What is a KVM Switch?

KVM switch stands for keyboard, video and mouse switch. It’s a hardware that gives you control of multiple computers in one keyboard, video display (monitor) and mouse. KVM switch is usually found in data centers where a single rack holds multiple servers. By pressing the KVM switch, the administrator can modify controls from one server to another. It is specifically designed to link 2 or more computers along with via USB cables, allowing users to transmit data between connected computers. This switch is the best way to save from the cost of purchasing dedicated keyboard, display and mouse for each computer. It also saves space in the server room and gets rid of the cable clutter.

KVM switch is also popular among home computer users who have upgraded their system and still want to use their old computer without buying new set of keyboard, display and mouse. It is also used in various businesses establishments. It is also referred as CPU switch, PC switch and Server switch.

KVM switch is great for working on multiple monitors, making it a perfect tool for professionals whose work hugely depends on their computer, like graphic designer and video editors, as they can connect as many displays as possible.

There are hundreds of cases in which the KVM switch will be necessary, and you will find that your computer work will be much easier as a result of the finding the best KVM switch for your needs.

 

How KVM Switch Work?

(image courtesy of Wikimedia commons)

In general a KVM gives you the ability to remotely control the system of one computer from the other, which enables you to use multiple computers at the same time without having to switch back and forth between two sets of keyboards and mice. In shorter term, it is a two-device all in one box.

The USB KVM switch is designed to be a solution that will enable you to have wired access to two or more desktop computers remotely. This gives you total control over both computers, and makes them much easier for you to use.

(image courtesy of Wikimedia commons)

It has a video switch that allows you to switch video analogue and sync information between connected computers and displays, with a microprocessor controlled system that lets you send and receive data input from the keyboard and mouse and mimic the presence of the keyboard and mouse when not connected to the computer.


Why Do You Need a KVM Switch?

If you have a group of servers that you rarely access, or you need to control more than one computer, then you can save significantly with a KVM switch. This tool will save you space and money you don’t need to purchase separate keyboard, monitor and mouse as well as peripherals and hardware for each computer.

This switch gives you the convenience to access all computers attached through your best hardware. This means you don’t have to stand up and walk around to do computer tasks in different computers, as you can do everything in one desk and simply switch between computers using the KVM switch. This improves productivity and efficiency, as you can run various applications using different computers simultaneously.


Why KVM Switch is Better than the Manual Switch

KVM Switch is way better than manual switch in a lot of ways. The physical switching of manual switch wears out the contacts, which results to poor video quality, the connection is lost when the manual switch is turned off. Also, the manual option doesn’t include 2-way communication with the keyboard and mouse. When the PC is turned on, it will look for response from the keyboard and mouse. KVM switch on the other hand, electronically mimics the connection and sets the characteristics and functionality. The switch of the manual counterpart also has very limited functionality, which is not recommended for professional environment where switches are on continuous and frequent use.

 

Different Types of KVM Switch

This tool vary from a small and compact desktop model that can sit nicely on or near a desk, to a larger and more sophisticated rack-mounted model with multiple ports designed for more complex server management applications.

There are several types of KVM switch and the specific one you go with will depend on your needs:

 

  • 4 port kvm switch - to control up to 4 monitors
  • Mini KVM switch - refers to the small size of the unit as opposed to bigger KVMs

 

A KVM switch (whichever style you opt with) will usually come with special software that will need to be installed on both computers, as the software will enable it to control both devices at the same time. The software is usually integrated into the device itself, which will save you a good deal of time that would be spent having to download the software. There are also 8, 12, and even 16 port-designed KVM switch to accommodate multiple computers.

 

Thanks to the simple design of the USB KVM switch, you are easily able to connect your computer via USB cables. Working with the USB KVM system is just like working with a remote desktop connection, and it will be a matter of seconds to switch between computers connected by the KVM switch. The resolution of the two computers is matched by the switch, and you are easily able to transfer files between windows thanks to the USB connection. While the transfer may not be lightning fast, it will be nearly as fast as copying files via a local network.


What is a USB KVM Switch?

There are many devices used by gamers, graphic designers, and other computer professionals as a means of making their work easier. Like the regular KVM switch, it allows users to switch between two PCs just by a simple press of a button. The USB KVM switch is one such device to make using computers a good deal easier, and you may find that using one of these KVM switches is exactly what you need to handle a number of computers.


Which Type of KVM Switch Should You Get?

Different types of KVM switch are designed for different needs, and the type of KVM switch you should choose depends on a lot of things. Some of the questions you need to answer are:

  • The number of computer you want to connect and control.
  • Will you use applications that require high-resolution?
  • Where do you want to place the switch, on your desk or control it remotely from a rack?
  • Are you looking to add more computers to control? Do you need to cascade multiple switches to avoid data quality loss?
  • Do you need onscreen display to make channel selection more convenient and easy?
  • Do you need a keyboard, video and monitor to control the computers when you’re in the server room?
  • How far do you want to site your computers from your desk?
  • Do you operate in a multi-platform environment and need to switch between systems seamlessly?

 

Important Features to Look When Choosing a KVM Switch

Keyboard and Mouse Emulation – other computers are programmed to shut-down it if’s unable to detect connections for its keyboard and mouse. This feature will let the computer see the hardware as if they’re directly connected.

Auto-Mouse Translation – a feature that lets you use PS/2 type of connector or Intellimouse with any server whether the computer comes with a PS/2 port or a serial mouse.

Hot Pluggable – this feature allows you to connect running computer without needing to restart. This is an advantageous and crucial feature for multi-server setup.

SmartBoot – this feature secures continuous simulation of mouse and keyboard to ensure reliable boot up of all computers.

On-screen Display – this feature is important for connecting more than four servers, as it names each connected computer, making it easy for users to identify. Some KVM switches with this feature also give confirmation when users have connected to the selected computer or not.

Non-proprietary cables – you don’t really need expensive special cables, a standard cable can suffice. A high quality tri-coax cable can provide best results.

Video Quality – this feature ensures high screen resolution without video quality loss even in extended distance.

Front panel button, hot key, mouse and channel switching- this feature allows users to make ‘quick fire’, an essential tool for environments that use KVM switch all the time.

Size and Build – A robust design can stand a monitor on, convenient design include switches that makes the hardware easy to be rack mounted.

Data Activity Indicators – this lets you know whether there is any activity in connected computers.

Prompt and Stream mode mouse operation – Some models of KVM switches work mouse only in prompt mode, others work both in prompt and stream mouse communication for portable computers, such as support for IBM ThinkPad.

 

Factors to Consider When Purchasing a KVM Switch

If you access and control mission critical servers using KVM switch, then you need a high quality and reliable switch, more reliable than the computers you connect and control. If a single computer loses control, then it’s only a one problem. But if the KVM switch goes down, you will lose control of all the computers connected in your system.

Low quality switch will jeopardize your whole system and cause major problems, as it’s the way to access to your computer.

There are slight differences between PS/2 communication signals in different products. The high quality (which usually comes from the leading manufacturers of the hardware) has developed products that can overcome incompatibilities caused by variations in signal. However, you should also remember that not all KVM switches are designed with the same standard. Thus, make sure you narrow your search to companies with good reputation in quality, performance and reliability.

 

Will Installing KVM Switch Cause Problems to My Computer In Any Way?

KVM switch is a software-independent hardware, which means connecting this tool to your existing computer setup is as simple as connecting a keyboard or a mouse – it doesn’t need any installations whatsoever and it will not interfere to existing and running applications and installed programs.

There may be compatibility issues with the connectors occasionally, especially on older PC models. Modern computer comes with PS/2 mini DIN connectors, while older systems come with 5 pin DIN and RS232 mouse. To make sure your KVM switch is compatible with your current setup, choose a switch that supports both types from same mouse and keyboard. There are some brands of KVM switches that can support both RS232 PS/2 mouse and 5-pin DIN keyboard in a seamless system.

 

KVM Extenders and How They Work

KVM extenders let you place your console remotely from your computer or any installation. This allows you to free your room from heavy hardware, or keep your installations safe and sound from harsh environment, and still get full control as if you’re sitting in front of your installation and control multiple computers.

There are many different KVM extenders in the market today, and they vary from audio-enabled type, IP-based type, or RS-232 supported type. These hardware is a perfect tool for SOHO environments, data centers, construction sites, libraries, and even factory production lines.

 

KVM Switches Pros and Cons

Daisy Chaining

Many high quality KVM switches in the market today let you series of connections to increase the number of servers to control. Daisy chaining means linear configuration, which ultimately limits the physical distance between connected machines. However, you also lose video quality as the signal travels far from the chain. The better way to do this is through Cascading switches in tree configuration. Cascading switches in this setup is more flexible and minimizes video quality loss. Also, units under control can be placed even far from the controlling KVM station.

 

No Power Supply Unit (PSU)

KVM switches that don’t have the capability to add a PSU should be shunned. There may be times where you will need to run video from your switch, the switch gets its power from the connected keyboard and mouse. If you want total control of your computer at a distance, then you need a PSU to boost signal.

 

Keyboard and Mouse Re-Set Feature

This add-on works as ‘fail-safe’ for users, but it’s not important when the switch is working properly.

 

Single Processor Per Port

A good quality processor can support all ports at once; a processor for each port just means paying for more things than you actually need.

 

Self-Powered

Many good-quality KVM switches are designed to be powered through a single connected computer. Beware of self-powered switches that don’t come with this feature because when you turn off your computers and leave one on, you will crash.

 

Auto-Compensation on Extender Products

Though extension products can be very useful, automatic compensation takes control out of your hands. Manual control lets you set the compensation to your own preferences and requirements.



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