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TR's four-port KVM switch comparo

For when you have more PCs than desk space
— 12:10 AM on September 17, 2001

ACCORDING TO a recent poll of TR readers, the vast majority of you use more than one computer on a regular basis while at home. Some of you might have a server sitting in the corner, a game box sitting on your desk, or even a machine dedicated solely to email and web browsing. If you do any testing at home, like I do, you could even have a couple of test platforms lying around cranking through stability tests and benchmarks.

While running enough machines to heat your home is great—and really it is—there are practical problems with controlling several machines. In a perfect world, you'd have enough cash and desk space to fit a separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse for each machine. Even then, though, you still have to move around to the respective terminals to actually control your bevy of hardware.

If you do have the money, you might be able to splurge on all the extra hardware at home. In a business environment, a server room filled with machines, you're not going to be wanting any extra monitors putting out heat, either.

A remote control and administration tool like VNC, which is free, will give you a certain level of control over a PC remotely. While adequate in some situations, VNC isn't really useful if you want total and responsive control over a system. There's a lot of lag with VNC, impeding games or any kind of detail work. Don't get me wrong, I love VNC; it's just limited in what it can do. This is where a KVM switch comes in, offering up full console control over multiple machines with no limitations.

Given so many of you use multiple machines, and likely in situations where VNC or other remote admin tools aren't appropriate, we've rounded up a handful of four-port KVM switches for you. Each has been run through the gauntlet, scrutinized, compared, and otherwise abused to determine what's good, what's not, and what's best for your needs.

Four-port, four-way showdown

KVM stands for keyboard, video, and mouse—essentially what you control your PC with. The basic premise behind a KVM switch is to allow you to control multiple PCs with the same keyboard, monitor, and mouse combo. Plug all the keyboard, video, and mouse ports on your PCs into the switch, hook up a keyboard, mouse, and monitor, and you're ready to go. A switch lets you choose which machine you want to control, and switching between PCs is quickly executed with the touch of a button.

That's basic KVM functionality, but often KVM switches have additional features and functionality to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. Now that we've covered the basics, let's meet the competitors.