Product Reviews

Product Reviews

In Brief

When you have several computers, use a KVM switch to control them from a single keyboard, monitor, and mouse. Avocent’s SwitchView MP, aimed at the small office/
home office market gets the job done with ease. Just plug in the cables and go. It doesn’t support Macs, and you’ll still need speakers connected to each controlled computer.


Price

$399 (excludes cables)

Cables (all include video)

  PS/2 mouse/keyboard
    4 ft., $35; 8 ft., $55;
    15 ft., $85; 30 ft. $130

  USB mouse/keyboard
    4 ft., $35; 8 ft., $55;
    12 ft., $85

  Sun mouse/keyboard
    4 ft., $35; 8 ft., $55;
    15 ft., $85; 30 ft. $130
 

Avocent
Huntsville, Ala.


Competition

KVM isn’t a huge field, but it is an important one. Both Belkin and Raritan offer KVM switches for large-scale corporate use and other, smaller product for the home and home-office markets.


Key Specs

4Computers Supported:
IBM PC/AT, PS/2, Sun workstations, USB computers, and 100% compatibles. Macintosh is not supported.

4Monitors supported:
VGA, SVGA, (XGA, XGA-II with adaptor)

4Maximum Resolution:
1600 x 1200 @ 85 Hz refresh rate

4Peripherals supported: PS/2 keyboard, PS/2 mouse, Microsoft Explorer mouse, Microsoft IntelliMouse Family, IBM Scrollpoint, Logitech Mouseman Wheel, Logitech Trackman Marble wheel, Logitech Marble FX and Kensington 4 button mouse, Sun Type 5 and Type 6.

4Dimensions:
1.9" H x 8.1" W x 5.0" D

4Weight: 0.9 lbs.

 

peripheral hardware

Avocent SwitchView MP KVM Switch


Rating:

By Joel Shore

October 21, 2002

Under my desk there are four, count ’em, four computers. One is the main businessmachine on which I do my writing, my e-mail, and maintain the Reference Guide Web site. A second machine runs the software that controls all our lights and thermostats. The third and fourth are the systems I use to install and run the products I write about. Heavens, I don’t want to keep installing and uninstalling software on my main system. One flub and Reference Guide would be out of business—at least for a while.

Since I can do only one thing at a time, it wouldn’t make sense to have four keyboards, four video monitors, and four mice. That would also take up a lot of space and waste expensive electricity. But with a KVM switch (keyboard, video, mouse), I can use one keyboard, monitor, and mouse to control all four systems.

click for larger image

Standard PS/2 keyboard and mouse connect to the purple and green ports. Connecting a Sun workstation keyboard to the gray port disables the PS/2 keyboard port. Ports A through D connect to each of the four computers being controlled by the SwitchView MP.

Avocent’s SwitchView MP is a compact unit to which you can connect up to four computers. PCs and Sun workstations are supported. Got a Mac? Sorry. Keep the unit within arm’s reach and you can switch among the four systems by pressing a button. If you prefer, you can tuck the unit under your desk and switch among the systems with a keystroke combination. For example, to select the computer connected to port B, you press the Control key twice, press B, then press the Enter key. It seems like a lot of work, but you’ll get the hang of it pretty fast. In fact, that’s likely to be come your preferred method. The reason is simple: instead of having a separate select button for each of the four channels, there’s only the one Select button. If you’re currently using computer A and want to select computer D, you’ll have to press the select button three time to cycle through channels B, C, and finally, D.

 

Connecting a computer is a snap. Shown is the PS/2 cable. This end plugs into the keyboard, mouse, and video ports of the computer being controlled. The other end attaches to an any of the four ports on the SwitchView MP’s rear panel.

The Cable Guy. Like all KVM switches, you purchase the unit and the connecting cables separately. That’s because a variety of cable types are available and each type is offered in several lengths. We chose two PS/2 cables, like the one shown in the picture. We also selected two USB cables. PS/2 connections are probably your safest bet; you know they’ll work with your current keyboard and mouse. But don’t be surprised if you spend more for the cables than you do for the SwitchView MP unit. KVM cables are expensive!

Setup and use. Installation was easy. First, we powered down all the systems and disconnected the keyboard, monitor, and mouse from each. Next we attached the cable to each system then plugged the other end into the SwitchView. We attached a keyboard, monitor, and mouse to the SwitchView and then powered up all the equipment. There’s no software to install, but you’ll probably be spending some time under your desk snaking all those cables. We did eliminate a couple of wires by using a cordless keyboard and mouse, the Freedom Optical from Logitech (read the review).

Using the SwitchView is straightforward. To select one of the four systems, you can either press the select button or use the keyboard combination. A neat feature is scan mode. After it detects no keyboard activity for a predefined period, the unit cycles through all the systems, letting you see what each is up to. Any keystroke breaks the unit out of scan mode. The amount of time each system is displayed (the dwell time) can be set from 2 seconds to 60 seconds. The SwitchView is preset for 5 seconds. You can also choose whether movement of the mouse interrupts scanning.

Silent treatment. Aside from the lack of a select button for each of the SwitchView’s four channels, the only other real shortcoming is the inability of the unit to share one set of speakers among all the connected systems. There’s no place to plug in a set of speakers, and the cable that you use to connect the SwitchView to each computer system does not have conductors or a plug for an audio signal. You’ll have to keep separate sets of speakers connected to each system.

There were a couple of small annoyances, too. The front panel of the SwitchView sports green and yellow LED indicators for each channel. But the manual buries the explanation of each light’s function deep in the user guide. It turns out that the green LED indicates that a connected computer is powered on. The yellow LED identifies which of the connected computers is the one currently selected. It’s a good thing we checked the manual, because we would have guessed the exact opposite.

The final, albeit small, irritation was the misspelling of the word connecting in the manual’s table of contents. Manuals do sometimes contain inaccuracies; that’s because products can change after the documentation has been written. But there is no excuse for a misspelled word.

Overall, Avocent’s SwitchView MP did the job and was easy to use. Hook up your computers and you’ll wind up with some newly found desk space. The absence of support for your computers’ speakers was the only real drawback.<

 
Yeas & Nays

Yea:

4Space saving unit fits on your desktop

4Scans up to four computers for any activity

4Supports PS/2, USB, Sun cable connectors

Nay:

4No audio support


In the Box

SwitchView unit, power adapter and cord, user manual. Cables are purchased separately.


Remote Control?

Sure, the SwitchView MP is great when the systems you want to manage are within 30 feet. But what about controlling multiple networked computers with a single keyboard, video monitor, and mouse (KVM)?

Well, it can be done. Using the same Internet Protocol that your Web browser uses, Avocent has developed “KVM over IP” technology. That makes it possible to sit at your desk and control hundreds of computers located thousands of miles away.

 
   

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