Choosing the Best KVM Switch (plus Alternatives)

A KVM switch enables you to control multiple computers using one keyboard, mouse and monitor – saving time and inconvenience, and keeping your desk clear.

Before investing in a switch, consider what you want to achieve.

I want to see one computer at a time

If you only want to view one computer on your screen (or screens), a hardware KVM will let you connect it, along with your keyboard and mouse, to each of your computers, and then switch between them.

This solution is practical if you don’t want to look at two computers simultaneously, and you don’t need to cross-reference information between them.

Choosing a hardware KVM switch

I want to see multiple computers at once

If each of your computers has its own screen, and you want to be able to use them all to view information from each computer simultaneously, you have two options.

A hardware KVM switch will allow you to swap a single keyboard and mouse between computers without unplugging them. Just disregard the video port on the KVM.

A software KVM could be an easier and more affordable way of working between your computers. These work similarly to hardware KVMs, but without any physical box or cables.

Choosing a software KVM switch

How to choose the best hardware KVM switch

With hundreds of KVM switches on the market, it’s important to undertake some research before committing to a product. We’ve outlined some of the things you should consider below.

Type

  • KVM switch
    Lets you connect one keyboard, mouse and screen to multiple computers, connected by cables.
  • KM switch
    Lets you connect one keyboard and mouse to multiple computers, connected by cables.
  • KVM over IP (also known as IPKVM or Network KVM)
    Lets you connect one keyboard, mouse and screen to one or more computers, which could be physically located anywhere in your network.

Number of computers

KVMs have a hard limit on how many computers they can connect to, based on the number of ports on the back. Check there are enough ports for your needs.

Number of monitors

Most KVMs work with a single monitor, although expensive models can work with up to eight.

Maximum video resolution

Ensure the KVM supports the full resolution of your monitor – for instance, only some can handle 4K resolution.

Video connectors

Ensure the switch supports your monitor. Some KVMs support several connectors, such as VGA, HDMI and DisplayPort. However, others might only support one.

How it works

  • Passive’, or mechanical switches, physically disconnect your keyboard, mouse and screen from the computer not currently in use. Deselected computers will behave accordingly (potentially throwing errors). This can make the switching process slow and temperamental.
  • Active’ switches incorporate technology to retain the state of the mice and keyboards connected to them during the switching process. These can provide a smoother switching experience. The KVM itself usually requires an additional power cable to achieve this. However, active switches may not be compatible with every keyboard or mouse (for instance, multimedia keys may stop working).

How you switch

Switching mechanisms vary between pressing a button on the KVM switch, clicking on your mouse wheel, using an on-screen display or pressing a hotkey on your keyboard (bear in mind that the latter can interfere with existing shortcuts).

Our top picks

These are some of our favorite models on the market. You’ll notice that the price points start at $100 – while cheaper models can be found, in our experience, they do not provide a good experience.

Price point
Type
Maximum computers/screens
Video connection
ATEN CS84U

$100

Active KVM

4 computers, 1 screen (2048×1536)

VGA

ADDERView 4 Pro DVI

$450

Active KVM

4 computers, 1 screen (2560×1600)

DVI-I

SmartAVI DPN-4Quad

$930

Active KVM

4 computers, 4 screens (3840×2160)

DisplayPort

Information as of August 2021

Software KVMs – a flexible alternative

If you want to view multiple computers at once, a software KVM such as Synergy could be a simpler and more affordable alternative to a hardware KVM. You still work with just one keyboard and mouse, but can control and view each device on its own screen.

This solution is ideal if you want to move back and forth between computers quickly, as there’s no need to press a button. When you move your mouse to the edge of one screen, the software automatically transfers control to the next computer, and your mouse pointer appears there instantly. This makes the transition smoother, and the lack of interruption helps you work more efficiently. Plus, because you’re not introducing extra physical hardware or cabling, your workspace will contain less clutter.

Software KVMs are also a flexible option that work with any keyboard, mouse or screen, regardless of their connectors or resolution.

Conclusion

Hardware or software?

If you only have one screen

A good hardware KVM switch will allow you to use it with multiple computers (and a single mouse and keyboard) without too much inconvenience. Quality is everything here, so do your research and invest as much as you can to ensure the switching process doesn’t interrupt your work.

If each of your computers already has its own screen

A hardware KVM may be an unnecessary expense, which will also clutter up your desk. If you want to work seamlessly across all your devices with a single keyboard and mouse, a software KVM such as Synergy would be a simpler and less expensive solution.

Get started with Synergy

Buy Synergy now

If you have any further questions, please contact us.