If you’ve got two or more computers — say, a desktop and a notebook — or perhaps two desktops and a notebook — or three notebooks — switching among them can be a nuisance.
It’s particularly a nuisance if you want to be switching back and forth among systems during over a session, like if one is your “business production” system, another is your testing platform, plus you’ve got a notebook for when you travel.
One way to do this is to use “remote desktop/remote control” software like GoToMyPC, LogMeIn, TeamViewer, VNC, or the many other offerings. These programs let you manage your computers via WiFi or Internet connections, or even from a smartphone or tablet like an iPhone or iPad.
If your computers are going to be right next to you, another option is a KVM — K for Keyboard, V for Video, M for Mouse (or other pointing device, like a trackpad or trackball) — switch.
A KVM switch is the computer equivalent of the input selection button on your television that lets you toggle between the cable, DVD player, or that old VCR.
A KVM switch lets you connect multiple computers — how many depends on the switch — and with the touch of a button, change which computer the keyboard, display and mouse are connected to. Unlike using remote desktop programs, only the computer you want to use has to be on — or you can have multiple computers on, and be switching among them like you do among windows within a given computer.
Many data centers use KVM switches to let IT admins connect to several machines from a single terminal. But KVM switches can be useful for office, home office, and home users as well.
To connect up a office/home KVM switch, you plug your keyboard, mouse, and display (some KVM switches support two displays) into the back. You then connect a KVM cable between the KVM and the computer — typically, the KVM cable includes a video cable, two USB cables, and A/V cables. Connect the KVM power supply, and, optionally, plug peripheral(s) into the KVM’s front-side USB ports — and you’re ready to go.
I’ve been using KVM switches for more than 25 years. While I typically only have one computer running at a time, KVM switches are a great convenience when I’m testing a new machine or need to access my travel notebook.
Though data-center-grade KVM switches can cost up to several thousand dollars, office/home-class KVMs are much less expensive.
KVM switches start at around $20 for two-to-four-machine switches. For example, NewEgg.com is currently listing the “IOGEAR GCS612A MiniView Micro PS/2 Audio KVM Switch with Cables” for $25.99 (MSRP $29.99). A four-to-eight port KVM that supports two video monitors and with other features may run you several hundred dollars — and would be worth it.
Don’t hesitate to bargain hunt for slightly older machines — but check the notes at the bottom of this article, and also see whether the price includes a set of cables
The KVM switch I’ve been using for the past five or more years is an IoGear MiniView Symphony.
It’s got four ports, meaning it accommodates and can switch among up to four computers.
It has two front-side USB ports for peripherals. Pressing a computer selector for a few seconds switches these USB ports to that computer. It also has a four-port Ethernet switch built-in.
KVM switches don’t seem to wear out, but they may not meet the requirements of your newer computers or displays. In particular:
1) Older KVMs may not connect to Windows 7 machines.
2) Older KVMs may not support the video resolution you need.
While remote-desktop software may be the wave of the future, KVM switches are an inexpensive, easy way to meet for basic needs of switching between systems.