I want to be both a Mac and a PC...
October 19, 2021 12:37 PM   Subscribe

TL;DR - is there a docking station that will allow me to use my two monitors, external keyboard, and mouse, with both my work Dell laptop (currently connecting to a Dell WD15 docking station using USB-C) and one of the new M1 Mac minis?

The too long part: while I was waiting on the release of the new MacBook Pros, I realized that I almost never use a laptop as a laptop. In fact, I hate using a laptop as a laptop - the screen is too small, the keyboard makes me bend my wrists in uncomfortable ways, and I hate using trackpads. So instead of a new MBP, I'm looking at one of the new M1 Mac minis instead.

However, I'd like to be able to switch back and forth between my work Dell and the Mac mini, preferably by just swapping a USB-C cable from one to the other. In my mind it would work like this:

1. Docking station has both monitors, my keyboard, and mouse attached - monitors are Dell P2719H, with one using HDMI and the other using DisplayPort, keyboard and mouse are USB-A connections.
2. Plug in Dell laptop using USB-C cable during the day, work, obtain money.
3. Unplug Dell laptop at end of work day, place in backpack (work-life balance, y'all).
4. Plug in Mac mini using USB-C cable, have access to both monitors, keyboard, and mouse, play Minecraft. I would expect the Mac mini to need to use the power supply that came with it, and not charge off the USB-C connection.

From reading, I know that there are issues with the M1 Macs and dual monitors. The M1 Mac mini can run dual monitors, but expects one to be plugged in directly to the computer using HDMI and the other plugged directly into the computer using USB-C.

What I'm looking for, and can't seem to find, is whether I can plug a docking station into one of the USB-C ports on the Mac mini and have it see my monitors, keyboard, and mouse. I've looked at various products from CalDigit and Logitech, but nothing I can find seems to definitively give a way to make this work, especially using both a Mac and a PC.

I'm hoping someone here either has direct, hands-on experience with this, or can point me to somewhere that I haven't seen yet that explains what can and cannot be done in detail.
posted by ralan to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't have a specific docking solution to recommend, but I have a M1 Mac Mini, and will note that to drive two screens, you must have one attached to HDMI and the other with USB-C. You can't plug one USB-C cable into a dock and have it see two monitors.
posted by General Malaise at 12:44 PM on October 19, 2021

Best answer: To add: What I've seen people do most often in this circumstance is just have the computers input into different inputs on the monitors and switch on the monitor, which should free you up to just have to use a simple (and cheap) USB keyboard and mouse switch.
posted by General Malaise at 12:46 PM on October 19, 2021

You didn’t say what your Dell laptop was, but if it has a Thunderbolt 3 port (which looks like a USB C port but has additional functionality; typically it would have a little lightning bolt near the port if it’s Thunderbolt compatible), you should be able to use any Thunderbolt 3 dock to replace your current Dell one and get functionality with both the Dell laptop and any future Apple device.
posted by doomsey at 1:04 PM on October 19, 2021

Ah crap. I forgot that the Displayport support on the M1 is limited to 1 monitor. Normally this would work (TB supports it just fine) but if you’re using an M1 mini you’ll probably only be able to light up one display due to the internal routing.


The only solution I know of that would be able to do this would be to purchase Displaylink dock. These are basically USB-attached video cards so avoid the M1 limitation. I use one regularly (or at least used to in the Before Times; it’s at the office and I work from home now), and it is basically functional on my (non-M1) Mac and Windows. Unfortunately Displaylink is also slow and you might end up with latency problems when you try to use Minecraft.

Otherwise your best bet would be to hook up the extra HDMI.

posted by doomsey at 1:10 PM on October 19, 2021

In the past when I had a mac/pc, I had my monitors connected to the mac, and then used Remote Desktop to log in full screen to the PC via ethernet
posted by nickggully at 2:32 PM on October 19, 2021

You want a 2x1 KVM, most likely, but it will need to support your monitor and USB-C connections. Here is a previous thread on options perhaps better suited to modern displays and Macs.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 2:54 PM on October 19, 2021

Sorry, I meant to say that it sounds like you probably want a 2x2 KVM. The link to the previous thread will provide more information.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 5:44 PM on October 19, 2021

Best answer: I have a Mac mini for my personal desktop, and a Lenovo laptop for work.

When I work from home (which has been full-time for the last 18 months), I use Remote Desktop.

I have my Mac mini plugged to my monitors, keyboard, and mouse. Then I use Microsoft’s Remote Desktop app to connect to the local IP address of my work PC.

Remote Desktop can use both my monitors, so I can have both displays on my Mac, both on my PC, or one on my Mac + one on my PC. Each display acts like a full-screen app, and I can swipe back and forth with a four-fingered swipe on my Mac’s trackpad.

Couldn’t be easier, and as long as your computers are on the same network, it’s nice and fast—and no unplugging cables required.

The only gotcha is that you have to have permission to enable Remote Desktop on your work PC. If your IT department won’t let you do this, you’re stuck.
posted by vitout at 6:08 PM on October 19, 2021

I use three screens at home connected to a pc and a Mac and I found it was ultimately easiest to just change the inputs on the screens and have separate wireless keyboards and mice for each.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:46 PM on October 19, 2021

if u keep both computers on, you can use synergy by symless.com.

I have an m1 laptop and a pc notebook. I use an hdmi splitter and it takes care of what displays on the big monitor.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 8:37 PM on October 19, 2021

Response by poster: General Malaise: I think I'll have to go your route with having the monitors connected to each computer and switching the inputs from the menu. This will be an excuse to reorganize my desk.

vitout: I've used Remote Desktop before, but had some screen refresh lag with two of the applications I use daily (MadCap Flare and Snagit). I may give that another try, though.
posted by ralan at 3:35 PM on October 20, 2021

having the monitors connected to each computer and switching the inputs from the menu

synergy is worth a try when doing this, as iNfo.Pump mentioned, especially if desk space is limited.

I personally find it more efficient and intuitive to keep one keyboard on the desk and the other in an undermount keyboard drawer than to worry about which machine has pointer focus.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:33 PM on October 20, 2021

Response by poster: I've used Synergy before, but for the sake of my work-life balance my work laptop has to be physically unplugged at the end of the work day and put away where I cannot see it. It cannot stay on my desk once work is over.

I'm also one of those annoying mechanical keyboard people and I don't want to have to juggle two full-sized keyboards. I've gone down that route before and found it to be a pain in the butt.
posted by ralan at 6:47 PM on October 20, 2021 [1 favorite]

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