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Advice on options for dual monitors work station with two computers


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#1 trousdeloup

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Posted 25 April 2017 - 11:56 PM

I'm looking for advice on how to set up a dual monitor workstation that I can use with my work laptop (existing dock) and a new computer. My current desktop has outlived its usefullness and I need to buy a new machine. I originally intended to get laptop, but I've discovered that I have very limited options if I want to share a dock with my work laptop.

 

I currently have:

- Latitude E7450 (work laptop)

- K09A E-port replicator
- 2 ASUS VS247H‑P monitors
 
The options I've thought of are:
1. Buy a new laptop that fits the existing dock
2. Buy a new tower (or laptop+dock) with two DVI switches - one for each monitor
3. Use two DisplayPort to HDMI cables to connect the existing dock to the monitors, Use two DVIs to connect the new machine. Switch inputs on the monitor to change between.
4. Buy an expensive Dual Monitor DVI KVM switch. (http://connectpro.com/product/udd-12a-plus-kit/)
 
Please give me advice on these options, or even better, suggest ones I haven't thought of.  Thanks!

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#2 Kilroy

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Posted 26 April 2017 - 02:33 PM

The cheapest option is to use remote desktop on your computer and connect to your work computer.  This of course depends on how much control you have on the work computer and how locked down it is.  There is an option in Remote Desktop to use all of your monitors.  This allows you to use your existing monitors and keyboard to control your work laptop at zero cost.  Both machines have to be on at the same time.

 

Switching monitor inputs would probably be my second option.  If you go with a desktop it may have HDMI outs on the video card so no adapters will be required.  The monitors may automatically switch to the active inputs, if you're not using both machines at the same time.



#3 smax013

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Posted 27 April 2017 - 09:49 AM

3. Use two DisplayPort to HDMI cables to connect the existing dock to the monitors, Use two DVIs to connect the new machine. Switch inputs on the monitor to change between.


I regularly use this option with my computers. It works well and is cheap (assuming you have two keyboards and two mice and potentially have all the needed cables...but even if you need to buy additional cables, they are typically not that expensive). As noted by Kilroy, most modern monitors will automatically switch to the active signal if you operate by way of turning off and/or disconnecting the computer not being used. If you want to have both computers running, then you will have to push a button (or more) on the monitor to switch to the other computer.

Of course, the biggest potential wrinkle is whether your monitors support multiple inputs and what inputs they support. The vast majority of modern monitors do support multiple inputs and that appears to be the case with your monitors. And it appears your monitors support DVI, VGA (aka D-SUB is how it maybe called in many tech spec descriptions), and HDMI. So, you should be good in this area.

The major downside of this approach is that you will have to operate two keyboards and two mice...one for each computer. This means extra desk space with the extra set of the keyboard and mouse of the computer not being used kind of being in the way sometimes. For my main setup (which has my main computer, a MacBook Pro, as well as my older Windows desktop), I use a wireless keyboard and mouse for the Windows desktop that is stored down on top of the tower inside the cubby in the desktop that holds the tower, but then I don't really use that old Windows desktop any more (the MBP has a wired keyboard and wireless mouse that stay out on the desk all the time since it is the one used 98+% of the time).

All of your other options outlined, as well as Kilroy's first suggestion, would not have this downside of needing two keyboards and mice...with the possible exception of the two switch option (i.e. #2), but that will depend on the switches. If having the two keyboards and mice is not desirable or even a deal breaker, then which other option you pick would depend on a number of factors...at least in my mind.

For example, will a laptop that will fit the existing dock fits you needs or desires for the new computer? The corollary question is what are your needs/desires for the new computer? For example, do you want to do gaming with it? If so, will a laptop that will fit the dock be capable of playing the games you want to play at the performance level you want? If you cannot find a laptop that fits those needs, then that kind of rules out the option of getting a laptop that will fit the dock and leaves you with either some sort of KVM switch situation or maybe the remote desktop option (all this assuming just using the monitor inputs are not an option).

Deciding between the two switch options will depend on how much you want to spend, whether the two switch option requires using two keyboards and mice, and potentially expected dependability and reliability of the switch(s).

And going with the remote desktop option would be the cheapest, as noted by Kilroy, but would also depend on how feasible it is (i.e. whether the work laptop is locked down as well as whether routing a video signal through a network connection, in effect, might cause video lack that creates problems for your use...it would depend on your uses and your home setup).

#4 Kilroy

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Posted 27 April 2017 - 02:37 PM

smax013 video lag isn't normally an issue on a home network, provided all equipment is running on a wired LAN.  Then again, my home network is a bit more than what most people have.  I don't know what performance would be like on a wireless network.  



#5 smax013

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Posted 27 April 2017 - 04:50 PM

smax013 video lag isn't normally an issue on a home network, provided all equipment is running on a wired LAN.  Then again, my home network is a bit more than what most people have.  I don't know what performance would be like on a wireless network.


I would assume this is the case, but you never know. I would likely not have issues on my home network either (all Gigabit ethernet cabling and switches and all my computers and NAS devices are all Gigabit) unless I am in the process of also transferring a lot of data across the network (i.e. backing up a computer to one of the NAS devices). And personally, I try to avoid using my wireless network to just those devices that are only wireless (i.e. smartphones and tablets...and my MacBook Air, which I can connect wired with an adapter if I need to do large data transfers, but typically use on WiFi for normal usage). Like you, my network is likely a bit more than what most people have.

I could see some potential lag/issues with Fast Ethernet or WiFi under some circumstances. Plus, lag is relative. Most people are going to be very sensitive to even the smallest amount of lag in a game, while not minding too much if the lag is while reading email. And if the network is wired Gigabit with no other traffic, I suspect remote connecting in to play a game will produce some lag. So, it will also depend on the usage.

#6 trousdeloup

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Posted 28 April 2017 - 05:46 AM

Thanks to both of you for the great answers. I had considered Remote Desktop, but I'm pessimistic since I don't have admin access to my work laptop. I've tried the switching monitor inputs option with the old machine and that seems to work with my monitors. The only potential downside to that is that most of the new desktops or laptops I've been looking at don't seem to have two HDMI or DVI outputs. I don't think that will be a big obstacle. 

 

I'm also considering just buying a new USB 3.0 dock for ~$90.  The only reason I didn't consider that in the first place is that Dell tech support told me that there was no dock that would work with both my legacy laptop and a new one. I should have done some more research before accepting that, since it seems that almost any laptop or desktop with a 3.0 port will work with a universal dock. 

 

These all seem like viable options:

Plugable USB 3.0 Universal
Anker Dual Display Universal 
Dell USB 3.0 Ultra HD/4K Triple Display 


#7 smax013

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Posted 28 April 2017 - 10:23 AM

I'm also considering just buying a new USB 3.0 dock for ~$90.  The only reason I didn't consider that in the first place is that Dell tech support told me that there was no dock that would work with both my legacy laptop and a new one. I should have done some more research before accepting that, since it seems that almost any laptop or desktop with a 3.0 port will work with a universal dock.


They likely assuming you were asking about a dock that uses the specialized docking connector like your current dock/port replicator.

One potential thing to keep in mind. For the USB dock, you are potentially essentially using a USB graphics adapter that is likely effectively bypassing the graphics system in your computer for any monitors hooked to the dock rather than directly to the computer. If so, then this means that it will likely struggle with graphically intensive tasks (i.e. playing games, using CAD software, etc). I don't know if your current dock that uses a proprietary/specialized dock connector port works the same way or does just pass thru the laptop's graphics system. The only dock system that I have direct experience with is Thunderbolt, which I know makes use of the computer's graphics system so that the dock does not handle any graphic processing itself. I use a Thunderbolt dock with my MacBook Pro. Of course, if you don't need to use graphically intensive tasks, then this would be a complete non-issue. If you do graphically intensive things or plan to, then you likely will want to further investigate this. FWIW, with my previous MacBook Pro (that did not have a Thunderbolt port), I had one external monitor hooked directly to the MiniDisplay port, but then ran a second monitor from a USB graphics adapter. I could do typical, basic computer stuff on the that second monitor (i.e. check email, word processing, spreadsheets, browsing, etc), but anything more than that and it would choke. I had to do the more graphically intense stuff on the monitor connected directly to the MiniDisplay port. Of course, in my case, it was all with a USB 2.0 port. It is possible that with USB 3.0 ports that a USB graphics adapter would be able to handle more.

#8 Kilroy

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Posted 28 April 2017 - 02:21 PM

It may be possible to have your work IT people add your user account to the Remote Desktop Users group on your machine.  Security wise it isn't an issue because you can log in locally to it.  I don't know if telling them that you want to connect from your personal machine to your work machine will go over well.



#9 jimyd

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Posted 29 April 2017 - 06:14 PM

Have you guys ever tried the Micrsoft Mouse without boarders? I have 4 desktop computers 4 monitors and one keyboard and mouse  to run all four.



#10 smax013

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Posted 30 April 2017 - 06:14 PM

Have you guys ever tried the Micrsoft Mouse without boarders? I have 4 desktop computers 4 monitors and one keyboard and mouse  to run all four.


Depending on how locked down the original poster's work computer is, this may present similar types of issues as using Remote Desktop. And even if it is not too locked down, many companies have policies again installing unauthorized programs on a work computer (and Mouse without Borders appears to require you to install it on all the computers).




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