Switch box puts multiple computers at fingertips

KVM: Even Macs and PCs can share keyboards, monitors and mice with the right desktop device.

May 30, 2002|By Sam Diaz | Sam Diaz,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Every once in awhile, we find ourselves going on about a new product that really isn't new at all.

This time, it's the KVM switch - that's short for "keyboard," video monitor and mouse. Simply, it's a desktop box that allows users to connect multiple computer systems to a single keyboard, monitor and mouse and toggle between computers as needed.

While KVMs have been in the workplace for years - usually on the desks of the techies who run two or more systems from their cubicles - consumers are just beginning to realize what a jewel these boxes can be in the high-tech home office.

"A lot more people have more than one computer now and they don't want their desktop space taken away by an extra keyboard, monitor and mouse," said Joseph Zhang, product manager for IoGear's KVM switches.

Today's KVMs have enhanced features - ports for peripherals such as printers and scanners and outlets for speaker systems. Some come equipped with USB slots, which is great news for folks who have both a Mac and PC on their desks. Early versions allowed only PS2 connections, which were fine for PCs but no good for Macs, which were using the ADB connections.

With the widespread adoption of USB on Macs and PCs, connecting both a Mac and a PC to a KVM is easier - though there challenges exist.

It's not as easy as 1-2-3 to connect a Mac and a PC to the same keyboard and mouse - because those components are configured differently. The newer Macs have the eject keys for the CD drives on the keyboard. A Windows keyboard won't have that. A windows mouse has a left-click and a right-click button. A Mac mouse uses only one button.

These are issues that can be worked around if you're willing to learn how to reconfigure the keyboard keys to utilize features on both computer systems and are really serious about saving desk space in the home office.

Belkin's OmniView line of KVMs (www.belkin.com)does a good job of saving space. It's a sleek, push-button device that stands less than 8 inches high and 5 inches across. The device comes with a cable management cover that keeps wires from snaking all over the desk.

KVM switches range from about $120 to near $200. Not all of them are USB-friendly, which means some of them won't connect to a Mac without some sort of converter. And the cables that connect all of these components sometimes are sold separately.

But if you're looking to add a second PC to your home office - and really don't want to bulk up the desk with mice, keyboards and two boxy monitors, as well as all of their wires - then a KVM switch could be just what you need.

For an online catalog of KVM technology, visit www .kvm-switches-online.com.

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