What Is a KVM Switch?

KVM (keyboard, video and mouse) switch isolated on white background

What Is a KVM Switch?

What is a KVM switch? You may have heard the term bandied about as if it were a common item in most IT departments. However, a KVM switch is a useful piece of computer tech that has some well-defined uses.

This guide will give an overview of what these devices actually are, how they work, and why you might want to incorporate one into your workflow. KVM switches are handy devices, and quite a few reside in server rooms and gaming setups alike.

What Is a KVM Switch?

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09/14/2023 01:59 pm GMT

A KVM switch is a device that resembles a box. However, it has inputs for your keyboard, mouse, and monitors. Once hooked up, this device allows you to control multiple computers with the same keyboard, mouse, and monitor.

It often sees use in more IT-centered fields, as it allows for swapping between multiple machines without having to keep tons of cabling nearby. They’re fairly easy to operate and help to consolidate the snarl of cabling that can occur if you have multiple computers or servers present.

What Does KVM Stand for?

KVM is an acronym, as you’ll find with most tech stuff. It stands for keyboard, video, and mouse. Video in this instance is just short for a monitor or display. KVM switches themselves have no GPU capabilities, but can readily interface with computers that do.

How Does a KVM Switch Work?

When you first install your KVM switch, you’ll feed the requisite connections to the ports on the switch itself. Most KVM switches will have inputs for the likes of HDMI or DisplayPort, which can readily accommodate your displays.

You’ll also have USB connections of some sort, which are great for hooking up the keyboard and mouse. Some KVM ports have additional USB ports, which can be a blessing if you have multiple peripherals you tend to reuse across computers.

The actual method of switching between computers is fairly simple. Some KVM switches have an option for hotkeys, which just require a simple keyboard shortcut to operate. Other KVM switches will have physical controls on the device itself, meaning you can swap over without hassle.

Why Would You Use One?

kvm switch
A KVM switch keeps the clutter down while allowing you to use multiple computers.

©Michalakis Ppalis/Shutterstock.com

KVM switches help to consolidate and maximize the space on hand. You might have dozens of servers on a farm, as an example, but it would be cumbersome to have consoles for each rack of hardware.

A KVM switch means you can have a single setup to swap between every server while still maintaining the same method of control. This can also extend to gaming setups. Many streamers will opt for one computer to game and another to actually record and capture the stream.

A KVM switch in this example would allow the streamer to swap between the streaming PC to get things started and the gaming PC so they can actually play the game. It keeps clutter to a minimum while still affording the opportunity to actually use multiple computers with the same interfaces.

The Benefits of Using a KVM Switch

Using a KVM switch has multiple benefits, which can be applicable to both IT personnel and people who just love tech.

Server Control

Data centers and server farms usually have dozens if not hundreds of machines in a centralized location. All of these servers act as their own individual computers, each with input needs and display outputs. As such, it can be quite cumbersome to administer all these machines.

Sure, you could use something like Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Protocol or SSH via Linux. However, you can keep the setup to a minimum with a KVM switch.

Having one installed means you can forego the traditional setup of multiple consoles for each rack in the server room. This helps network personnel be aware of the servers and allows for more effective administration and upkeep.

Keeps Down Cable Mess

KVM switch
KVM switches come with a variety of video inputs like HDMI, VGA, and DisplayPort.


You’ve got three cables at minimum for just hooking up a keyboard, mouse, and monitor to a computer. If you’ve got room on your desk for multiple PCs, then that number can shoot up drastically. It won’t take very long for the back of the desk to become a snarl of cables, even if they are properly labeled.

A KVM switch keeps the clutter down. You don’t need to make room for multiple sets of keyboards, mice, or monitors. Cable management is a useful skill to have with any computing needs, and using one of these switches readily allows for tidy wiring in your workspace.

If you’re having to look after ten workstations, you’re easily looking at plugging in around 30 cables at minimum. Employing one of these switches means you have one set of controls and a display, instead of having to make a labyrinth of wires and computer peripherals.

Saves Money on Extra Equipment

KVM switches have the additional benefit of keeping the costs down to a minimum, even if you have to use multiple computers at the same time. That very same snarl of cables can be a costly endeavor — and an unnecessary one when it comes down to it.

A simple implementation of one of these switches means you don’t have to go out and purchase multiple monitors. You can kiss those extra keyboards and mice goodbye, as well. Simply put, it is a better investment for your bottom line than trying to do things the old-fashioned way.

Support for Additional Peripherals

KVM switches come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and as such they come with support for a variety of peripherals and accessories. Some KVM switches can be used as USB hubs, an added bonus when considering how few ports are available on a modern computer.

This is especially helpful if you’re swapping between the likes of a desktop and a laptop. Desktops might have the required ports needed to run all of your accessories, but the likes of a MacBook Pro certainly won’t. Implementing one of these switches in your setup means you get access to ports.

That is on top of consolidating your setup into an easier workflow. Now, there isn’t anything stopping you from purchasing multiple USB hubs to run additional accessories. However, if you’re a fan of minimalist setups, one of these KVM switches is a great choice to make.

Closing Thoughts

Using a KVM switch can help simplify things with your computer setups. It may not be the ideal fit for every use case. However, if you’re in the position of having to look after multiple computers, they are a great device to have on hand.

There are of course requirements for each computer, so make sure you double check your computers to see if a KVM switch is a great fit. The time and mess it’ll save you are invaluable, so they are definitely worth implementing if you’ve been looking for a neater solution to administering multiple computers.

What Is a KVM Switch? FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Can I use a KVM switch with my PCs?

Yes, you can use a KVM switch with your PCs. Typically, you’ll have zero issues with most contemporary Windows computers. Windows is very plug-and-play by nature, so you should be able to just hook the necessary connections up and go from there.

Can I use a KVM switch with Macs?

You can, but there are some things to keep in mind when using Macs. Just as a general example, you can’t run more than one display with a M1 Mac. M2 Macs don’t have the same restriction. If you have an older Intel Mac, this isn’t something to worry about.

Why should I use a KVM switch?

If you have multiple computers, it really does help with keeping everything tidy. You get the added benefit of being able to use the same setup across multiple computers, which is handy if you have a favored keyboard and mouse.

Does KVM switches come with additional inputs?

If you need extra USB ports, KVM switches will generally have some accommodation for extra devices.

Do KVM switches have ethernet ports?

Typically, no, you’ll have to find other means to provide network connectivity to your devices. Sadly, ethernet cabling is one of those necessary evils that still has to be a bit messy when it comes to hooking up every computer.

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