Battlestation: Multiple desktops and monitors but 1 keyboard and 1 mouse
February 5, 2014 9:05 AM   Subscribe

Hi, I have 1 keyboard, 1 mouse, and two desktop computers to use with a 3-monitor setup. I would like to know the best way to use a triple monitor setup where I can click a button and switch back and forth between desktop A and desktop B for the single keyboard/mouse and the monitors. Consolidating files onto one machine is not an option. Are there devices or hubs I could plug the keyboard/mouse/monitors and desktops into that can do this? Amazon links would be great.
posted by furious to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to check out r/battlestations on reddit, they've got a lot of good ideas and you can check out what other people have done.
posted by Oktober at 9:07 AM on February 5, 2014

So if I'm reading you right, you want a KVM switch, only you don't know that it's called a KVM switch? Well, here you go! The three-monitor requirement may bump up the price a bit (most KVMs support 1 or 2 monitors) but you should be able to find something that'll work.
posted by kindall at 9:10 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

It might be easier to network the computers, and run the second one from the first using some sort of remote desktop software.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:14 AM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are keyboards that can be linked to multiple devices (Example 1, Example 2), but I'm not sure if there are mice like that.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:25 AM on February 5, 2014

Try Synergy or Mouse without Borders.

They're both software KVMs, but instead of using a switch, you just move your mouse across monitors (and across computers). The keyboard will work on whichever computer you're on. Once you have it set up, you can copy-paste over the clipboard and even drag-drop files across each computer. Very very convenient.
posted by suedehead at 9:29 AM on February 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

I have an HDMI switch and a trendnet TK-207K (I don't remember what it is actually called, but it is right in front of me and that is the model number). However we use this to switch between operating systems running different graphics cards on the same machine (1 desktop, 3 graphics cards, 1 monitor, 3 OS). It works just fine.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:31 AM on February 5, 2014

It sounds like a hardware KVM is what you want. Generally, hardware KVMs are better than software KVMs in terms of video, not lagging, not creating network traffic, etc., so unless your requirements (including cost) drive you towards a software KVM I'd get the real deal.

You'll need to get a KVM switch that supports multiple monitors if you want to switch all 3 monitors back and forth across the computers. Those are fairly pricey, unfortunately.

If that's not going to happen you could look into software KVMs / remote desktop solutions, which are more flexible but can be really unpleasant to watch video or play games on. They're okay for server administration and light office work, though.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:28 AM on February 5, 2014

You want a hardware KVM switch.
posted by ssg at 10:31 AM on February 5, 2014

P.S. If you're not working with something super low-latency (FPS shooters), then a software KVM works very well. Unlike remote desktop solutions, you're not sending screen video over a network data, just the mouse coordinates and keyboard input, so network traffic should be relatively negligible. I've used it for a year to work with multiple computers doing coding / 3d modeling / etc, and it worked flawlessly.
posted by suedehead at 10:34 AM on February 5, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks suedehead. For Synergy, it doesn't seem like it would work for me.

I want to have desktop A displayed across all 3 monitors. Then hit a switch and have desktop B displayed across all 3 monitors. From what I could tell, that isn't possible with Synergy.
posted by furious at 10:43 AM on February 5, 2014

The switch Kadin2048 linked to handles more computers than you have, this one would work for you and cost less.

If $453 is more than you want to spend, but you're willing to hit more than one button, you can use one KVM switch and two switches for just monitors and change all three each time.

I'm guessing you would have mentioned if you had VGA monitors, but if you do you can find cheaper switches out there.
posted by yohko at 11:55 AM on February 5, 2014

Mouse without Borders and Synergy are made for one keyboard mouse, but multiple monitors, each connected to their respective computers. (It's a software KM switch, no V). You need a hardware KVM switch, or, if both are the proper versions of windows, you could use windows remote desktop software (Multiple monitor support details here)
posted by defcom1 at 1:09 PM on February 5, 2014

I want to have desktop A displayed across all 3 monitors. Then hit a switch and have desktop B displayed across all 3 monitors. From what I could tell, that isn't possible with Synergy.

Synergy is for sharing the mouse/keyboard, not screens, as you surmise.

To press a button (or use the keyboard shortcut to trigger the change) and have all three monitors switch to the other computer, you do need a hardware kvm.

More specifically, a dual port, triple monitor kvm, such as yohoko linked. KVM stands for keyboard-video-mouse, and desktop ones usually will also include a usb hub (in addition to usb/ps2 for keyboard & mouse) and audio, though often limited to stereo only.

Downsides of KVMs, particularly cheap ones;
- resolution limits, i.e. 1920x1200@60hz as that's all you can do on a single link DVI
- more sophisticated mice may not work as they often work by pretending to be multiple USB devices (you can often work round this latter problem via using a generic USB port rather than the emulated mouse port, though you do wait longer for the usb device detection to kick in)
- BIOS/EFI support can be hit and miss with the keyboard
- cost. Triple monitor is a bit of an unusual one; dual port single or double monitor will be considerably cheaper. You may be better off looking at specialist suppliers, ie. for workstations or digital production professionals. Startech do not have a great reputation for quality gear; speaking from bitter experience, that poor reputation is deserved.

A cheaper option is to get a better quality single monitor dual port KVM (possible supporting dual-link DVI for 120hz, or higher-res, I'm a fan of aten kvms for this), and use that to handle the center monitor, plus keyboard, mouse and audio. For the remaining two side monitors, plug both computers into separate video inputs on them; for example, computer A uses the DVI ports, and computer B uses the HDMI ports.

You can then just switch the center screen if you want to do something quickly on the 2nd computer; or if you need the full triple head, then use the input select on the side monitors to switch those also.

If your side monitors don't have multiple inputs, or they don't have a quick input cycle button, you can use a hdmi switch per side monitor, just for video. You'd have to hit three buttons (center kvm and both hdmi switches) but it'd still be quite a bit cheaper for not much more inconvenience.

It entirely depends how often you need to switch between the two computers and need all three monitors right away as to whether it's worth the cost of a triple-monitor kvm vs a more heath-robinson setup.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:21 PM on February 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Going to suggest a left field solution here and say buy three REALLY cheap KVMs.

Hit all the switches every time you want to swap. The first one that you actually connect your keyboard/mouse to should be a decent-ish $30 one with USB, the other ones can be the absolute cheapest chinatech brandless crap.

Make sure to at least get ones that electronically switch inputs, not mechanically with a knob or something. Those ones are made by well, knobs, and tend to degrade video quality.

I recommend these. They have an external switch, so you don't even need to have a keyboard connected. They DO need to be connected to a USB port for power, but that's it.

If you want DVI(understandable), then this appears to be one of, if not the cheapest option out there. There's nothing cheaper on ebay, even. And it has manual buttons on the front which you'll want for the reasons i outlined above. This is the cheapest one with USB i could find if your primary monitor is DVI, btw.

I wouldn't buy some big fancy multi monitor KVM. Spend less than a hundred bucks, and stack those with double sided foam tape.
posted by emptythought at 1:50 PM on February 5, 2014

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