RDP for Mac: Best remote desktop clients

RDP for Mac stands for “Remote Desktop Protocol for Mac” and is used to control or view a PC or Mac remotely. Microsoft RDP for Mac is the most well known client and Microsoft recently updated it for Mountain Lion and Mavericks but it still lacks the functionality of the Windows version. However there are many excellent RDP for Mac alternatives. Here are the best RDP clients for Mac, including free RDP Mac alternatives, reviewed starting with Microsoft’s own RDP Mac client. You can download a free trial for most of them by clicking on the titles.

The best RDP for Mac clients

Microsoft RDP for Mac is now called Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac (confusingly also known as RDC for Mac or Remote Desktop for Mac). Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac is a Microsoft tool which allows you to connect your Mac to PC Windows machines and other devices.

Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac 8.0 (Free)

Microsoft released the latest version of Remote Desktop for Mac 8.0 on 17th October 2013. Previous to that, there was no official RDP for Mac Mountain Lion or for Mac Lion and the last version, Remote Desktop Connection for Mac 2.1.1, does not officially work with Lion or above although some users claim it does work but not very well. With the release of Remote Desktop 8.0 however, there is now an official RDP for Mac Mountain Lion and Lion.

rdp for mac - remote desktop windows 8

The release of Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac 8.0 coincided at the same time that iTap for Mac was discontinued and the similarities in the new 8.0 version suggest Microsoft may well have bought them. Microsoft RDP for Mac 2.1.1 is still available but officially only supports up to OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.

Remote Desktop 8.0 is the first update to Microsoft’s Remote Desktop client in two years and allows Mac users to access virtual desktops on Windows, Windows RT, Windows 8, iOS, OS X and Android. The Mac version also includes support for printing to Mac configured printers, support for multiple monitors/projectors for presentations. The Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac 8.0 free download is only available via the Mac App Store.

rdp for mac 8.0

Microsoft RDP for Mac 8.0 is generally an improvement on version 2.1.1 although still falls short of the Windows version. The connection speed is the most notable improvement on the last version and both full-screen and multi-monitor support were long overdue. Remote Desktop for Mac 8.0 also supports high quality audio and video streaming and connections feature greater NLA quality encryption.

rdp for mac - remote desktop 8.0

There are some basic features missing from the Mac version however which many users will find frustrating. For starters, there’s no way to import connections from the old version of Microsoft RDP for Mac meaning you have to go through the time consuming process of re-setting up all of your connections again. There’s also no way to manage or even see how many multiple connections you’ve got going on at one time. Also, simple features such as Font Smoothing, Wallpaper options and Full-Screen drag are missing. Unlike the Windows version too, the Mac version does not support more secure methods of login such as via smart cards, PIV and CAC cards etc.

Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac 2.1.1 (Free)

How to use RDP 2.1.1 for Mac?

Officially you must have Snow Leopard 10.5.8 or lower to use Remote Desktop for Mac. However, Remote Desktop Client 1.0.3 for Mac is still available to download and works on older PPC Macs. Remember that if you have Office for Mac 2011 installed, you already have Remote Desktop Connection for Mac 2.1 as it is included in the suite.

To connect Remote Desktop Connection to PC, you need network access and permission to connect to the computer. The PC must also be running Terminal Services or Remote Desktop Services. Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection for Mac does not yet work with Windows 8 but works with everything else from Windows 7 to Windows 2003.

Using it is extremely simple. Just run the installer:

rdp installer macThe Remote Desktop Connection icon will appear in your Dock. Click on it and you will see the main interface:

main interfaceThen Simply enter the name of the PC you want to connect to on your network or the IP address of the PC.

There are several preferences and controls in Remote Desktop Connection once you’ve established a connection. You can save your Windows login information:

login pageYou can change the display settings to control how Windows appears on your Mac. Using this you can make Remote Desktop for Mac full screen.

display settingsYou can configure Remote Desktop for Mac Keyboard Shortcuts:

keyboard shortcutsYou can change Sound settings:

sound settingsYou can choose which drives and folders the PC has access to but use it with caution as it allows anyone using the PC to view the contents of your Mac:

drive accessYou can use Remote Desktop for Mac to print documents from the Windows PC:

printersYou can start applications on the PC using Remote Desktop Connection for Mac:

applicationsFinally, you can configure the security settings:

security settings

CoRD for Mac (Free)

CoRD is a very popular free and simple Remote Desktop client for Mac.

rdp for mac - cord for macThe quickest way to connect to a Windows PC using CoRD for Mac is to type the IP address or host name of the computer you want to connect to into the Quick Connect toolbar item and press enter (Shift-Enter will connect to the console).

rdp for mac - cord quick connectYou should then be able to see the Windows PC you are connected to:

rdp for mac - cord connected to windowsAlthough CoRD for Mac isn’t regularly updated, it has been recently updated to support Retina Macs so that icons look great when connected to Windows. Many people find that CoRD not only works faster than Microsoft’s Remote Desktop for Mac but is also quicker. The downside is that it does sometimes crash but not enough to be a real pain. Please note however that CoRD only supports:

Windows XP Pro
Windows Vista (only in Low Security mode)
Windows 7 (only in Low Security mode)
Windows Server 2000, 2003, and 2008 (only in Low Security mode)
Windows XP is supported but you must configure it first to allow remote desktop connections by using this Microsoft guide.

There is no official support for Windows 8.

iTap for Mac ($20)

IMPORTANT UPDATE: As of 8th October 2013, iTap for Mac is discontinued. Some users have switched to the new Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac 8.0 which was released around the same time iTap closed (see above).

iTap, full name iTap Mobile RDP, is a relatively new RDP for Mac client. iTap is powerful solution that’s aimed mainly as business users and costs $24.99 from the Mac App Store or €20 direct from the developer.

rdp for mac - itap for macSome users that have recently switched think it’s definitely worth the cost too and you can try it for yourself with a 14-day free trial. The trial is fully functional but will disconnect after 10 minutes.

It lacks some of the features of Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac and CoRD but it displays much better than Microsoft’s RDP on Retina Macs and is generally very stable and fast.

rdp for mac - iTap for Mac running WindowsiTap uses its own full screen mode though – it goes straight into full screen as soon as you establish a connection whereas it would be preferable if it was integrated with Mountain Lion’s full screen mode. One other slight problem with iTap Remote Desktop for Mac is that it doesn’t re-establish a connection if you suspend or sleep your Mac. In some cases, you may have to Force Quit iTap in order to reestablish a connection. Finally, managing several different connections at once can be tricky – there’s no easy way to organize several screens open at the same time. However, considering iTap is a very new app, these bugs should be ironed out and it is a very promising RDP for Mac app.

2X for Mac (Free)

2X for Mac, full name 2X Client for RDP/Remote Desktop, is a free RDP for Mac client that’s used by some major corporate customers such as Airbus, McKesson and WD-40.

rdp for mac - 2x for mac2X Client for Mac is free from the Mac App Store although if you’re running Leopard OS X 10.5, you can download 2X Client for Leopard for free from the developer site. 2X for Mac has a modern interface and is generally very fast and stable. However, you can’t change default connections and you can’t duplicate a connection which is annoying if you work with multiple connections. However, for those that have experienced stability issues with CoRD, iTap or Microsoft RDP for Mac, it’s definitely worth trying.

Jump Desktop ($29.99)

Jump Desktop is probably the slickest, and the opinion of some, the best RDP client for Mac out there. Unlike the other options, Jump Desktop for Mac also supports iPad, iPhone, iPod and even Android.

rdp for mac - jump desktop multiple connectionsJump Desktop is also extremely easy to use and doesn’t require networking knowledge making it ideal for beginners to Remote Desktop software.

rdp for mac - jump desktop setupThe manual setup is also suitable for those that know what they’re doing when it comes to Remote Desktop connections:

rdp for mac - jump desktop setup rdpJump Desktop is fast, very stable, allows you to share files to the remote machine and it’s superb at managing several connections at once. It’s also one of the few Remote Desktop clients for Mac that officially supports connections to Windows 8.

rdp for mac - jump desktop windows 8TeamViewer (free for private use, $59 for commercial use)

TeamViewer is more of a screen sharing tool popular with gamers and those that need to perform maintenance on a remote computer. However, it can be used as an RDP client for Mac. Teamviewer is extremely easy to use and ideal for those that want to give remote technical help to friends or family.

rdp for mac - teamviewer for macThe great thing is Teamviewer is cross platform so you can connect to a Windows, Mac or Linux machine with ease. Teamviewer even works with iPhones and iPad.

Beyond this list of RDP clients for Mac, there are a few other more expensive high-end corporate Remote Desktop for Mac solutions such as Ericom Blaze for Mac. Ericom is partnered with Microsoft, Oracle and IBM but I couldn’t even install the trial client due as OS X says the Ericom Blaze for Mac trial download file is damaged. The best I’ve tried to far is definitely Jump Desktop – it’s easily the slickest and easiest to use.

If you have any suggestions for other RDP for Mac software that should be included in this list, or have any experiences to share with them, let us know in the comments below.

28 thoughts on “RDP for Mac: Best remote desktop clients

  1. There is an RDP client for Mac Mountain Lion called Ericom Blaze. Blaze is more than an RDP client, as it also compresses and accelerates RDP by up to 10 times, so it improves performance when accessing PDFs, PPTs, Flash movies and other graphics-intensive applications.

    Ericom Blaze works with any standard RDP host, including VDI, Terminal Servers and remote Windows PCs.

    Click here for more info:
    http://www.ericom.com/mac-linux-windows.asp?URL_ID=708

    Please note that I work for Ericom

    • Thanks for the suggestion Adam. I’ve added Ericom Blaze to the bottom of the post but we couldn’t install the free trial from the Ericom website due to a “damaged file” message in OS X.

      • To fix the “damaged file” error, you have to adjust the Mac System Preferences – Security & Privacy setting to “Allow applications downloaded from: Anywhere”.

        • Note to other users: Note that by doing this, you are disabling Gatekeeper in OS X which is designed to protect you from installing software made by developers not endorsed by Apple. Only select “allow applications download from anywhere” if you are comfortable with this.

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    • Yes they do – it’s pretty standard with RDP for Mac clients nowadays. Microsoft Remote Desktop, CoRD and iTap definitely support dual monitors and I think the others do as well.

  3. I’m not sure why you devote the first third of your blog post to the Microsoft client when it is not supported by any current version of OSX. The System Requirements says: “Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac (version 2.1.1) is not intended for use with Mac OS X v10.7 (Lion) or later.”

    • You’re right Microsoft does say it’s not “intended” to work with Lion and above but in actual fact, Microsoft Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac does work with both OS X 10.7 and OS X 10.8.

  4. Very good list of tools. You can also check on premise deployment of remote support appliances. Just Google “remote support appliances” and you will find a number of vendors.

  5. After trying almost all of these on my laptop I want to share that on a retina display everything looks blurry. Except for iTap. Not sure what sort of magic they do but fonts are significantly clearer on it. On a regular laptop (non-retina) or computer all of the mentioned applications work just fine, but try it on retina and you will see the difference.

    • Thanks for sharing Nikolay. It’s true that some of these RDP for Mac clients still haven’t been updated for retina displays. However, Jump Desktop for example does support retina displays but you have to access View and then select Actual Size. This shrinks the desktop to 1:1 retina size. To expand this to full screen you need to CMD click on Jump Desktop and select Edit and in the Display section scroll down and select 2880×1880 and then connect.

  6. Thank you for this excellent list! One thing that frustrates me is the dock continually popping-up when I move my cursor down to the start bar to pull up a different app in a full-screen RDP session (currently using 2x). Do any of the apps have the ability to disable the dock, ideally in the OS X space where I have the RDP session open? Thanks!

    • Thanks for the update! The timing is suspicious considering Microsoft have released the new version Remote Desktop for Mac 8.0 today – and it does look a bit like iTap for Mac suggesting Microsoft has possibly bought it.

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  8. Unlike Microsoft Remote Desktop 8, other clients like CoRD, 2X Client for RDP and TSclientX support setting the “Client Hostname”.

    A Client Hostname allows the client to act like a Windows computer with that name. Otherwise some applications may default to some unwanted behaviour (HIS/RIS – PACS viewer integration with our setup, for example).

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