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Most networks are set up because you're spreading
out - multiple PCs in different rooms or floors need to talk to
each other. When the opposite is the case -you've got multiple PCs
all in the same room, even on the same desk space -a KVM (keyboard,
video, mouse) switch eliminates the need for separate input devices
on each. The IOGEAR MiniView USB KVM Switch does more than let you
control up to four PCs with the same keyboard, mouse and monitor
though - it lets you also connect two other USB peripherals for
all of those PCs in USB hub fashion.
IOGEAR's Web site refers to this GCS104U unit as a "KVMP;"
ostensibly the "P" is for peripheral. The unit is plastic
and metal, so it feels more rugged than other all-plastic KVMs It
measures 2.1x6x9-inches and stands upright or can by placed face
down, even wall-mounted if you take off the plastic feet. Whatever
works as long as you can reach the large circular button on the
front to switch from PC to PC. There's a second smaller button on
the front that takes the switch into scan mode, jumping from system
to system every few seconds.
The GCS104U unit I tested came with four cables (a "$100.00
value" according to the box) for connecting the KVM switch
to your Macs and Intel-based PCs - any system that has USB an open
USB port. Hook each computer up to the switch, plug your monitor
VGA cable in, then finally your USB-based mouse and keyboard into
any of the four open downstream USB ports. No PS/2 serial port keyboards
or mice are welcome here, however. If you're still using older input
devices, you'll need to upgrade to use the GCS104U. If there was
any problem at all in my testing it was finding a USB keyboard in
my house (I stole my wife's) and trying to get all the cables attached
in the small amount of space at the back of the unit-but you only
have to do it once. The documentation is minimal, but KVM switches
aren't brain surgery: once everything is plugged you can chuck the
Once everything is plugged in (the power cord though is only needed if want the USB hub powered for peripherals that need power, like a Webcam),
you're ready to start switchin'. Once booted, each Windows PCs automatically
found my Logitech iFeel USB mouse. The delay when switching between
systems is minimal, no more than two or three seconds.
Testing the systems running at the same resolution or even various
different resolutions (from 800x600 to 1600x1200) had few visual
problems -- the picture barely wavered and all PC settings displayed
fine on our 15-inch NEC monitor. Supposedly the IOGEAR unit can
push through resolutions as high as 1920x1440 pixels, but neither
my video cards nor the monitor could handle that.
Setting up USB peripherals such as printers or scanners on the
extra ports may mean having to install drivers on each system if
required. I had no problems getting a USB-based laser printer and
a Plantronics USB headset/microphone combo to work on all systems
via the IOGEAR. USB devices like card readers for your digital camera
that are automatically recognized as a disk drive by Windows were
no problem either. My tests were conducted with Windows ME, 2000,
and XP systems; the notoriously bad USB support in older versions
of Windows could cause you problems.
Is the IOGEAR MiniView worth the $199 direct price tag? No question,
especially when you consider the competition. Avocent's
SwitchView MP is double the price (sans the cables) and lacks
the USB hub capability. Avocent builds in some nice keyboard functions,
but nothing earth shattering enough to make it worth that much.
Plus, the IOGEAR MiniView is as low as $115
The IOGEAR GCS104U KVMP is the best product of its kind I've
seen yet. The only improvement I can imagine is cabling or extra
ports to also allow PS/2 input devices, but why quibble? At this
price, you can afford to get a new USB keyboard to bring this switch's
power to your PC cluttered desk.