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KVM Switch vs Docking Station: Which One Do I Need?

Comparing KVM switches and docking stations is like comparing apples with oranges. Despite being essential multitasking tools, these devices have different capabilities that serve specific use cases. Thus, it’s necessary to understand their role and how best you can use them to optimize your workstation.

Keyboard-Video-Mouse Switch or KVM Switch

As unimaginative as the name is, a KVM switch provides an imaginative solution for working on multiple computers simultaneously.

In most cases, you won’t require two monitors, keyboards, and mice while simultaneously working on multiple computers. A KVM switch optimizes your workspace by enabling you to hook up your computers to a shared set of these input/output devices.

It’s an ideal device for a Network Administrator whose job includes configuring several network servers simultaneously. A KVM switch is an excellent solution for office settings where professionals collaborate regularly. It enables colleagues to work efficiently with limited resources, including workstation space and even computer peripherals.

Image Credit: Quora.com

Moreover, it’s an incredibly handy device if you use different laptops for personal and office use. Using a KVM switch enables you to share peripheral devices at the click of a button. Thus, you can focus on the work and not bother about juggling wires between the two laptops.

Typical KVM switches take inputs from two or more host computers and enable you to connect them to at least one monitor. These devices also provide USB-A ports to attach peripheral devices (such as keyboards, printers, and mice). Once you install a KVM switch and select an active host, the internal circuitry displays the video of the active host while connecting the keyboard and mouse to the host to control it.

Conventional KVM switches require two inputs from each computer, one for video and data signals. So while there were fewer I/O devices at your workstation, there was considerable wire clutter, a problem that was solved when KVM switch manufacturers adopted newer USB standards and Thunderbolt technology.

Modern USB-C KVM switches play a significant role in streamlining your workspace by enabling you to remove all unnecessary clutter. They have a versatile set of ports, including multiple USB, Thunderbolt, Ethernet, video, auxiliary audio, and whatnot. The more sophisticated ones don’t require you to manually select which host computer to activate; they detect the activity on the host and realign the connections around it.

Docking Station

Ultrabooks are super thin and incredibly light. Laptop manufacturers must pay special attention to this compact form factor, often sacrificing several vital features. Unfortunately, the easiest target is the number of expansion ports on an ultrabook because compromising on performance components is never an option.

With newer USB and Thunderbolt standards, the need for conventional ports is diminishing quickly. Ports like DisplayPort, HDMI, and USB-A ports are significantly bigger than USB-C ports, which combine the functionality of these legacy ports and occupy much less space on the laptop’s frame.

 The acceptance of USB-C ports (whether for USB or Thunderbolt standards) leaves several users in a fix about that to do with their older peripheral device, for which they have paid several thousand Dollars.

Docking Station

Vendors designed the docking station to address this shortcoming of modern computers. It’s the easiest and most economical way to equip any computer with additional I/O ports that allow you to connect various peripheral devices.

Docking stations have many port options, including those that use new and old technologies, often having a good mix of both. They are often described as the Swiss Army Knife of the computing world because you’ll find a variety of valuable ports that cater to diverse needs.

A significant part of a docking station’s capabilities depends on its native data bus. Thunderbolt docking stations are versatile devices that allow you to harness the technologies full potential. For most users, this includes 40Gbps data transfer speed, support for 8K video, and Power Delivery, among other things.

Compared to a KVM switch which solves a problem only some people face, a docking station has far more takers as it simplifies a problem many of us face while computing.

USB-C Docking Stations With KVM Switch

Users may often require a docking station that also serves as a KVM switch. You’ll identify with this requirement if you use an Ultrabook with too few ports, limiting your connectivity option. Using a docking station will address the need for more ports, but you’ll end up sacrificing a port that is already in short supply.

An ideal solution for such a situation would be a docking station with a built-in KVM switch. Unfortunately, docking stations don’t have a built-in KVM switch, and online searches for such devices will yield no results. But you can consider a couple of solutions that will cater to this requirement.

Many USB-C KVM switches have a selection of the latest ports, including USB-C, DisplayPort, Ethernet ports, and whatnot. Being a KVM switch, you can easily connect two computers and use their selection of ports as you would a docking station.

Another solution is to you a Thunderbolt/USB-C KVM switch and use one of the peripheral ports to connect a docking station to expand your setup’s connectivity options.

Conclusion: What’s Best For Me?

A docking station is a perfect device for increasing the number (and type) of connectivity ports on your computer. It enables you to conveniently expand your workstation by attaching additional peripherals.

You need a KVM switch only if you work on multiple computers simultaneously and want to share peripheral devices. Interestingly, a KVM switch can do the job of a docking station, but the reverse is not possible.

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