Today’s featured computer setup employs three separate Macs — MacBook Pro, M1 MacBook Air and M1 Mac mini — connecting two of them to a big external monitor using a KVM docking station.
KVM switches are handy when you don’t want to switch cables from different computers using the same monitor and input devices. But there’s another reason the user, Greg Coit, chose the method.
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Why have a MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac mini with a KVM switch?
Coit — aka gregcoit on Reddit — showcased the homey setup with its trio of Macs and a bucolic lake view in a post entitled, “My new Uplift desk with 3 Macs and USB-C KVM.”
Naturally, commenters had questions.
“Why the 3 macs???” asked one person.
“Reasonable question,” Coit replied. “The MacBook Pro on the left (from work) and the Mac mini (personal computer) share the wide-screen monitor using the KVM. Sometimes it’s nice to listen to music or podcasts during work — hence the MacBook Air on the right.”
Keeping work and play separate
But the commenter didn’t quite take that answer at face value. Snark ensued.
“You know computers can pull up more than one app at a time right?” they shot back.
“What, what?!?!?” Coit feigned shock. “Of course you’re right. The real answer is that I use a VPN with the work laptop, and I don’t want to send personal emails, chats, music, YouTube, Reddit, etc., over that.”
“Correct approach, f**k spyware and monitoring,” another commenter weighed in, sticking it to the Man.
By the way, Coit keeps his laptops on a pair of Rain Design 10032 mStand Laptop Stands.
“They do a good job keeping the laptops cool, which is double important for the Intel-based MBP — bloody thing sounds like a jet engine taking off during zoom meetings,” he told Cult of Mac.
What is a KVM switch?
KVM stands for “keyboard, video, and mouse.” It’s a hardware device that lets you control multiple computers from one or more sets of keyboards, mice and monitors.
So Coit’s use makes sense. Including a KVM switch makes it especially easy to switch from the Intel MacBook Pro for work, with its VPN connection, to the personal Mac mini that’s not on the VPN, while using the same 38-inch Dell UltraSharp Curved Monitor, Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad.
He uses an i-tec USB-C/Thunderbolt KVM docking station. And he got it even though the Dell has a built-in KVM, but it doesn’t “play nice with Macs,” he said.
“I thought I could use that, but when the laptop is fully powered, the screen starts flashing on and off as it turns on and off the power over USB-C (at least, I think that’s the issue). Very annoying. By sending the USB-C signal through something else, that also provides the power, the monitor works so much better with Macs,” he added.
Coit describes how he uses the KVM switch:
I have my 16-inch MBP piugged in as “computer 2” (where it gets power) and my mac mini plugged into “computer 1” (no power needed but you can plug a USB-C into the KVM to provide power to computer 1 if needed).
One caveat – Macs using m1 or m2 chips require a download from 1-tec.com to fix DisplayLink issues. Once I installed that, both computers work perfectly with my single monitor and everything I plug into the KVM.
The KVM has 3 USB-A ports, 2 “data” USB-C ports (the USB-C port on the back for providing power to computer 1 doesn’t appear to handle data), a headphone jack (I’m not using this) and a network port (I’m not using this either). No more switching cables for me!!!!
Both the Intel-chip-based MBP and the m1-chip-based Mac mini power my Dell UltraSharp 38 Curved Monitor – U3818DW at 3840 x 1600 @ 60 Hz. I use USB-C from both computers to the KVM (with the supplied USB-C cables).
So, USB-C between the computers and KVM, DisplayPort from there to the monitor. If I added a USB-A/B cable between the KVM and monitor, I would use the extra USB-A/USB-C ports on the monitor, but the KVM has enough ports for me.
Video calls courtesy of Logitech and Jabra
Coit also keeps some specialized gear to make the most of his video calls for work. A Logitech C920 HD Pro Webcam perches on the big display to give him a clearer view of folks on the call than he gets with his MacBook Pro camera.
Coit uses the webcam with a set of Jabra Evolve 75 wireless headphones he got from his employer. They come with a charging stand.
“Damn, I love these,” he said. “They include noise canceling and are super comfortable. Fortunately, I don’t have to do a ton of meetings but I don’t do them without these.”
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