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 Belkin OmniView 4-Port USB KVM Switch with Audio

 Author: Roy Santos
 Review Date: 6/27/2002


Model Number: F1DS104U ($169.99)

There are many reasons to keep several PCs. Maybe youíve moved to a new operating system, e.g., Windows XP, and discovered that, sadly, many of your old peripherals donít work on your new machine. Rather than buying all new accessories and devices, maybe you want to keep the old machine. Maybe youíre running a server out of one computer and have dedicated another for gaming. For whatever reasons, very few will want two or three monitors, keyboards, and mice on their desk. To keep one of each peripheral and still control all PCs, you need a KVM (keyboard, video, and mouse) switch. Belkinís USB KVM switch offers a stylish solution to those who have USB mice and keyboards, and want audio support as well.

Pros:

  • Audio support
  • Cable cincher
  • Relatively low price

Cons:

  • No included cables
  • Video degradation
  • Keyboard response slowdown

Installation of the peripherals to the KVM switch is easy, but not without its quirks. There are four sets of the following ports, each set lined up more or less vertically: audio, microphone, VGA (for the monitor), and a type B, or downstream, USB port. The main set, to which you connect the peripherals themselves, is composed also of audio, mic, and VGA, but with two type A, or upstream, USB ports. The latter set is where you connect the mouse and keyboard. Belkin has laid them out well enough, though the main set and the set next to it donít line up, so thereís potential for cable confusion. Moreover, the USB downstream ports are labeled CPU1, CPU2, and so on, though by the time youíve installed the VGA and audio/mic, you should be able to figure out that these ports are for the mouse and keyboard. Despite the partially unfortunate port layout and labels, you should be up in a few minutes, especially if youíve used one of these switches before. Belkin aids newbies with a helpful quick installation guide.

Instead of laying horizontally, the way most KVM switches do, this Belkin model and others in the OmniView SOHO (small office home office) series, stand diagonally. If you can imagine standing a rectangular box on its short side, then tipping it at about a 45-50 degree angle, you have an idea of what this device looks like. With the help of a flat silver base that looks like a small ping-pong paddle that you install at one end, the box stands at an angle such that the ports become more easily accessible. But if you think youíll have cables jutting out of the top of the KVM switch, Belkinís got it covered--literally. A plastic cap that the company calls a "Cable Management System" goes on top of the unit and cinches all the cables, allowing for a much cleaner look. On the front, which would be the other short side of this tipped rectangular box, are four lights with corresponding buttons that switch between four PCs.

There are no PS/2 ports, so only get this model if both of your PCs have USB ports and you have a USB mouse and keyboard. (Other models from the same series offer different ports for different configurations.) Since there are no included cables, you will need to purchase a VGA, USB, and optional audio cables for each PC you want to connect. The advantage of USB peripherals is that you only need one cable for each PC to get mouse and keyboard control; with PS/2 input devices, you need two cables for each PC.

The performance of the Belkin KVM switch was uneven. Switching between PCs takes less than two seconds. It effortlessly switches monitor resolutions without missing a beat--or in this case, a pixel. However, I noticed that the video signal had degraded such that there was a visible wave, or "shimmy" when viewing a black background. When I connected one of the PCs directly to the monitor, the imperfection disappeared. Mouse response was excellent, but I had a quibble with the keyboard performance. There was a noticeable slowdown in response time, especially when I typed fast. Letters would go missing or multiple words mysteriously became one. It happened frequently enough, perhaps once every paragraph, that it became a major letdown. To those who do a lot of typing, particularly speedy typing, like writers or frequent instant message users, it's a flaw worth noting. As with the video, responsiveness returned when I connected the keyboard directly to the PC. Audio support is a plus with this model, though I recommend getting shielded audio cables, rather than the cheaper unshielded ones, to prevent buzzing and hisses.

This Belkin model costs about $170, cheaper than some of its competitors, though some of them include cables. Its design gives it an edge over other boxy devices, but performance leaves something to be desired. You may want to check out the competition's packages before you settle for Belkin's offering. If you experience anything like I did, you'll be switching brands even more quickly than you switch between PCs.


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