During the last year or so, many people from around the world have switched to remote work arrangements, often using a mix of personal and work devices to get things done.
This widescale disruption of established work routines has cast new light on an old issue: how to control multiple computers using one keyboard, one mouse, and one monitor?
As you can probably already guess, the answer is the humble KVM switch, and this article explains what it is and how it works, equipping you with all the knowledge you need to take advantage of it.
Introduction to KVM
The abbreviation KVM stands for “keyboard, video, and mouse,” and it perfectly captures the purpose of this hardware device: make it possible for a user to control multiple computers using just one keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
In the past, the use of KVM switches was driven mainly by steep hardware prices. It made no sense for organizations and researchers managing multiple servers to connect one keyboard, one mouse, and one monitor to each and every server.
Today, KVM switches can be found even outside busy server rooms, in school classrooms, warehouses, and people’s homes.
How Do KVM Switches Work?
There are many different types and sizes of KVM switches, ranging from compact home switches that are meant to switch between just two computers to complex enterprise-grade switches with an almost absurd number of ports.
But despite their differences, all KVM switches work more or less the same. To set everything up, you first connect your keyboard, mouse, and monitor to the KVM switch. Next, you connect the KVM switch to each computer you want to control. From there, it’s just a matter of pressing a button on the KVM switch to tell it which computer you want to control.
What Types of KVM Switches Are There?
There are several main types of KVM switches you should know about:
USB switches: Technically, USB switches are not actually KVM switches because they don’t let you share a single monitor between multiple computers. But if you have a personal desktop computer and a work laptop (and are happy to use its built-in display), a USB switch may be all you need to comfortably control both devices using just one set of peripherals.
Cable KVM switches: This is the standard type of KVM switches, and it’s also the type we had in mind when describing how KVM switches work in the previous section of this article. Cable KVM switches rely on direct cable connections, which makes them easy to understand and use but somewhat less flexible than KVM over IP switches.
KVM over IP switches: Used almost exclusively in the enterprise setting, KVM over IP switches make it possible to control any connected computer or server over a remote IP connection. Network administrators like to use these switches to remotely manage multiple servers, but that’s not their only possible application.
When Should I Use a KVM Switch?
If you often have two or more computers running at the same time and would like to reduce desk clutter and save money by controlling them using just one keyboard, one mouse, and monitor, then you should definitely use a KVM switch.
Here’s how much money you can save by using a high-quality KVM switch, such as the CKL-922HUA-2:
|KVM setup||2x keyboard, mouse, monitor|
|KVM switch (CKL-922HUA-2):||$169||—|
|Keyboard (Logitech K120):||$25||$50|
|Mouse (Razer DeathAdder):||$25||$50|
|Monitor (Dell Ultrasharp U2415):||$269||$538|
Saving $150 while eliminating desk clutter and becoming more productive isn’t a bad deal, don’t you think?
What is the Best KVM Switch for Linux?
The good news is that most KVM switches (at least cable KVM switches) are OS transparent, acting as a passthrough for data coming from your peripheral devices. As such, Linux compatibility generally isn’t an issue, and you can simply pick any well-rated KVM switch that meets your needs.
When selecting a KVM switch for Linux, you want to pay attention to the number and types of ports it has, supported video output types, and included accessories, such as a remote control. Here are three picks to get you started:
The CKL-922HUA-2 is a well-rated KVM switch that lets you share up to two monitors and one keyboard & mouse between two computers. The switch supports the HDMI 2.0 standard, so it can output 3840 x 2160 (4K) video at 60 Hz. The front panel even has 3.5 mm jacks for speakers and a microphone, completely removing the need to reconnect any peripheral devices when using two computers.
This simple switch doesn’t have a monitor input, but it has four high-speed USB 3.0 ports for your mouse, keyboard, card reader, flash drive, and other USB devices. You can think of it as two USB hubs in one body. With a simple press of a button, you can tell the switch which computer you want to control, and there’s even an LED indicator light to keep you informed.
This KVM switch has four VGA inputs and one VGA output with a maximum resolution of 2048 x 1536 at 60 Hz. Because its specifications leave something to be desired in terms of video quality, we recommend it mainly to system administrators who care less about sharp graphics and more about functionality.
KVM, short for keyboard, video, and mouse, is a handy little device that makes it possible to control multiple computers using one keyboard, one mouse, and one monitor. If you feel that a KVM could simplify your life and increase your productivity, then don’t hesitate to order one online and set it up—Linux compatibility issues are rare.