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Avocent SwitchView MP

 Author: Eric Griffith
 Review Date: 10/19/2001

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The standard desk can only handle so much equipment. Sticking a bookshelf or a hutch above the tangle of cables and peripherals may help, but ultimately anyone with an over abundance of PCs to run in a small space needs some heavy duty lab furniture complete with a over head monitor shelf.... or to run all the computers on the network with only one keyboard, monitor and mouse set.

Products that let you switch from computer to computer while using the same input devices and monitor are called KVM (keyboard, video, mouse) switches. With a KVM switch hooked up to several PCs, you can run them all simultaneously, while sitting at one keyboard to control them all.

Avocent sent us their SwitchView MP (MSRP $399, much lower at retail, model number 14085-AM) for review. The unit is a 4-port KVM switch that supports not only PCs using PS/2 connections but also PCs using USB to run the mouse/keyboard (perfect for laptops) and even Sun servers.

What you connect depends upon what cables you buy extra -- they are not included with the price. Avocent offers any number of different cable combinations, but they sent two 8-foot USB/VGA cables (MSRP $55 each), two PS/2 capable cables, one 4-foot ($35) and one 15-foot ($85), to test. Grand total at manufacturer's suggested retail: $629. Such convenience is not cheap.

Ah, but convenient it is. The SwitchView MP itself, about the size of the last Harry Potter novel, has indicator lights to show you which computers are on, and which one is actively being viewed. Hit the button on the front and you're shunted to the next computer. You can also use a keystroke: hit CTRL twice rapidly to instantly switch to the computer of your choice, or enter scan mode which automatically switches from system to system over a chosen interval of 2 to 60 seconds.

I tested the SwitchView MP using an NEC MultiSync XV15 15-inch monitor, a Microsoft Natural Keyboard (PS/2), and a Microsoft Wheel Mouse (PS/2). Sadly, you can't hook a USB keyboard or mouse directly to the Switchview. The systems used were two desktops and two laptops running a combination of Windows 98 SE, Millennium Edition, and Windows 2000. There were no problems switching between video resolutions -- the picture remained aligned on the monitor for each -- nor with using the mouse wheel from system to system. Even unplugging the power to the SwitchView didn't upset the balance: the monitor signal was lost, but when power was restored switching continued to work as normal.

Can anyone with multiple computers to monitor/test live without a KVM switch like the SwitchView? Sure, especially if laptops figure in -- less bulk, less hassle. However, if things are getting a bit crowded with every PC on your worktable having it's own 17-inch monitor,. a KVM switch from Avocent or others will spare you both deskspace and a backache when those monitors need servicing or bite the dust.

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