It's becoming commonplace to find homes with three, even four computers. Many older models are delegated to the most menial of tasks or...

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It’s becoming commonplace to find homes with three, even four computers. Many older models are delegated to the most menial of tasks or find themselves relegated to the junk pile in the garage.

But having a second, less-powerful model nearby can be a very practical resource to have around.

The trouble is most people don’t have the desk space to accommodate two computer systems. But there’s an option that many of you may not know about that can reclaim some of the desk space while giving you full control over more than one computer. The device is called a KVM switch.

KVM stands for “Keyboard, Video, Mouse” and it allows you to control multiple computers with only one of each. Today’s modern KVM switches are a far cry from their original clunky, mechanical versions.

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A new family of KVM switches was recently introduced by Avocent. The SwitchView line was designed for the home or small office and comes in a variety of models that offer two and four ports. These let you attach up to four computers, respectively. Let’s take a closer look at the SwitchView MM2 2-port KVM Switch, which is designed to support two multimedia desktop computers. To use it, you first attach a single keyboard, monitor and mouse to the MM2. You can also attach a single set of speakers and a microphone. Using the built-in USB hub, you can attach a wide variety of peripherals such as a printer and a scanner. The idea is fairly simple.

Whatever computer you select on the MM2, all the associated devices will become active for that PC. So if you’re running games on both computers, you’ll only hear the sounds coming from the one you’ve selected at that moment. Switch to the other and you’ll hear the gaming sound from that one. It’s pretty straightforward.

Because Avocent has built a USB hub into the MM2, there’s an additional feature you won’t find in other KVM switches. With most KVMs, you have to make sure nothing is being sent to a common peripheral before you do a switch.

But because the MM2 is using a USB hub to share its attached devices, that won’t happen. For example, if you are in the middle of sending a multi-page document to the printer from one computer and switch to the other one, the MM2 will ensure that the printing job from the first computer is completed before it makes the printer available to the newly switched-to one.

Avocent has even made the job of switching simpler. Most other KVMs require you to press some kind of button or switch on the box. But the entire SwitchView line lets you perform a computer switch-over using a predefined series of “hot keys” directly from the keyboard. Now you can switch computers without your hands leaving the keyboard. That’s a very nice touch.

The best way to find the properly configured KVM switch for your needs is to visit the Avocent Web site at www.avocent.com. Prices start at $100 and up depending on the model and how you have it configured.

So check around your house or office and if you find an extra computer or two that’s not being used, a KVM switch may be the way to not only resurrect them, but to give you added computing power to the single keyboard, screen and mouse on your desk.