Surely there is a solution: Computer Set Up Edition
June 20, 2020 5:38 PM   Subscribe

I need to be able to use dual monitors or an ultra wide monitor, a wireless mouse, and a wired keyboard (w/ USB) between two separate lap tops. I do not want to have switch cables all of the time to do so.

I have my work laptop (HP) and my new home lap top, two free standing monitors (HP and Dell) and a J5 boomerang docking station to plug in the monitors, mouse and keyboard to the new USB-less laptop.

I work for a government agency that has not reopened and it does not look likely until at least September. At my office I have three monitors - two free standing ones and the laptop monitor. I want to replicate this at home. I also use my personal computer at home with at least one other monitor when I'm working on side gigs.

What I want: is there is way to have two monitors or one ultrawide monitor, a wireless mouse and a wired keyboard and use them for both my work laptop and my personal laptop without having to switch a bunch of cables each time?

FYI : work lap top is government issued and subject to a lot of rules about what you can and cannot plug into it. Pretty much anything with a brain (smartphone, etc) cannot be plugged in but monitors, mouses, and keyboards are ok. So whatever solution is suggested, has to be just a basic accessory that doesn't require software to use it so the boomerang would likely be out.
posted by tafetta, darling! to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, at least the USB stuff could probably run through a powered hub. What are the other connections?
posted by Huffy Puffy at 6:08 PM on June 20, 2020

Look up “HDMI switch” and “USB Switch”. You may be able to find one gizmo that switches for both. With a press of a button . Here’s the HDMI (Only) switch I use. Super easy.
HDMI Switch 4K HDMI...
posted by armoir from antproof case at 6:23 PM on June 20, 2020

if all computers are running at the same time, and you can install software on the gov't laptop then you may be able to use barrier, a software kvm that lets you share keyboard and mouse between computers. it does not share the display, just let's you move the mouse from one to the other and your keyboard works with the computer the mouse is on.

it works across OS ( i use ot for win/Ubuntu).

readme links to installers
posted by askmehow at 7:53 PM on June 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I picked up an item called a KVM Switch so I could use both my personal laptop and my work laptop at one desk.

Basically, you plug the monitor, keyboard, and mouse into the switch, and then plug the switch into both laptops. There is a button you push to switch control of the keyboard and mouse between the laptops. Mine is not able to support dual monitors, but I do see 4 port switches for sale, so that may be an option with different hardware.

My set up is Laptop -- big monitory -- Laptop with the keyboard in the middle. I swap control of the center monitor and the keyboard/mouse at the touch of a button. Very easy and clean and has made my life 100% easier.
posted by anastasiav at 9:00 PM on June 20, 2020

Best answer: Folks, installing a software KVM is not an appropriate suggestion with a government system that OP has already said is restricted as far as installing software.

The absolute easiest hardware solution, assuming that the monitors both have at least two inputs, is to use dedicated cables for each computer to each monitor and use the controls on the monitors to do the switching. And the use an USB switcher to swap the keyboard and mouse.

A very simple KVM may be able to do everything for you with a single button to swap both in monitors and input devices but something that handles two monitors may require a driver. To avoid that, you need something that's literally just a virtual cable swap, not something like a docking station.
posted by Candleman at 9:02 PM on June 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Ultrawide monitor and a Hardware KVM switch with USB and whatever video connection is universal to all 3 devices (likely HDMI).
Keyboard, wireless mouse USB dongle, and ultra wide monitor at one (the 'center') end. The other two ends run their cables to the two laptops and stay plugged in (unless you're taking the laptop somewhere).
Ultra wide monitor at the center, with laptops (on stands?) left and right. One set of input devices in front of the big screen, and when you push the button on the KVM, they connect via hardware switch to one laptop or the other.
Now you have the big screen and one laptop display. Hit the button and you have the big screen and the other laptop display.
You might run into some settings trickiness at first, depending on what you want to happen when you switch away from one laptop (do you want it to go dark, revert to one-screen-mode, etc), but there's nothing much more to it; just installing a trolley-problem type switch in between two laptops.
posted by bartleby at 12:16 AM on June 21, 2020

Might also be worth asking your work IT folks before buying something yourself. I know they aren’t always the most helpful, but I also work for the federal government and I was surprised at their willingness to mail me specialized hardware to solve a problem with similar characteristics - bonus is that there’s no risk of running afoul of any restrictions.
posted by exutima at 12:16 AM on June 21, 2020

As other people have said, a lot of this will depend on what ports your laptops and monitors support, and a KVM will probably end up being what you want.

You can also do this with one cable swap if both laptops have USB-C and at least one monitor has the right kind of ports (or you're willing to buy a new monitor). Some monitors have a USB-C port and a DisplayPort-out as well as multiple USB-A ports. You'd plug your keyboard and mouse dongle into the USB-A ports, and daisy-chain your second monitor via the DisplayPort-out on the first monitor. Then, all you need is to connect your main monitor to either laptop with a single USB-C cable. Bonus -- sometimes the USB-C port on the monitor will be wired to provide power back to the laptop, so you don't need a separate power cable. I just set this up with my locked-down work laptop, personal laptop, and a Dell monitor (P2419HC) and it worked perfectly with no software to install.
posted by natabat at 1:04 PM on June 21, 2020 [1 favorite]

Late to this party but I recently discovered Logitech Origin software which allows you to use Logitech mice and possibly keyboards on two computers which are connected to the same wifi. I use the Logitech ergo which has nice button on top which moves it from one computer to the other without any delay etc.

This assumes that you can install Logitech Options software
posted by london302 at 12:33 AM on June 22, 2020

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