Feel the power of 256 computers connected to your fingers.
KVM switches are a based on the same simple concept AV selectors use, switching multiple connectors from many inputs to a single output with the same connectors at the control station. At the higher end of the equipment spectrum though, their complexity can blow out. From KVM-over-IP solutions to server room switches, these black boxes take a range of input devices and selectively connect them to a single output. They save a lot of the time and effort required when managing multiple computers.
Designed to save a lot of the time and effort required when managing multiple computers, KVM switches originally used Serial, D-Sub 15 and AT connectors for mice, monitors and keyboards respectively. Since then, connectivity options have grown to cater for more modern equipment by incorporating PS2, USB, audio send and receive and in some cases DVI connectors.
We tested Aten’s Master View Max Slideaway LCD KWM switch, which is representative of what you will want to be using in a server room where space is at a premium. At a glance, it’s a 19” 8 port cascading rack mount unit with a foldaway LCD monitor and integrated keyboard and touchpad.
It is equipped with a system link connector that lets you plug in multiple expansion units. These let the KVM switch address an extra 8 terminals per 1U expander. Connecting up to 256 computers to a single control console (512 with the model above) would be a nightmare if there were no provisions for managing the connected computers. Thankfully the CL-1208 lets you name each computer that is plugged into the switch and any expansion arrays, then search through them with its own OSD.
The CL-1208 gives you a number of terminal view options. You can arrange lists of terminals according to preset favorites, which terminals are on or both. The port ID of the terminals can be individually named, and their display location and duration customized. There is a monitoring mode that will cycle progressively through connected terminals at pre-defined intervals. If you find yourself accessing certain terminals often, you can individually assign them to one of 8 hotkeys on the unit.
The OSD lets you do a number of extra things, such as broadcasting keyboard commands to all the attached terminals. This is incredibly useful for shutting down all terminals or performing more advanced functions if you know your terminals are identical. In testing, we imaged 8 PCs, and using the keyboard, removed the Windows Firewall from all of them in one hit. It makes you feel powerful.
The CL-1208 is built exceptionally well and is weighty at over 17Kgs but is still a one person installation job. The supplied leads are designed to free up the available real estate on the back of the KVM. One end consists of a VGA cable and PS2 plugs, (one for keyboard, one for mouse) and there is a single VGA connector on the other. This is accomplished by using a wiring hack -- the extra common, and hence redundant, ground pins in the VGA lead are removed and signals to and from the mouse and keyboard take their place. Between this and color coding, cable management is very clean and simple at both ends.
The only drawback is that the native resolution of the integrated LCD panel is a low 1024x768. Although the manual tells you not to feed the KVM signals higher than this, it will scale back higher resolutions with mixed results, such as unreadable text and warped aspect ratios. The VGA output is not affected by the resizing of the LCD image, so if you have an external monitor connected, you can still view the source as it was originally output. The VGA output switching is instantaneous; the only lag between switching from one console to another is due to the monitors (both external and internal) taking a moment to adjust to the new signal.
Overall, the CL-1208 is a solid piece of industrial grade kit that does its job very well. If the limited resolution of the LCD panel is a problem for you, its 17” brother will fit the bill nicely. If your server environment runs at a native 1024x768, the CL-1208 is a solid investment, especially considering the VGA output can still be used if resolution scaling is something you’d prefer to avoid.
The CL-1208 is a wonderful piece of kit to use, and is light years ahead of traditional mechanical switching methods. There are more advanced solutions available if you feel limited by cable reach, have a monstrous cluster of PCs or are attempting to take over the world, but until then, it won’t disappoint.
It would have scored full marks, but the resolution of the LCD let it down. Nonetheless, it's still imposing, and there's a 17" model available with a higher LCD resolution.