Ever since I’ve been working from home due to the pandemic, I’ve been irked by the extra clutter on my desk from multiple keyboards and mice. I have my personal desktop computer and two office laptops that I use.
If I was to use just one keyboard and mouse then I’d have to keep switching the connections which is even worst. However, I recently found out about these devices created to solve this exact problem.
For USB keyboards and mice, a USB switch selector allows you to share multiple USB devices including keyboards, mice, printers and removable storage devices between two or more computers.
If any of the devices you want to share is USB 3.0, you will need a USB 3.0 switch selector which costs slightly more. Otherwise, a simple USB 2.0 switch selector will allow you to share one keyboard and mouse with two to four computers depending on which one you buy.
I’m currently using a USB 2.0 switch selector that allows me to share my keyboard and mouse with up to four computers. To switch between which computer I am controlling, I just have to click the button on the selector.
If you also want to share a monitor with the computers, or if your keyboard and mouse are not USB, there’s also a device available for that.
A KVM switch, which stands for “Keyboard, Video, and Mouse switch” allows you to use one keyboard, monitor, and mouse with two or more computers. Simply connect your keyboard, monitor and/or mouse as input to the switch and connect the switch to all the computers.
You can buy KVM switches that support just two computers, or those that support more than two computers and allow you to share a common monitor, keyboard, and mouse with all of them.
While I believe these hardware switches are the way to go, there’s also a couple of software solutions available that I talk about later on. These may be a great option for you depending on your use case and some of them are even free. You may also want to use a software solution temporarily while you wait for the KVM switch or USB switch selector.
Whether you are using a USB switch selector or a KVM switch, hardware switches directly connect your peripherals to the different computers in turn. This means that your keyboard and mouse will behave exactly like it was directly connected to the computer by itself.
You’ll enjoy the fast response speed that you are used to and won’t face any limitations with things like gaming where every millisecond counts.
Moreover, because you are switching the connection physically, you aren’t using resources on your other computers in order to make the keyboard and mouse sharing work.
Another benefit of a hardware solution (as opposed to software) is that your setup will always work even if you lose your network connection. Software solutions control multiple computers over your home network and will stop working if your network is down.
Moreover, the setup is super easy as you just have to connect some cables to the switch and to your computer. Using the device is even easier since you just push the button on the switch to change to the next computer.
Many people mount the switch under their desk to keep it hidden from view. To switch computers, simply reach under your desk and press the button!
Which Switch Do I need?
There’s a few considerations here but I’ve broken everything down to make it super easy to follow.
Only Sharing Keyboard and Mouse
First, if you only need to share a USB keyboard and mouse (or some other USB devices) you should most certainly just get a USB switch selector. The one thing to keep in mind, is if any of your devices are USB 3.0, you’ll only achieve the advantages in speed and bandwidth of the device if your switch is also a USB 3.0 switch.
USB 3.0 switch selectors cost slightly more on the market, and while you can save a few bucks purchasing a USB 2.0 one, buying a USB 3.0 switch selector would be future proofing yourself for when you upgrade your devices.
The next thing to consider is how many computers you plan on connecting to the switch. If it’s just two, you have a lot of options and brands available. I recommend this switch for you.
If it’s more than two, it becomes harder to find a switch that USB 3.0 and a decent price. I personally have been using this USB 2.0 one, and it’s been great. I had to trade off USB 3.0 for being able to connect to three computers at the same time.
One alternative I can think of here is to use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse set. These generally require you to connect a USB Bluetooth dongle to the computer you are connecting to.
You can switch this dongle from one computer to another as a way of sharing the keyboard and mouse between them. It’s not as fast as a switch, but if you own a set, it can get the job done and save you money.
How To Use One Monitor With Two Computers?
If you want to share one monitor between two computers, by far the easiest way is to connect the monitor to both computers using two different connection ports on the back of the monitor.
Most monitors allow two inputs, and usually they are two different types of ports (like HDMI, and DisplayPort). You can actually connect one computer to each with the correct cable.
Then when you want to switch between computers, you can change which port is being used in the monitor settings. This may be a little annoying to do every time, but you get fast at it.
This is what I do with my setup as I have three computers connected to two monitors. My main PC which I go on to work on this blog, watch YouTube after work, and play video games from time to time is actually connected to both monitors.
Then, one of my work laptops is connected to one monitor using the second port, and the other work laptop is connected to the second monitor using it’s second port.
This way, using just two external monitors, I get two screen from each laptop during work, and two screen from my PC after work! All without needed special hardware.
That being said, you may need to buy a specific type of display cable or converter to make the right connections.
I would also recommend this same approach for using dual monitors with two computers. As long as each monitor has two input ports and the ability to switch between them, you can keep each monitor connected to both computers.
When you need to switch computers, you just switch the monitor settings using the monitor’s menu.
How To Use One Monitor, Keyboard, and Mouse With Two Computers?
If your scenario wasn’t covered in the previous two sections, you’ll probably need a KVM switch. Now, KVM switches come in a variety of different types and have existed since ancient times when their were keyboards and mice with those purple and green connectors.
Modern KVM switches still provide the same functionality and that is to allow you to use one monitor, keyboard and mouse with two computers.
You can also purchase KVM switches with dual monitor support as well as KVM switches that connect one monitor, keyboard and mouse to up to four computers.
What I have said before about USB 3.0 vs. USB 2.0 also applies to KVM switches.
Moreover, now you have to consider the display connection type as well. HDMI KVM switches are fairly common nowadays and support high resolutions at 30 Hz. The Hz value is the refresh rate and I have an article explaining it here.
One thing to mention is typical monitor refresh rates are 60 Hz, and while 30 Hz appears continuous to the human eye, you’ll likely be able to tell the difference. That being said, 60 Hz KVM switches are available on the market and even 144 Hz ones if you’re a gamer.
But these switches will cost you a fair bit more. I’ve also notices that KVM switches using DisplayPort connections also cost a fair bit more than the HDMI counter part. If you are looking to purchase one, unless you have a high bandwidth requirement, I would just purchase an HDMI one and use a DisplayPort to HDMI converter.
Can I Use A KVM Switch With Two Monitors?
Dual monitor setups are really popular these days and will continue to be going forwards both in the office and at home. There are specialized KVM switches on the market that support dual monitors.
These switches have four input display connections for connecting to two different computers and two output display connections to connect to two different monitors.
Dual monitor KVM switches cost a fair bit more than single monitor switches.
When Do I Not Need A KVM Switch?
You don’t need a KVM switch when any of the following are true.
- You only need to connect a keyboard and mouse, and not a monitor. In this case a simple USB switch selector will do the job. You can also buy a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse set and switch the dongle between computers.
- You want to share a monitor with two computers, and your monitor has two input ports. In this case you can connect each computer to one of the input ports and use the monitor menu to switch between them when needed.
- You want to share a monitor, keyboard and mouse with multiple computers that are in different rooms. In this case, you will need to use one of the software solutions mentioned below.
There’s a few software options available as well to control multiple computers with one keyboard and mouse. Software such as Microsoft’s free Mouse Without Borders and the paid Synergy will achieve this by using your network connection as the communication medium. PCMag did an article about them here.
Also, you could always remote desktop into the second computer from your first one. This is another viable option that will let you see the other computer’s screen as well as control it using the same mouse and keyboard on the first computer.
There’s actually a bit of a tradeoff depending on whether you go with a hardware solution or software solution. I created a table to summarize the pros and cons of each. Hopefully this will help you to decide which option is best for you.
|Hardware Switch||– Fast response time|
– No dependency on network
– Suitable for video games
– Only use resources on currently connected computer
|– Other computers must be reachable by the cables|
– Purchase cost
|Software Switch (Mouse Without Borders, Synergy)||– Can be free|
– Some programs allow you to share files between the computers easily
– Second computer can be anywhere
|– Can be slow to respond|
– Can experience lag
– Dependent on network connection
– Loss of precision
– Not suitable for playing video games
– Can be difficult to setup
– Cannot share the screen
– Use resources on both computers
|Remote Desktop||– Free|
– Share files between computers
– See the second computer’s screen
|– Not suitable for playing video games|
– Not suitable for watching movies on the other computer
– Use resources on both computers
How To Connect One Ethernet Port To Two Computers
If you have multiple computers in your workspace that all need a wired internet connection, you’re probably not going to find enough ethernet port connections on the wall of the room. Houses that have ethernet port wiring typically only have one connection per room.
There’s a few ways you can solve this problem. First and probably the cheapest is to use an ethernet share kit such as this one. One thing to keep in mind is it only supports speeds up to 100 Mbps. That means if you pay for higher download speeds, you will be capped at 100 Mbps when using this device.
To use a share kit, you need to plug one plug to your router and to the connection to your room’s ethernet port. Then you plug the other plug into your room’s ethernet port and have two cables available that go to two different computers.
To connect one ethernet port to more than two computers, or to achieve higher speeds, you will need an ethernet switch. Simply place the ethernet switch in your room, and connect it to the wall port with an ethernet cable.
The switch will give you a bunch of extra ethernet ports to connect multiple additional devices.
One thing to keep in mind when networking with ethernet cables in general is different cable types and ethernet switches have limitations on max speed. If you are paying for 1Gbps internet, and using a cable or switch somewhere that is rated for 100 Mbps, you’re only using 1/10th of the speed you pay for.
If you notice that you don’t get as much download speed as you paid for, you may have this issue. You can check your current internet speed at this website.
- Should your second monitor be vertical?
- Should dual monitors be the same size?
- What is the best desk size for dual monitors?
Hamid Tahir is a Mechatronics Engineer and founder of WFH Overload. He is currently working from home and is dedicated to the continuous improvement of his home office setup. Hamid has extensive experience setting up workspaces and dealing with the related tech. He hopes to share his knowledge to help you create the most productive and comfortable work from home setup. Read More