Thursday, February 10, 2005

Pogue tests KVM switches: mini-Mac and PC integration

The New York Times > Technology > Circuits > Pogue > Basics: Mac Meets PC and Both Learn to Share

See also an earlier post on the Belkin OmniView KVM switch. I'd wondered if Belkin launched that analog VGA switch in anticipation of the Mac Mini, but its switching doesn't respond to Mac keystrokes. Switches that work with a digital LCD display may be harder to find.
What you need, besides the two machines, is a K.V.M. switch, a device that permits you to use a single keyboard, monitor and mouse with two or more machines. K.V.M. stands for "keyboard, video and mouse," but some K.V.M. switches also let you control your speakers and microphone. Using a switch not only saves money and desk space but adds to the capabilities of both machines by creating a system whereby the Mac and PC work together. At the risk of offending some Apple enthusiasts, Windows users could think of the Mini as a PC peripheral...

... The hybrid system I tested used a Dell 8400 PC running Windows XP Home Edition and a basic $499 Mac Mini upgraded to 512 megabytes of memory from 256 (Apple charges $75 for this). I also connected the Mini to an I.B.M. ThinkPad laptop that runs Windows XP Professional Edition.

K.V.M. switches have different sets of cables, plugs and jacks. The keyboard, mouse and monitor plug into ports on the switch (usually labeled Console). Then two sets of cabled plugs (in a two-computer switch) hook up to the keyboard, mouse and video ports on the computers. The cables are often included with the switch, but with some models they are sold separately.

Computers can have different types of inputs, so you need to buy a switch that matches your configuration.

If your keyboard and mouse have universal serial bus plugs, for example, then the Console ports on the switch you buy must be U.S.B. If those two peripherals have the round PS/2 connectors, then the ports must be PS/2. As for the output cables to the two computers, since the Mac Mini has only U.S.B. ports for both its keyboard and mouse, the switch must have U.S.B. plugs, which will also work with the PC. (But the switch need have only one U.S.B. plug for each computer; it can handle both keyboard and mouse.)

You also need to check your monitor cable. Most use a standard 15-pin V.G.A. connector, but some use a digital video interface, or D.V.I., link. (Some monitors support both.) So you will need to make sure your K.V.M. switch has the appropriate jack.

I tested four inexpensive K.V.M. switches that work with V.G.A. monitors. Belkin's 2-Port K.V.M. Switch with Built-In Cabling, U.S.B. (about $50) works with the Mac Mini and any PC with a V.G.A. monitor and U.S.B. keyboard and mouse, as does Iogear's Miniview Micro U.S.B. Plus (about $60).

If you have a PS/2 mouse and keyboard, Hawking Technology's 2-Port K.V.M. Switch with Audio and Microphone will do the trick for about $40. Hawking's 2-Port U.S.B., PS/2, K.V.M. Switch with Audio and Microphone (about $80) gives you a choice between U.S.B. and PS/2.

As for the actual switching between machines, the Hawking units give you a choice of pressing a switch on the unit or using your keyboard. The Belkin has a switch (its keyboard controls don't work on Macs). Iogear's Miniview Micro doesn't have a switch; to shift between the PC and Mac, you press the scroll lock button twice. The advantage of being able to switch between machines from the keyboard is that you can place the K.V.M. units anywhere, but there is something reassuring about a physical switch.

When switching between machines, there can be a short delay as the machine recognizes the mouse and keyboard, but it's generally just a couple of seconds.
I used KVM switches eons ago with an OS 7 PowerBook and a 386 PC. Back then switching was hard on the monitors; they'd make audible popping noises when they switched sync input. It clearly shortened CRT monitor lifespan in the early 90s. I suspect this is not an issue with LCD displays.


FunkyOdor said...

Any word on how mixed a mix of VGA and DVI devices behave together in a KVM? My hope is that I could use the Mini's adaptor on the DVI KVM itself to connect to a VGA extension cord hanging off of my PC.

Also, any word on whether a KVM work with a wireless kb/mouse dongle?

Anonymous said...

I have the Iogear KVM Switch (MiniView Micro USB Plus) and the problem between a PC / Mac is this: The PC keyboard doesn't work with Copy / Paste shortcut funtionality with Graphics programs (Adobe CS3), and if I use a Mac keyboard, I can't toggle with the numbers lock. Other than the copy/paste issue, it works fine. But who wants to copy/paste by going up to the menu to do it. I tried to "re-program" as the manual says, but to no avail. Ebay for this KVM switch, I suppose. Any advice? Chris