UltraVNC Review

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  • Pros

    • Free
    • Supports file transfers
    • Can stream compressed video
  • Cons

    • Requires high bandwidth
    • Unreliable
    • Requires VPN to connect over Web

By Greg Ross

UltraVNC is a free Windows-to-Windows remote control application supporting file transfers, clipboard synchronization, chat sessions, and a wide range of connection options. Is UltraVNC a steal, or just more freeware that promises more than it can deliver? We break it down in this review.

Installation Notes

UltraVNC is a lot like Windows Vista’s very own Remote Desktop Protocol, especially in that UltraVNC requires users to know the exact IP address of the target computer (in our experience this never works well), or run some kind of VPN between the target computer and the local computer.

An optional screen-mirroring plug-in can also be downloaded that reduces the amount of processing power needed for the application to run. Despite the warning displayed on this page, we never had any issues downloading and using this plug-in on either of our test computers.

All in all, the installation only took about three minutes of time.

Program Interface

UltraVNC viewerUltraVNC’s viewer program presents a useful array of configuration options in a simple interface that explains itself quite well.

UltraVNC’s windowed viewer is a simple interface, with only a few icons at the top of the window and the remote target’s desktop front and center. Hovering over each icon reveals its purpose, where users can:

1.      Send the Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination

2.      Toggle Full-screen mode

3.      Show connection options

4.      Force refresh the screen

5.      Send the Start button to the PC

6.      Send a custom key combination to the PC

7.      Close the connection

8.      Hide the toolbar

9.      Start a file transfer

10.  Turn off the remote computer’s monitor and keyboard

11.  Do something useless

12.  Open up a chat window.

UltraVNC screen viewThe Full-screen window looks just like the windowed version of the application, except that it does not have the Vista Aero wrapper around it.

The file transfer window is easy to understand and gives you a side-by-side file browser, one for each computer. Navigating through the interface and transferring files was extremely easy.

Performance

During the evaluation period, the target computer was connected to the internet via a 6Mbit DSL connection. The computer used to access the target was connected to the same DSL connection for a high speed test, or connected to the internet using a public Wi-Fi hotspot in the same city.

UltraVNC had very little impact on the server or client computers during normal usage, though we did find that CPU usage was a bit higher than its competitors when the screen was constantly updating. Other than that, the program required very few system resources to operate. There was practically no input latency between the two computers. We sometimes had issues getting the two computers to talk, and we had to sometimes restart the remote session or restart UltraVNC on both the target and client computers.

When we ran UltraVNC through the DSL network connection, we found the overall experience to be very quick and snappy — just like the competition. We had no problems running applications, editing documents, and controlling the computer as if we were sitting at the same desk. Full-screen window maximization and minimization was just as fast as the competition, though it updated the screen much like GoToMyPC did which provided the false impression that the application seems slower. Rest assured that the program did perform just as well most of the time. Scrolling through long web pages and documents was not as smooth of an experience compared to competitors, even though it used more network bandwidth. Streaming video at full quality was very stuttered, as expected, but bandwidth usage spiked to alarming levels. We also noticed a few anomalies — like the user icon in the Start Menu not showing up, and the absence of the Windows Sidebar — while UltraVNC was running.

It was a welcome surprise though to learn that video streaming actually worked well when we toned down the visual quality of the connection. No other aspect of performance actually improved when doing this, but viewing noticeably compressed videos in YouTube actually worked. But if you have to view videos across a remote control session, then UltraVNC might be the application to use.

When we tested UltraVNC from a local cafe with public Wi-Fi, performance took a 180 degree turn. Screen updates took much longer, input latencies were much higher, scrolling through long documents was painful, and the overall experience was just not that good even when we severely downgraded the visual quality of the session. That was assuming that the remote session could even start successfully, which did not happen sometimes.

File transfers operated without any difficultly when UltraVNC was working, though it stands to reason that the slower the network connection the slower the transfer would be. Even over the public Wi-Fi network transfers UltraVNC performed as well as could be allowed.

Conclusion

In the end, UltraVNC has the potential to be a solid remote desktop application. The application certainly has enough configuration options to make even the geekiest of us drool, but even with default options it has the potential to provide a solid experience.

But a good experience with UltraVNC requires more network bandwidth than any other competitor tested yet. Free competitors worked just as well or better as UltraVNC in local networks but vastly outperformed UltraVNC when remotely controlling computers across the Internet.

However, UltraVNC is the only free tool that supports file transfers out of the box. It was also one of the few applications capable of successfully streaming video (albeit at reduced video quality) on local network connections with enough bandwidth to spare.

In the end though, we were turned off by relatively high bandwidth requirements, poor performance, and instability of the application.

Pros

  • Free
  • Supports file transfers
  • Can stream compressed video

Cons

  • Requires high bandwidth
  • Unreliable
  • Requires VPN to connect over Web


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