Microsoft's Download site to get started. Run it afterward to install it on the system. Note that it requires an active Internet connection as it downloads the installation files during setup from the Internet.

The assistant is relatively easy to use, provided that it works. I had issues with it throwing "not responding" messages on start. Use the manual setup instructions below if you run into similar problems.

  1. Accept the License Terms.
  2. Select "Got it" on the next page.
  3. Select "Get Started" on the page that explains what the assistant will do when you run it. It will:
    1. Enable Remote Connections to the PC.
    2. Keep the PC awake so that it is available for connections.
    3. Let Remote Desktop through the PC's firewall.
  4. The assistant displays a "your PC is ready" dialog in the end. It highlights the information that is required to connect to the PC and displays the following options:
    1. Scan a code to add the PC to your remote device.
    2. Copy the PC info to the Clipboard.
    3. Save this connection as a file.

Manual Setup

You don't need to run the Remote Desktop Assistant application to allow remote connections on the Windows PC. Setup is pretty straightforward the manual way as well.

You can either use the keyboard shortcut Windows-Pause to open the System Control Panel applet, click on Advanced System Settings, and then on Remote to start the setup, or use the Start Menu method instead.

To use the Start Menu, open it, type remote access, and select "Allow remote access to your computer".

Both methods open the Remote tab of the System Properties window. There you find preferences related to Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop.

Remote Desktop is disabled by default. Switch from "don't allow remote connections to this computer" to "Allow remote connections to this computer" to enable Remote Desktop on the Windows machine.

enable remote desktop windows pcs

Keep "Allow connections only from computers running Remote Desktop with Network Level Authentication (recommended)" enabled for better security.

The dialog is slightly different on Windows 7 machines. While you do get the same three options, you'd have to pick "Allow connections only from computers running Remote Desktop with Network Level Authentication (more secure)".

Any user who attempts to establish a remote desktop connection to the Windows device needs to authenticate to the network before the connection is permitted.

Tip: Check out Microsoft's support article Configure Network Level Authentiation for Remote Desktop Services Connections for additional information and set up instructions.

Any user of the administrator's group can connect to the Windows PC by default once Remote Desktop is enabled. You can click on the "select users" button to add users that are not administrators explicitly so that they may connect to the PC as well.

add users

Select ok to close the "select users" window again. Click on apply and then ok to save the new settings for Remote Desktop on the PC.

The device is set up for remote desktop connections but only for trusted networks. If you require access from outside the trusted network, you have two main options to enable that functionality.

Note: This opens another attack vector on the PC. It is recommended that you enable full access only if it is required and that you use strong passwords.

  1. Enable port forwarding on the router. How that is done depends on the router that is used. What it does is forward access to the PC in question so that the connection can be established.
  2. Use a VPN to connect to the PC in question.

Additional resources

Check out the following guides by Microsoft for additional information:

Closing words

It is easy enough to enable Remote Desktop access on professional and Enterprise versions of Windows. If you need the functionality occassionally only, you may want to consider enabling it only when that is the case so that it is not enabled all the time.

Now you: do you require remote access to your devices?

Related articles

How to turn on Remote Desktop on Windows
Article Name
How to turn on Remote Desktop on Windows
Remote Desktop is a built-in feature of Microsoft's Windows operating system which enables you to control a Windows PC from remote devices using Microsoft's Remote Desktop client app.
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  1. Dan Donx said on January 15, 2023 at 10:29 am

    What mental age of reader are you targeting with the first sentence? 10?

    Why not write an article on how to *avoid* upgrading from W10 to W11. Analogous to those like me who avoided upgrading from 7 to 10 for as long as possible.

    If your paymaster Microsoft permits it, of course.

  2. Dexter said on January 15, 2023 at 11:14 am

    5. Rufus
    6. Ventoy

    PS. I hate reading these “SEO optimized” articles.

    1. cdr said on January 15, 2023 at 3:32 pm

      I used Rufus to create an installer for a 6th gen intel i5 that had MBR. It upgraded using Setup. No issues except for Win 11 always prompting me to replace my local account. Still using Win 10 Pro on all my other PCs to avoid the bullying.

  3. sv said on January 15, 2023 at 6:40 pm

    bit pointless to upgrade for the sake of upgrading as you never know when you’ll get locked out because ms might suddenly not provide updates to unsupported systems.

    ps…. time travelling?
    written. Jan 15, 2023
    Updated • Jan 13, 2023

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on January 16, 2023 at 5:49 am

      This happens when you schedule a post in WordPress and update it before setting the publication date.

  4. Anonymous said on January 16, 2023 at 8:24 am

    Anyone willing to downgrade to this awful OS must like inflicting themselves with harm.

  5. basingstoke said on January 16, 2023 at 11:18 am

    I have become convinced now that anybody who has no qualms with using Windows 11/10 must fit into one of the following brackets:

    1) Too young to remember a time before W10 and W11 (doesn’t know better)

    2) Wants to play the latest games on their PC above anything else (or deeply needs some software which already dropped W7 support)

    3) Doesn’t know too much about how computers work, worried that they’d be absolutely lost and in trouble without the “”latest security””

    4) Microsoft apologist that tries to justify that the latest “features” and “changes” are actually a good thing, that improve Windows

    5) Uses their computer to do a bare minimum of like 3 different things, browse web, check emails, etc, so really doesn’t fuss

    Obviously that doesn’t cover everyone, there’s also the category that:

    6) Actually liked W7 more than 10, and held out as long as possible before switching, begrudgingly uses 10 now

    Have I missed any group off this list?

    1. Heinz Strunk said on September 19, 2023 at 3:57 pm

      You have missed in this group just about any professional user that uses business software like CAD programs or ERP Programs which are 99% of all professional users from this list.

      Linux doesn’t help anyone who is not a linux kid and apple is just a fancy facebook machine.

  6. ilev said on August 24, 2023 at 7:34 pm

    Microsoft has removed KB5029351 update

    1. EP said on August 24, 2023 at 9:21 pm

      only from windows update though
      KB5029351 is still available from the ms update catalog site

  7. Anonymous said on August 24, 2023 at 11:05 pm

    1. This update is labaled as PREVIEW if it causes issues to unintelligent people, then they shouldn’t have allowed Preview updates ot install.

    2. I have installed it in a 11 years old computer, and no problems at all.

    3. Making a big drama over a bluescreen for an updated labeled as preview is ridiculous.

    This is probably another BS internet drama where people ran programs and scripts that modified the registry until they broke Windows, just for removing stuff that they weren’t even using just for the sake of it.
    Maybe people should stop playing geeks and actually either use Windows 10 or Windows 11, but don’t try to modify things just for the sake of it.

    Sometimes removing or stopping things (like defender is a perfect example) only need intelligence, not scripts or 3rd party programs that might mess with windows.

  8. john said on August 24, 2023 at 11:17 pm

    Windows 11 was a pointless release, it was just created because some of the Windows team wanted to boost sales with some sort of new and improved Windows 10. Instead, Microsoft cannot support one version well let alone two.

    1. John G. said on August 25, 2023 at 12:08 pm

      Windows 11 is the worst ugly shame by Microsoft ever. They should release with every new W11 version a complete free version of Starallback inside just to make this sh** OS functionally again.

  9. EP said on August 25, 2023 at 3:10 pm

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released a statement regarding the “unsupported processor” blue screen error for their boards using Intel 600/700 series chipsets & to avoid the KB5029351 Win11 update:–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–Error-Message-of-Windows-11-Update-KB5029351-Preview-142215

  10. EP said on August 29, 2023 at 7:32 pm

    check out the following recent articles:

    Neowin – Microsoft puts little blame on its Windows update after UNSUPPORTED PROCESSOR BSOD bug:

    BleepingComputer – Microsoft blames ‘unsupported processor’ blue screens on OEM vendors:

  11. Leonard Britvolli said on August 30, 2023 at 10:33 pm

    While there may be changes or updates to the Windows 10 Store for Business and Education in the future, it is premature to conclude that it will be discontinued based solely on rumors.

  12. sembrador said on September 5, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    My advice, I left win 15 years ago. Now I’m a happy linux user (linuxmint) but there is Centos, Fedora, Ubuntu depending on your needs.

  13. EP said on September 6, 2023 at 11:55 am

    motherboard maker MSI has recently released new BIOS/firmware updates for their Intel 600 & 700 series motherboards to fix the “UNSUPPORTED_PROCESSOR” problem (Sept. 6):–UNSUPPORTED-PROCESSOR–caused-BSOD-on-MSI-s-Intel-700-and-600-Series-Motherboards-142277

  14. Raphael Benzo said on September 24, 2023 at 9:52 pm

    I try to disable the Diagnostics Tracking Service (Connected Devices Platform User Services) but it wont let me disable it, any help will be greatly appreciated.
    Tank you for your help

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