Here in my office we have five servers controlled by a single mouse and keyboard and connected to just one monitor for ease of management and to save additional space! If you have more than one desktop at home, maybe a Windows box and a test box with Linux installed, you can connect both computers to a monitor in three different ways: Use the additional ports on the back of your monitor for a hardware KVM Switch and a software KVM switch .
The easiest way to connect multiple computers to one monitor is to first check the back of the monitor to see how many inputs there are. I have an HDMI port, a DVI port and a VGA port on my monitor. This means that I can connect up to three different computers to my one monitor.
Obviously, there are downsides to this approach as HDMI can offer the highest resolution with the greatest stability. DVI and VGA can also carry HD signals, but problems can arise with higher resolutions that require more bandwidth. VGA also uses an analog signal as compared to a digital signal used by HDMI and DVI, but you probably won't be able to tell the difference at lower resolutions.
A KVM switch, which is terrifyingly synonymous with keyboard, video, mouse, is a small piece of hardware that is similar to your WiFi router, but instead of network connections has VGA or HDMI video connections and PS2 or USB mouse / keyboard connections. The device is very easy to use and does not normally require an external power source! Most KVM switches get their power from the computers that are connected using the cables that come with them.
Here is an example of a D-Link 4-port KVM switch. There are two sets of mouse, keyboard, and video connections on each side. At the top left you will see a small button that you can use to switch between computers. Many of the newer KVM switches also allow you to toggle control by pressing a specific key or performing a series of keystrokes on the keyboard.
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There are two types of switches that you can buy, USB or PS2. Now that many computers have USB ports, the KVM cable has one end that is USB that you can just plug into an available port and it will control both the mouse and keyboard. However, I suggest buying a PS2 KVM switch (like the D-Link shown above) as my experience has been that something goes wrong and you see in the BIOS, keyboard and mouse when plugged into one USB KVM switch is connected!
You can purchase KVM switches that support up to 64 computers from two computers. Of course, these switches were primarily intended for large enterprise server rooms, but now that many consumers have more than one desktop at home, Link, Netgear, and other hardware manufacturers have started creating consumer versions with two or four ports.
Most KVM switches you can find online will have cables that are only about 6 feet long, which means the computers need to be in close proximity to the switch. If you want to connect multiple computers more than 10 feet away from the central monitor, you can use either a local remote KVM device or KVM Over IP.
With a local remote KVM device, you can connect computers to the device using standard Category 5 network cables. This configuration requires small interface devices on the computers that convert the signals from the peripheral devices into network protocols that can be transmitted over Cat-5 cables and then converted back into analog signals on the KVM device.
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However, this option still requires that cables (in this case Cat 5) be used to connect the computer directly to the switch. If you want to control a computer in a network, you can do this via a KVM IP switch. This means that the computers can be connected to a local area network, a wide area network or via a telephone line. The signals are converted and sent over the network to the KVM device, where they are converted into normal signals.
You can find these advanced switches at specialized online stores like KVMs.com. The only problem with these more advanced KVM solutions is that they can get quite expensive. What if there was a cheaper way to go? The KVM software is a possible solution.
Synergy is a piece of free software that basically works like a software KVM and lets you control multiple computers from a main "server" computer. With this software, the computers still have to be next to each other to use it. The other thing that it won't help you with is reducing the number of monitors. A hardware KVM switch allows you to share a monitor with multiple computers, but Synergy allows you to use a keyboard and mouse on multiple computers. It basically just saves you buying a ton of hardware and using lots of cables just to use the same mouse and keyboard on multiple computers.
Now that you know the limitations of the software, it is still a good solution if you have three separate computers side by side and you just want to control them all with just one mouse and keyboard. The other great thing about the software is that it runs on Mac, Linux, and Windows and allows you to share your clipboard between all computers. You can also simply drag and drop files between computers as you move the mouse between them.
Synergy is also good if you want to install VNC software to control another computer remotely. Now you can just move your mouse over the other computers' screens and start working on them. Obviously, as mentioned above, the computers all need to be close to each other. With VNC, you can remotely control a computer in another room without having to see the computer.
Hopefully, one of the three methods above will help you control more than one computer from a single monitor. If you have any questions about your setup or what type of KVM switch to buy, please leave a comment and I'll try to help. Enjoy!
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