Home > Articles > Hardware > Upgrading & Repairing

One Keyboard, Mouse, and Monitor To Rule (Well, Run) Them All

  • Print
  • + Share This
For people who have and use several computers in their office, too many monitors, keyboards, and mice on the desk can lead to massive confusion and a serious lack of desk space. Daniel Dern shows a relatively simple way of cutting down on the clutter and reclaiming desk real estate: installing a KVM switch so your computers can share one keyboard, display, and pointing device.
Like this article? We recommend

Like this article? We recommend

When you got a DVD player to go with your VCR, you didn’t feel the need for an additional television next to the first one, did you? Of course not. (A better one, maybe.)

Similarly, if you’ve got more than one computer, you wouldn’t want to clutter up your desk with a bunch of keyboards, video monitors, and mice, one for each, would you? Well, you might want to have multiple monitors for one system, or to keep eyes on several at the same time, but that’s a different question. (See my upcoming article on how monitors multiply display turf.)

If you got a notebook computer, wouldn’t it be convenient to use your existing keyboard, display, and mouse when at your desk? Of course, you could do this by constantly moving and switching the connecting cables around.

Or you could get a KVM switch.

Here’s some thoughts and advice on why and how.

What Is a KVM Switch?

In case you haven’t already guessed, KVM stands for Keyboard Video Mouse, and the switch part of the name is there because a KVM switch lets you connect a bunch of computers and select which one the keyboard, video, and mouse currently control. You plug your mouse (or other pointing device), keyboard, and display into the KVM, and run cables from the KVM switch to each computer. (Of course, you could also do this in software, with a remote-access program such as VNC, GoToMyPC, etc., assuming that your computers are networked together. But this means having the accessing computer turned on, assumes they’ll all handle the appropriate software...and breaches any "air firewalls" you may want to maintain, especially if you’re testing funky software.)

KVM switches have been around for decades. And they’re still popular; indeed, as companies look to ways for people to access and manage remote systems, IP/KVMs—KVM switches that can connect over IP networks, rather than through direct cables—are a popular solution.

How popular? KVMs account for about a quarter of remote desktop management (not counting console extenders or software solutions), according to Chad Hart and Spyros Photopoulos, analysts at Venture Development Corporation, an independent technology market research and strategy consulting firm.

In their June 2005 report, "KVM " Console Switch Solutions: Global Market Demand Analysis," they estimated the 2005 worldwide shipments of KVM switches and serial console servers at $118.3 million, with personal/desktop KVMs accounting for about 30% of the total, and predict that the worldwide market for KVM switches will "exceed $888 million by 2007, a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of 12.5% (2004–2007)."

About 70% of KVMs sold, estimates Photopoulos, are personal/desktop units. But they represent only a fraction of total revenues, because they cost so much less than company-size devices. He says that about 1.1 million desktop KVMs were sold in 2004, and estimates a total installed base of KVMs today at somewhere between 10 and 20 million.

There are plenty of KVM vendors—a quick check at Newegg.com shows about two dozen—including APC, Aten, Belkin, D-Link, IOGEAR, Linksys, Raritan, and Rose.

Entry-level "consumer" KVM switches have come down to prices that anybody can afford. For switching between two computers, two-port KVMs from companies like Belkin and IOGEAR start around 40 bucks (if you watch the sales, you may find one for as little as $20 or $30), including cables, a USB connector for mouse and keyboard, and possibly audio in and out cables—plus video, of course.

For example, at the time of writing (mid-November), I saw a sale price for IOGEAR’s two-port MiniView Micro KVM Switch at KVM Switches Online for a nickel shy of $30—that’s 10 bucks off—and Newegg.com shows several KVMs in the $15–20 range.

"The basic low-cost no-frills unit is usually two-port, with cables attached (bonded) to the KVM, and has either PS2 or USB connectors for the mouse and keyboard," notes Keith Renty, a product manager at IOGEAR.

Low-end KVMs may feel like a large handheld switch. The next step up, Renty says, may look more like desktop devices and have detachable cables. This step up also may include ports for audio peripherals (speakers, possibly a microphone).

For a KVM that connects more computers, such as a four- or eight-port KVM, and or other bells and whistles, expect to pay more, in the $200–400 dollar range.

In addition to more ports, newish bells and whistles can include USB 2.0 ports for peripherals—printers, flash drives, external hard drives, label makers, burners, and so on. The USB hub ports should support independent peripheral sharing, meaning that switching the K, V, and M to another computer doesn’t inherently switch the USB hub ports. (Check for this feature before you buy!) For example, if something’s still printing or saving to a hard drive from computer A, your peripherals isn’t disconnected.

Other possible features: PS2 and USB mouse/keyboard ports, a four-port Ethernet switch, even the ability to handle two monitors—assuming that your computers are dual-head.

Beyond the scope of a desktop user (or this article). there are higher-end KVMs, with 8, 16 or dozens of ports, rack-mountable, possibly able to work over IP networks (IP/KVM), costing from $1,000–3,000, but these are intended for businesses supporting multiple users accessing perhaps dozens of systems, or located at a number of sites.

The original KVM switches were mechanical, using rotary switches. I’ve been using one for many years, and only just retired it. A mechanical rotary KVM is inexpensive. However, as careful reading of documentation cautions, there’s a possibility that power blips may leak across as you turn the dial. My solution was to turn computer and monitor off before switching, which was safe but far from useful. A better (and more expensive) type of KVM is an electrical "break-and-make" KVM, which "breaks" the current connection and then makes the new one, avoiding the electrical leakage problem.

Another advantage of electronic versus mechanical KVMs is that the electronic versions can—and need to—include port emulation circuitry so that the other computers still "think" they have a keyboard and mouse connected.

When you start shopping, you’ll see a spread of prices for what seem to be similar-featured devices. Why? According to KVM Switches Online’s FAQ, "As in all products, some have more options. Some switches offer USB sharing, On Screen Display (OSD), audio support, port emulation, multiplatform capability, built-in conversion, come with cables, and have power supplies. Whether you will need or want these features is up to you."

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020