Mossberg: Adding a Mac mini? Get a KVM switch to share your keyboard, video, mouse

Walt Mossberg answers tech questions for The Wall Street Journal in his “Mossberg’s Mailbox” column. A recent question and answer has much value for a current Windows-only user looking to add Apple’s new Mac mini to their computing arsenal.

Q: Last week, you wrote that Windows users who bought Apple’s new Mac mini computer could just unplug their monitor, keyboard and mouse from the Windows PC and plug them into the Mac. But is there a way to share a single monitor, keyboard and mouse between a Mac mini and a Windows PC?

A: Yes. It’s called a KVM (Keyboard, Video, Mouse) switch, and it allows you to run two or more different computers from the same monitor, keyboard and mouse, switching between or among the computers at will. It not only works with a Mac mini (and some other Mac models) and a Windows PC, but it also allows you to hook multiple Windows machines, or multiple Macs, to the same screen, keyboard and mouse. One big maker of KVM switches is Belkin, at http://www.belkin.com

A two-computer KVM switch has three sets of plugs, usually labeled Console, Computer 1 and Computer 2. You plug the monitor, keyboard and mouse into the Console plugs. Then, you connect the video, keyboard and mouse connectors of one of your computers into the Computer 1 plugs, and the ports from the second computer into the Computer 2 plugs on the KVM. After that, you just use a switch or button on the KVM to select which computer will be active on the central monitor, keyboard and mouse.

If you buy a KVM switch, make sure it has the right kind of plugs for your monitor, keyboard and mouse. Some use modern USB mouse and keyboard connectors (required on a Mac mini); others use older PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors. Some mix the two types of plugs. Most use standard VGA monitor ports, but some use the more modern DVI video connectors. Some KVM switches can also control audio, or allow the sharing of USB peripheral devices. Some come with cables, others treat them as an extra expense.

One caution: if you have a laptop or a desktop with a built-in screen, like Apple’s iMac G5, you usually can’t share the built-in screen with another computer, even via a KVM switch. In general, the shared screen, keyboard and mouse must be stand-alone components.

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Note: The Apple Store offers the Belkin 2-Port KVM Switch w/ 2 KVM Cables Bundle. The new OmniView SOHO Series USB KVM Switch with Audio from Belkin allows you to control two USB computers from one USB console for US$129. More info here.

21 Comments

  1. I bought a simple 2 computer KVM switch for my Dual G5 and my PC, and it was $19. Don’t forget to purchase some short VGA cables and USB cables. All told, I spent about $40 to hook both computers up to the same Keyboard, Monitor and Mouse. (And the Apple Keyboard automatically works with the PC, I was stoked about that)

    The only time, however, that I ever need to use my PC, is when I boot it up into Linux Mandrake for sharing the HP printer. I’ve tried a Parallel to USB cable, but it didn’t work. But I can print B&W documents through the PC like a Print Server. So it’s still cool.

  2. So I’m trying to get my sister to “switch” to a Mac. She has a PS/2 keyboard. Her computer has two PS/2 inputs, one for the keyboard and one for the mouse. Are there any KVM switches that combine both PS/2 and USB connections? I didn’t notice if she had a USB I’ll have to check again. She has both a USB & PS/2 mice. Anyone care to add any comments? Thanks.

  3. I love KVM switches in the server room. I have one set-up to switch between three servers, two Macs and a Dell PC. Works like a charm, though, I let the PC keep it’s own keyboard. I hate the delayed mental translation for coordinating keys on the keyboard with my actions. I see the Mac keyboard and I just think Command+ , I see the PC keyboard, and my mind switches to Alt.

    But maybe this has been mentioned, but since when did Apple start accepting reviews of products? It’s cool. I almost wish I had something to say about the Belkin, but maybe if I have some time I’ll go back and rate some of my other Apple Store purchases.

  4. I have a much, much better solution than a KVM switch. Buy a liter of petrol, douse your Wintel machine in it, and light that sucker on fire.

    “It’s only after you’ve lost everything that you’re free to do anything.” – Tyler Durden

    Magic word: standard …as in “This should be standard operating procedure.”

  5. Belkin has a nice looking 2-way and 4-way KVM (DVI & USB) switch. Push a button and switch between machines.

    I bought one of the 2-ways and found that the Apple 20″ Cinema display connector won’t fit. In fact, I tried half a dozen other DVI monitor cables and they wouldn’t fit either.

    The Belkin model has a plastic lip in the back which prevents most DVI connectors (master) from fitting.

    Yeeeesh. You’d think people would check such things.

    Tera Patricks
    Mac360

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