Docking Station vs. KVM Switch: Which One Should You Choose?

By Robert David Orr / Last updated: Jan 26, 2022

Not sure about whether a docking station and a KVM switch is the right fit? Don’t know which one you should choose?

If you do most of your work on a laptop, you should choose a docking station. However, for desktop, server room, and data center operators, investing in a KVM switch is the way to go. 

A Docking Station enhances the connectivity of your laptop, ultimately converting your laptop to a portable, efficient workstation by allowing you to connect more peripherals. 

On the other hand, a KVM switch allows you to access and control multiple computing devices via a single console (keyboard, video monitor, and mouse).

But you may still have questions, so the rest of this article will expands on a few topics related to this question in greater detail, including:

  • How do docking stations and KVM switches work?
  • Are they the same?
  • What’s the difference between a docking station and a KVM switch?
  • Can they work together?
  • What is KVM software?
  • What are the types of KVM switches?
  • Are KVM Switches outdated?
  • Do I need docking stations and KVM switches?

By the way – before we get too far along here, if you want to get more great ideas for your gaming room or home office and connect with other home office hackers to make your space the best join my free private Facebook group, Home Office Hacks here.

Is a Docking Station The Same As A KVM Switch?

Although they both share some similarities, a docking station is not the same as a KVM switch.

Both of these devices, while similar, have their own use-case scenarios.

For example, you can use a KVM switch to manage multiple computers from a single set of input devices – keyboard, video monitor, and mouse.

However, a docking station doesn’t do that.

A docking station is different.

A docking station expands the connectivity and functionality of a laptop by allowing you to tap into network resources, or larger display monitors, network printers, etc.

Docking Station and KVM Switch: Comparison

Docking Station KVM Switch
Supports the use of multiple devices Multi-User Support
Very Portable Different configurations to choose from
Easy Mobility Multiple PC/Server access
Eliminates the need for Desktop Control over 1,000+ Computing devices
Increases Laptop connectivity Password protection and advanced encryption

What is a Docking Station?

With every new model launched, modern laptops are becoming smaller and better, providing exceptional performance on the go.

However, this thirst for portability is the main reason behind one of its biggest limitations – the lack of adequate ports and connectivity options.

A laptop docking station is exactly what it sounds like: a place where you can dock your laptop computer and access additional features and functions.

A laptop docking station is a device that allows you to connect more external peripherals to your laptop, thereby enhancing its capabilities to nearly reach, equal, or surpass the standard of a regular desktop.

It’s an expansion device that attaches to a computer and provides additional connections like larger monitors and network resources like printers installed on a network.

Types of Docking Stations 

  • Universal/Third party dock stations
  • Expansion dock stations
  • Port replicator
  • Breakout dock/multi-port adapter
  • OEM proprietary dock station

What Is A KVM Switch?

Imagine you need multiple computers to handle your responsibilities for your work, but there simply isn’t enough space on your desk to house them all.

In this scenario, we all know the hassle of scampering around your office to access each device separately would be a nightmare to deal with.

A Keyboard, Video, Mouse (KVM) switch provides the perfect solution to this problem because it allows you to manage two or more computers using a keyboard, monitor or mouse.

In contrast to the dock station, a KVM Switch must remain plugged into both computers to keep the connection running.

Types of KVM Switches 

  • Rack Console KVM Switches
  • Rackmount KVM Switches
  • Desktop KVM Switches
  • IP Remote Access KVM Switches
  • NIAP KVM Switches
  • Cat5 KVM Switches

Can You Use Dual Monitors With a KVM Switch?

A KVM switch works well with dual or multi-monitor computers & PCs. There are plenty of Dual Monitor KVM switches that handle a variety of display inputs available on the market. 

Can you use a KVM Switch with a Docking Station?

A KVM switch hardware can be connected to any USB-C HDMI dock stations or USB-C video adapters. The setup is quite easy as well. 

What is KVM Docking Station? 

A KVM docking station functions as a normal KVM switch in the sense that it allows you to manage two laptops and share your keyboard, video mouse, and other peripherals between them while they’re docked.

If this sounds like a device you’d like to own, you might want to check out this VisionTek VT4900 KVM docking station.

What Do I Need To Consider Before Buying A Docking Station? 

If you’ve read till this point, I imagine that you might be thinking of buying a docking station of your own. But before then, here’s a list of the things you’ll need to consider. 

  • Number of Ports: The very reason for buying a docking station in the first place is to increase the number of available ports. Docking stations will usually have between two to six USB ports. More sophisticated models may have more ports, including USB-A ports, USB 3.0 speeds, USB-C ports, and HDMI ports. 
  • Compatibility: Dell, HP, and other major laptop manufacturers produce custom-made docking stations that work specifically for their brand of laptops. This combination is more preferred because the chances of having compatibility issues are very slim.

However, other universal prototypes are designed to work with different brands. 

  • Design and Size: Docking stations are designed in two styles, vertical or horizontal. Some users opt for the horizontal-styled versions because they tend to fit a wide range of working desks.

Others who prefer a docking station with smaller footprints will find vertical docking stations more useful.

The choice of size is based on your working environment. Remote workers would generally prefer small-sized docking stations, while big-sized offices will serve large offices better. 

  • Ease of Installation/Use: To avoid installation issues, you’ll need to check and be sure that you understand the installation/users’ guide and all the drivers are properly installed. Thankfully most docking stations function without drivers

What Do I Need To Consider Before Buying A KVM Switch? 

For KVM switches, the list of things to consider is a little bit different but important all the same.

  • Monitor Resolution/Compatibility: As a rule of thumb, the ports on your KVM switch must be compatible with the ones attached to your display (i.e VGA, DVI, HDMI, or DisplayPort).

Screen resolution is also an important factor. This explains why users more prefer KVM switch models like the IOGEAR 2-port USB DisplayPort; because they support higher resolution monitors (up to 4K) and better audio quality (2.1 Audio Support). 

  • The number of computers that can be managed simultaneously: Here’s another crucial reason why people decide to buy or not to buy a docking station. Most examples would normally support between 2 and 64 directly connected computers which are well above what regular users need.

Users with high demands like server operators and data centers can go for a premium standard docking station that supports daisy-chain/cascading, allowing more than 1,0000 computing devices to be controlled by one console. 

  • Distance: If your KVM switch and the devices you intend to connect are within 25 feet, you will require a KVM switch that uses standard cable kits. To cover a distance between 25 and 100 feet, a model with Cat6 cabling is advised. 

Other things that must be evaluated include speed, switch capabilities, multi-platform support, remote access, and data protection capabilities, as well as an on-screen display (OSD).

 

Best Docking Stations 

Plugable USB-C Triple Display Docking Station (Home Office Hacks’ Choice/Best Overall)

Specifications ●        Ports: 10

●        Dimensions: 6.69 x 2.95 x 1.08 inches

●        Orientation: Vertical

●        USB Port: Yes

●        HDMI Port: Yes

●        Devices Supported: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Microsoft Surface Go

Key Features ●        Flexibility

 

●        Connect through a single cable

●        Triple display option

●        Compatible

●        4K Ultra HD Resolution Display

●        Gigabit Ethernet

Pros ●        Enough Ports
Cons ●        Expensive

 

As the world’s leading dock station manufacturer, we do not expect anything less than what this USB-C triple display dock offers from Plugable.

This vertical-only designed dock is flexible and highly compatible with just about any computing device.

StarTech Thunderbolt 3 Dual-4K Docking Station

Specifications ●        Ports: 4

●        Dimensions: 10.6 x 3.2 x 1.3 inches

●        Orientation: Horizontal

●        USB Port: Yes

●        HDMI Port: Yes

●        USB Docking Station

Key Features ●        Triple Display Flexibility

●        Control up to two host laptops using one dual-monitor workstation

●        Powerful connections and Fast Device Charging

●        4K Ultra HD Resolution Display

Pros ●        Highly advanced Docking Station

●        4K display resolution (at 60Hz)

●        40 Gbps bandwidth.

Cons ●        Expensive

The StarTech Thunderbolt 3 is one of the most powerful docking stations. Packed with plenty of capabilities, this portable docking station features 4K display resolution (at 60Hz) and 40 Gbps bandwidth.

One can hardly disagree with StarTech’s claims that this is the most advanced docking station in the world currently.

Best KVM Switches

No products found.

Ablewe USB and HDMI KVM Switch

Specifications ●        Dimensions: 7.95 x 4.41 x 1.46 inches

●        Orientation: Horizontal

●        USB Port: Yes

●        Video Outputs/HDMI Ports: 2x

●        Host Cable Length: 1m

Key Features ●        Easy Switching

●        Universal Compatibility Linux, Windows XP, Chrome OS, Windows Vista, Mac OS, Windows7/10)

●        Dual Monitor KVM switch

●        Supports high-resolution display (4K@60Hz).

Pros ●        Easy installation

●        No additional drivers required

●        Affordable

Cons ●        Additional power supply may be required to plug the KSM switch into the main

 Three things stand out for us in the Ablewe USB and HDMI KVM Switch. It’s easy to use, compatible, and driver-free. To cap it all off, it’s unimaginably cheap.

No products found.


AIMOS KVM Switch

Specifications ●        Dimensions: 4.05 x 2.56 x 0.75 inches

●        Orientation: Horizontal

●        USB Port: Yes

●        HDMI Port: Yes

●        Devices Supported: Linux, Windows XP, Windows Vista/7/10, Mac OS

Key Features ●        High bandwidth and digital content protection

●        Adaptive EDID/HDCP

●        Built-in automatic adjustment system

●        High compatibility

●        Driverless (Supports hot plug)

Pros ●        Supports Wireless Keyboard and Mouse connection

●        One-button switching

●        Affordable

●        An excellent option for gamers

Cons ●        Can freeze from time to time

The Amos KVM Switch is an excellent option for gamers, offering a 4k resolution display and support for different wireless peripherals like keyboard, mouse, etc.

In conclusion, as emphasized earlier, a docking station would be a perfect fit if you own a laptop, while a KVM switch will serve desktops and data center operators better.

What is KVM software?

If you’d rather not purchase yet another piece of physical hardware you have options.

KVM software handles the switching capabilities that are usually handled by the external device all within a software application.

Multiplicity – a software application for Windows machines – allows you to control multiple PCs from one keyboard and mouse.

An alternative is called Synergy that has the same kinds of features allowing control of multiple Windows machines. The best thing about Synergy is that it will work with your Mac too.

If you’re using a Mac, that’s not your only option.

ShareMouse is a KVM software option for Mac users where your keyboard and mouse movement are transmitted over your LAN via an encrypted, secure connection empowering you to operate multiple computers from any mouse and keyboard.

Are KVM Switches Outdated?

Since there are so many options for KVM switch software available currently, is the KVM switch itself an outdated concept?

While you no longer need a dedicated KVM switch to power your rig, sometimes the best tool for the job is the right piece of hardware.

Most computer monitors these days support multiple inputs, whether it’s VGA, HDMI, DVI-D, DisplayPort, etc. sometimes it’s easier to have the hardware in place to handle the task.

Next Steps

Want to join others who are creating the most amazing home offices and get more tips, tricks and hacks on how to make your home office the best it can be?

Join my brand new free private Facebook group, Home Office Hacks to connect with other home office hackers to make your space the best!

Robert David Orr

I'm an award-winning web designer & developer, creator, an all-around digital marketing guy and, most importantly when it comes to this site, a long-time veteran of the working from home life. My work from home life spans more than 10 years, and I've experimented with just about everything you can think of when it comes to getting the most out of my home office, how to work from home without going crazy, and found solutions to the numerous challenges that those of us who work from home run into in this life.

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