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Tale of Three KVM Switches

3 KVM Switches

So it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that when it comes to Apple products, photography equipment, and various other gadgetry, I enjoy living on the cutting edge. Equally unsurprising is that in doing so, I expose myself to technological issues that less fervent individuals would not run into. Previously I had posted about my disappointment with Bluetooth peripherals and how the old RF wireless protocol remains superior when needing to share a set of peripherals with multiple computers. Now in the intervening months since that post, I have been using Apple's wireless keyboard since I'd been pretty much ignoring my desktop PC. But I recently decided to switch back to my old RF Logitech keyboard and bring my PC back to life. Economic conditions and the performance of Parallels on a MacBook Pro being what they are, I seriously doubt I'll be acquiring a Mac Pro anytime soon and I definitely still need a dedicated Windows machine.

However, between that decision and my relatively recent purchase of the latest MacBook Pro, I once again ran into some tech issues that required an annoying amount of time, effort and cash to resolve. And as you probably already deduced from the title of this entry, it had to do with my KVM switch.

For the past few years I've been using a basic, no-frills, no-brand, 2-port KVM/DVI switch (middle unit in the photo above) to share my Dell 24" LCD between my MBP and my PC. This worked just great until the arrival of the new MBP with its new Mini DisplayPort in lieu of the old DVI port. Sure I had purchased the Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter but for some reason, it just would not work through the switch. If the LCD was plugged directly into the MBP, no problem. If it was diverted through the switch, I get a blank screen. No signal going through whatsoever. So I browsed through Apple's support forums and learned that the ioGear MiniView 2-port DVI KVM switch (top unit in photo), while not perfect, seemed to at least sorta work with the new MBP. And look, Newegg just happened to have it on sale. So I bought one.

Took me a little over a month to get off my lazy ass and replace my non-functioning switch with the ioGear but after everything was all connected, it appeared to work. Somewhat. My MBP worked alright with it. Every now and then the external display would go fuzzy but that was simply resolved by pulling the display adapter out and back in again. My Logitech RF keyboard and Kensington Wireless Turbo Mouse Pro worked just great as well. However, my PC would not, under any circumstance, work with the keyboard and trackball. They were detected by the BIOS and everything but when WinXP or Vista loaded, I got nothing. So if I switched the KVM over to the PC, I had to unplug the receivers for the keyboard and trackball from the switch and physically plug them in to the PC (good thing it has USB ports in the front) to be able to work with it. So, still a pain in the ass. Plus, the USB hub in the switch was USB1.1 ONLY. Gaaahhh!!!! And XP/Vista had trouble figuring out what the hell the hub was as they would keep displaying the "New Hardware Found" popup but then fail to successfully load the necessary drivers.

So I started looking for a new switch that actually had a built-in USB2.0 hub and found the Belkin SOHO 2-Port KVM Switch (bottom unit in photo). Buy.com had it for an acceptable price so I got it. Connected my Dell LCD, keyboard and trackball. Used the included DVI/USB combo cable to connect to my PC. Started to connect the second DVI/USB combo cable to my MBP and noticed that huh, the Mini DisplayPort to DVI adapter wouldn't fit for some reason. Took a closer look and ugh, the adapter only takes a digital DVI plug. The included cable had a full analog/digital DVI plug so it had 4 extra pins that the adapter had no receptor for. !@#$"&(@$(*&(!!!!! Fortunately, a DVI cable is just a DVI cable so I grabbed the one I had been using with my original, no-brand switch and plugged that in. Yay! It worked! Booted up my MBP and crap, the Dell LCD showed a complete screen of static noise. Fortunately, replugging the display adapter fixed that problem. On to the PC. Started it up and yay! Getting input from the keyboard and trackball! Now we're talking! No problem with XP/Vista recognizing the USB2.0 hub in the switch either.

One final minor issue remained however. Namely that the Kensington Mouseworks software wasn't recognizing the trackball for some reason. The trackball was being recognized by the OSes (both Windows and Mac) as just a generic mouse so I couldn't program the other buttons on the trackball to their usual settings. Now, KVM switches have dedicated USB ports for the keyboard/mouse that you're going to share between computers. These dedicated ports SUCK for some reason. Didn't work on the ioGear, wasn't working quite properly on the Belkin either. But I figured, well it's just USB, so I removed the trackball receiver from the dedicated mouse port on the switch and plugged it into the Dell display's built-in USB hub. And voila, trackball recognized. Full functionality restored across the board.

So, if you want a KVM/DVI switch that works with the new MBPs, the Belkin SOHO series works. And works pretty well. I haven't had any wonky display issues at all after that initial scare. Just remember that if you're using some fancy programmable keyboard or mouse and they don't work completely when plugged in to the "dedicated" keyboard and mouse ports on the switch, try the other 2 non-dedicated ports on the switch. They should work fine on those. The other interesting thing about the Belkin is that the DVI and audio switches are separate. So if you're sharing a set of speakers, you can be working on one computer while listening to audio from the other.

The only remaining negative about the Belkin is that it's HUGE compared to the ioGear and no-brand. Belkin basically cheaped out with the 2-port switch so that it shares the same size case as their 4-port. So the size of the case makes sense for a 4-port switch. When you buy the 2-port, you're getting the 4-port case without the 2 other ports. Pretty lame. It would have been nice if the ioGear worked and had USB2.0 cause it was nice and compact but oh well, can't have everything.

Anyhoo, so that was my last tech issue of the year. Hope there's no more forthcoming in 2009. Now I just have to figure out what I'm going to do with these 2 extra switches. =p

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Comments (4)

Hsin:

With most modern monitors supporting multiple inputs, I'm surprised that you didn't just go with a software KVM like Synergy.

Ben:

Well my Dell's an old one so it only has one DVI input. Don't want to use VGA anymore. =) Secondly, I don't think Synergy does what I need. According to their FAQ #8:

http://synergy2.sourceforge.net/faq.html#faq8

it's currently only a KM solution, not KVM so each computer needs to have its own monitor. In my case, when I'm on my MBP, I'm working with both the 15" and Dell 24". When switched over to PC, the PC takes over the 24". As far as I can tell, Synergy doesn't help me there.

Hsin:

What I've done in the past was to connect computer A (say the OSX) to the two monitors through DVI. computer B (PC) connected to one of the monitors through VGA. Since the second computer is less used, I didn't mind that it was VGA. When I need to use the PC, I toggled the monitor through it's input switch.

However, in order to use the keyboard and mouse I use Synergy so that when I moved the mouse to the right of A's desktop that it goes to B.

Ben:

Ah, yeah in that case your setup is fine. But I don't have any VGA ports on either of my machines. And even if I did I like my DVI. =)

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 31, 2008 11:30 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Happy Holidays!.

The next post in this blog is Welcome to 2009!.

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