Remote Desktop vs VPN – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons)

Remote Desktop vs VPN – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons). Remote desktop connections and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are tools that establish secure access over a network. A remote desktop connection allows users to connect remotely to a computer from another place. They utilize graphical interface to access applications or data stored on the connected computer. In comparison, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) provides secure, encrypted virtual “tunnels” set up between two or more connected devices over a public network. This connection allows for short term data exchange.

Mastering the differences between remote desktop and virtual private networks (VPNs) ensures secure access to the resources. 

Shall we start with Remote Desktop vs VPN – What’s the Difference? 

What is a Remote Desktop and How It Works?

A remote desktop is an operating system or software feature that lets you access your computer’s desktop from a different device. Uses various protocols, such as Virtual Network Computing (VNC) or Independent Computing Architecture (ICA). However, the most common protocol is the remote desktop protocol (RDP).  

RDP creates a virtual connection between you and a remote computer. Also provides an encrypted tunnel, (like VPN), typically using SSL or a similar method to enable a “take-over” of the existing user’s role to eliminate the need for separate credentials.

With a remote desktop, you remotely access another computer and act as if you’re locally in their network. No need to be in your physical location to fix bugs or other IT issues that need attention. 

Features of a Remote Desktop

1. File and Clipboard Transfer

File and clipboard transfer is an efficient way of managing files between your local and remote systems.  In addition to faster transfers, secure encryption technology guarantees secure transfer, even when data passes through unprotected networks.

Applications such as Windows Remote Desktop for Mac also offer features like file compression to reduce file size and network bandwidth usage during the transfer process. 

The features is also helpful for tasks such as copying commands or scripts to the remote computer or error messages from the remotely controlled computer. 

2. Two Way Desktop Sharing

The desktop sharing feature in remote desktop allows you to share your screen with a third party and is crucial in collaborative environments. 

3. Multiple Session Handling

Multiple session mode that allows users to run multiple sessions simultaneously. 

4. Session Usage Reporting

This feature allows you to track hours and work and comes in handy if you manage a large company’s helpdesk team, enabling you to stay on top of how and when your team uses the software. 

Pros of a Remote Desktop

  • Puts all the power of the remote host machine at your disposal. 
  • Allows for safe and secure access to files and documents. 
  • Modern remote desktop protocols provide more robust security features. 
  • The end user device doesn’t store data, reducing the hassle of achieving compliance.
  • Enables seamless identification of authorized users through an RDP session
  • Network level authentication has the ability to limit remote access to users.

Cons of a Remote Desktop

  • Anyone with RDP capability access another user’s desktop, increasing the risk of a data breach.
  • Need a powerful Remote Desktop Service that monitors all connections to use a remote desktop on a large scale.

What is a VPN and How Does It Work?

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) relies on advanced encryption and tunneling techniques to develop a secure internet connection between you and a network. It allows you to connect with other business networks, and your remote teams assess sensitive data from your business network without exposure to unauthorized users.

VPNs provide a much more secure network connection compared to public WiFi networks. The encryption features protect user identity and internet traffic. Ideally, they change your IP address on the same device you use.

A VPN connects you to a VPN server that and connects you to the internet and implement various security measures. The VPN processes the outbound and inbound online traffic. This includes your requests and website responses to your requests.

Features of a VPN

1. Encryption

One function of a VPN is to block unauthorized users from reading, intercepting, or altering the content of your internet traffic. It converts actual data into coded, unreadable forms through encryption. VPNs use three types of encryption techniques, namely:

  • Symmetric encryption
  • Public key encryption:
  • Hashing: relies on a Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA) to protect data integrity and confirm its source.

2. Data and Bandwidth Caps

Data and bandwidth caps are limits that determine the amount of transferable data or usable bandwidth at any time. 

3. Split Tunneling

Split tunnelling allows you to choose the apps that run through the VPN and the ones to be left out. Provides users with the ability to selectively route traffic in and out of the VPN tunnel. This helps ensure that only sensitive data is protected by the encrypted VPN connection.

Especially helpful for businesses that distribute large files or access internal resources across multiple sites over the public Internet. Organizations also optimize their bandwidth usage. 

4. No Logs Policy

 When a VPN operates without logging information, it improves overall security. This feature ensures that your traffic does not get logged or monitored by anyone. 

5. Leak Protection

Most top rated VPNs have built in IP or DNS leak protection features enabled by default. Check the actual IP address assigned to you by the software and your real and assigned IP addresses should not match with an active VPN connection

6. IP Shuffling

IP shuffling adds an additional layer of security to the user’s online activities. 

It simulates multiple users and masks their real IP address from potential cyber attacks. With most VPNs, you set up the shuffling frequency anywhere from 10 minutes to hourly or daily. 

Pros of a VPN

  • Uses encryption protocols to scramble and secure your data from intruders.
  • Automated to ensure you don’t connect to the internet unprotected. 
  • Leak protection that prevents your actual IP address from being exposed. 
  • Cuts you internet connection, if your VPN stops working to prevent IP leak
  • Multiple IP address options to allow users access resources from various locations.

Cons of a VPN

  • Require significant bandwidth to work effectively and don’t compress or optimize data. 
  • Not ideal for databases and line of business software applications that typically run on the local area network.

We came to the main part of this article Remote Desktop vs VPN – What’s the Difference? 

Main Differences Between a Remote Desktop and a VPN

There are critical differences between a remote desktop and VPN you must be aware of when choosing between the two:

Connection Protocol

Protocols dictate a few aspects such as security, stability, and speed. Remote Desktops are based on the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). This protocol enables administrators to diagnose problems that individuals users encounter. It also enables remote connections to other computers over TCP port 3389.

On the other hand, VPNs use a variety of protocols i.e OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPsec, SSTP, L2TP/IPSec, and PPTP to establish secure connections. Different VPN tools use different protocols depending on their purpose. OpenVPN is the most secure and widely used thanks to its advanced encryption capabilities.


Next comparison with Remote Desktop vs VPN – What’s the Difference? is security. Remote desktop has a variety of security features such as user authentication and data encryption. When using remote desktop, you have to provide valid credentials to authenticate with the remote device. Besides, you enable network level authentication to provide an additional layer of security. Remote desktop also uses encryption to secure data transmitted between computers. Supports various encryption levels such as Client Compatible and FIPS Compliant that you configure based on security requirements.

On the other hand, VPNs provide secure, encrypted connections to protect data transmitted between the client and server. They utilize authentication methods such as AES and Blowfish to secure data. Also, they use various tunnelling protocols and authentication methods such as digital certificates and two factor authentication. Basically, VPNs provide a more robust solution for data security and privacy.

Remote Access

In a remote desktop, the protocol establishes a direct connection to the remote device over a network, usually TCP/IP. The remote desktop is designed to enable you access another remote computer. Basically, it allows you to interact with the remote computer as if they were physically present. With the remote connection, you can run applications, access files, do any other task on the remote computer.

On the other hand, a VPN is designed to provide a secure, encrypted connection between two points (client and server) over a public network, such as the internet. A VPN allows you to securely access resources on a remote network, as if they were directly connected to that network. The connection does not directly provide remote desktop access or interaction with another computer. It creates a secure connection to a remote network so you access internet resources securely.


Set up Remote Desktop on laptop or desktop computers. You have to configure the remote desktop on your computer. This involves setting user permissions and security settings. On the remote computer, the other user needs to input the remote device’s IP address or hostname, user credentials, and configure display settings. The remote desktop provides a seamless user experience as it mirrors the device computer’s desktop environment on your device. 

On the other end, you can use VPNs on any device. All you need is to install the VPN on your device and activate it. The VPN then establishes a secure connection, enabling you to browse the internet securely. Most VPNs are available on browsers as add ons, while some are open source.


The speed of a remote desktop connection depends on various factors such as available bandwidth and latency. Remote desktop has adaptive features that help minimize bandwidth usage. A stable, high speed connection gives a highly responsive remote desktop experience.

On the other hand, VPNs are generally slower. Due to the increased overhead from the encrypted data being transmitted. There is usually high bandwidth usage, especially when transferring large amounts of data or using high bandwidth applications. Also, they have high latency, as data packets are routed through the VPN server, encrypted, and decrypted. This latency varies from one VPN to the other depending on the protocol used and server location.

Use Cases

Use cases are in situations such as remote technical assistance, remote administration, and telecommuting. By enabling remote control of the target device, the remote desktop allows users to execute tasks, operate applications effortlessly. Remote desktop is used for server management, resolving issues on remote devices, and granting employees remote access to their workstations or office resources.

On the other hand, VPNs provide a secure, encrypted link between two points over a public network like the internet. Mostly used to provide secure remote access to internal network resources. They also help connect remote offices or branches to a central network and circumvent geo-restrictions or internet censorship. VPNs are highly beneficial for organizations with multiple offices or remote employees who require a secure means of accessing sensitive data and internal systems.

Thank you for reading Remote Desktop vs VPN – What’s the Difference? (Pros and Cons). We shall conclude this article. 

Remote Desktop vs VPN - What's the Difference? Conclusion

Both remote desktop and VPN are fundamentally different technologies. Remote desktop focuses on providing seamless remote desktop connection, VPNs creates secure connections to remote networks. RDP is suited for remote technical support, administration, and telecommuting. VPNs emphasize secure connections to remote networks and cater to use cases such as protecting data transmission, connecting remote offices, and bypassing geo-restrictions. Ideally, you can’t substitute one for other, and the choice between the two will ultimately depend on the task at hand.

Avatar for Dennis Muvaa
Dennis Muvaa

Dennis is an expert content writer and SEO strategist in cloud technologies such as AWS, Azure, and GCP. He's also experienced in cybersecurity, big data, and AI.

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