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RDP: Using Remote Desktop with Dual Monitors | SplitView

Posted by jpluimers on 2010/10/04

Remote Desktop Protocol (aka RDP) introduced span support in version 6.1, and multimon support in vesion 7.

RDP consists of a server part called Remote Desktop Services, and a client part (MSTSC.EXE, currently called Remote Desktop Connection, previously caled Terminal Services Client).

Because of the server/client split, not all feature combinations are possible.
Hence below a table listing what is possible, and a short explanation of a few features.
From those, I use often: ‘span’, ‘multimon’ and  ‘admin’ (previously called ‘console’).

My intention is to make this info as complete as possible; please comment on things that are wrong or incomplete.

Sidenote: I’ll cover only Windows clients and servers, but there are other clients, for instance for Mac (1.03, 2.0.0, 2.0.1), Linux, and more.

RDP versions, features and supported Windows versions
RDP Introduced in Commandline options Server Supported in Client Supported in Client
version Windows /console /admin /span /multimon Windows Windows download
Remarks * Professional and up
** not in Vista Starter or Home versions
there is no Server 2008 SP1: it is SP1
* all versions of Windows except 7 and Server 2007
** all versions of Windows
*** all versions of Windows except 2003 and XP x64
* MUI:
KB969085 (MUI)
KB969084 (RDP)
5.0 Server 2000 No No No No 2000 including all SPs *
5.1 XP and XP x64 No No No No XP including all SPs*
XP x64 including all SPs
** 95, 98 and 98 Second Edition, Me,
NT 4.0, 2000
(same as XP SP1)
5.2 Server 2003 Yes No No No Server 2003 including R2 and all SPs ** 95, 98 and 98 Second Edition, Me,
NT 4.0, 2000, 2003

(same as XP SP2)
6.0 Vista Yes No Yes No Vista** including SP1 and SP2 ** XP SP2 (and MUI);
XP x64;
Server 2003 SP1 or SP2 (and MUI);
Server 2003 x64 including SP1, R2 and SP2
6.1 Server 2008 No Yes Yes Yes Server 2008 including SP2*** *** XP  SP2 (and MUI)
7.0 7;
Server 2008 R2
Yes No No No 7;
Server 2008 R2
*** XP SP3 (and MUI*);
Vista SP1 or SP2;
Vista x64 SP1 or SP2

A few more notes:

  1. RDP 6.1 and 7.0 are not supported by these clients: Windows 2003 and XP x64
  2. Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 don’t support connecting to Windows 2000
    (in practice, this usually works, but it is not supported)
  3. Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 share the same code base.

You can find the version of your client and server as follows:

  • Client: %SystemRoot%\System32\mstsc.exe
  • Server: %SystemRoot%\System32\termsrv.dll

Span versus multimon

Even though span and multimon sound similar, they are in fact very different.

Span was introduced in Windows Vista (which itself has really good multi monitor support).
It enables a spanned virtual display, which has a few documented limitations:

  1. All your monitors need to have the same resolution.
    For me this is no problem, as both my laptop and my external monitors are 1920 x 1200 (even better than HD which is only 1080 pixels high; 120 pixels too short <g>)
  2. The maximum virtual resolution is 4096 (horizontal) by 2048 (vertical) pixels.
    If your physical resolution is wider or higher your virtual display gets centered on your physical display, with black vertical or horizontal bands.
  3. Stacked monitors are not supported.
    But in practice they do work.

Multimon was introduced in Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.
It is true multi-monitor support:

  1. If your client has multiple monitors, you can use them all.
  2. You can use any resolution combination or monitor orientation you want.
    The termserv blog on msdn has a nice example of what is possible.
  3. You need the Enterprise or Ultimate edition of Windows 7, or Windows Server 2008 R2,
    If you have a lower edition of Windows 7, you can only use /span.

If you can’t use the multimon feature, you can buy Splitview, which enables similar functionality for almost all Windows versions (and many other desktop remoting protocols).

So both ways, you can have the same virtual multi-monitor experience as you would have with the same physical monitor setup would have on the server.

This enables you to move your Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2 machines (VM’s ore physical machines) to a hosted service.
Which is great for a couple of reasons:

  • You can move your development machines into a cloud setup
  • You can move your development machines close to your servers (or in fact have development servers with central data to develop op)
  • Locally you can create a very silent working environment: a laptop or low-power PC with some large screens suffices.

/console versus /admin

Windows Server 2003 introduced the /console switch.
That enabled you to connect to “session 0”, which back then was the console session.

Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 (sharing the code base of Windows Vista SP1), changed the way that these sessions work.
Session 0 is now reserved for services, and users logon to higher session numbers.
So /console is not supported any more.
However, Windows does remember which session belongs to the console logon.
So a new /admin switch got introduced with (for old Windows versions) will connect to Session 0, and (for newer Windows versions) connects to the session that belongs to the console.


I’ll end with a couple of links (on top of all the links above) that you might visit to fine tune your RDP experience:


5 Responses to “RDP: Using Remote Desktop with Dual Monitors | SplitView”

  1. […] This page has a table of support, but the v7.0 row does not look quite right. It also provides download links to the newer clients for older operating systems (e.g. v7.0 client for XP). […]

  2. […] RDP: Using Remote Desktop with Dual Monitors | SplitView « The Wiert Corner – irregular stream of… […]

  3. Gene said

    I am a little unclear on my configuration. I have a Windows 7 Professional utilizing dual monitors. I am trying to RDC from a Win XP Pro Laptop using RDC 6.x with no external monitor.

    Obviously my challenge is spanning (probably wrong choice of words) the dual monitor setup on the REMOTE Win7 Pro machine across the single laptop monitor of my XP Pro client

    thanks in advance

    • jpluimers said

      You can’t; since your laptop does not have an external monitor, you cannot do spanning.
      What you will see on your laptop is at most the resolution that your laptop screen supports.
      If you add an external monitor to your laptop, and it has the same resolution as your laptop screen, then you can do spanning.

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