What is a KVM Switch?

What is a KVM Switch

Working with multiple devices and systems can mean a big boost to productivity, but it can also mean using accessories and displays that are far from your favorite; not to mention the extra expense of buying them. Not if you make use of a KVM switch, however. These devices, an abbreviation of keyboard, video, and mouse switches, let you connect multiple desktop PCs, laptops, or other devices to a single set of peripherals and display(s).

If you’re a heavy multitasker, a KVM switch can let you work from just one set of accessories, making for a leaner, more affordable working environment.

KVM switches can now do more than ever

KVM switches were once known as just KV switches, but with the growth in mouse control, they adopted their rodent cousin for some additional functionality. That was just one step on the road to their modern feature sets though, which are today far more expansive.

The best KVM switches let you connect a number of wired and wireless accessories to a multitude of desktop PCs, laptops, and other devices, all through a single, lightweight hub. You can switch which computer has access to all your connected devices with the push of a button.  

Previously limited to IT and tech enthusiasts, new technology like USB-C has led to a KVM renaissance. Companies like Cable Matters offer sleek, stylish, and high-performance KVMs with USB-C connection options (or one with a USB 3.0 micro-B port, coming soon) that can be plugged right into PCs and laptops. 

Cable Matters KVM Switch

Cable Matters Dual 4K 60Hz USB C KVM Switch for 2 Computers

Cable Matters’ line of USB-C KVMs gives immediate access to multiple displays connected over HDMI or DisplayPort, with up to four USB-A 3.0 ports which can be connected to keyboards and mice, but also a wide range of additional accessories that may otherwise be tied to a single system, or locked on to a specific network. KVMs can connect far more than just a keyboard and mouse over USB – popular options include external hard drives, flash drives, printers, scanners, and webcams.

 

KVMs offer a variety of video resolution choices, with Cable Matters’ USB-C KVM line supporting up to a single 8K display, or a pair of 4K displays at 60Hz, and works with Windows, Chrome OS, MacOS, and Linux. Some systems, like Macs without MST multi monitor support, or Windows PCs without the necessary graphical hardware, may be limited to lower resolutions or frame rates, so it’s a good idea to check your device’s instructions before settling on a USB C KVM. HDR and surround sound are supported across all display types, but unfortunately, variable refresh rates, FreeSync, and G-Sync are not.

On the KVM switch itself, there are a pair of switching buttons, letting you jump between two different connected systems. They include indicator lights, making sure it’s obvious which system you’re using. There’s also a built-in on/off switch for power cycling and power saving, where necessary.

Alternatively, you can use the bundled remote control which means you can tuck away the KVM switch if you want it somewhere out of sight and out of mind. This can further cut back on desk and cable clutter, making a KVM switch a great way to make your workspace more streamlined and minimalist, aiding concentration.

USB-A KVM switches

As much as USB-C is the most versatile of connections today, KVM switches based on that design aren’t too helpful for older desktops and laptops without the option of a USB-C connection. Cable Matters also has a USB 3.0 micro-B KVM switch set to launch in October, designed to cater to those devices without that reversible USB cable option.

With the reduced feature set of USB 3.0, this KVM switch can’t support quite as many simultaneous connections over a single cable, but it’s still capable. It has a single DisplayPort 1.4 connection for the attached display, supporting both 1080p and 4K resolution. It also has a trio of USB-A ports, allowing for the connection of a mouse and keyboard and one additional accessory, like an external hard drive, flash drive, or USB headset.

Keyboard + Mouse Saver

One of the major selling points of modern wireless keyboards and mice is their ability to connect to two or more devices simultaneously, leveraging a 2.4GHz wireless connection, and one or more Bluetooth connections. That can be extremely useful for switching between devices that support Bluetooth and would preclude the need for a KVM switch. However, most desktop PCs don’t support Bluetooth without an additional accessory, and Bluetooth is often a substandard connection compared to the 2.4GHz wireless connection, leading to higher latency and reduced signal integrity.

By connecting your wireless device dongle(s) to a KVM switch, you can have the ability to jump between multiple systems using your wireless keyboard and/or mouse, without the need to use their Bluetooth connections. That can let you maintain the performance of the 2.4Ghz wireless connection over multiple devices, as well as expand your range to more devices. Have two connected on the 2.4GHz wireless connection, and then one or more extra ones over Bluetooth.

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