Belkin's Flip-DVI-D: too good to be true?

Pretty much, yes

I was excited to learn recently about a new product from Belkin, the Flip-DVI-D. This little device allows a user to control two computers via a single mouse, keyboard, and monitor. I use keyboard/video/mouse (KVM) switches routinely in Damage Labs, and they're very convenient for my purposes. My decision to buy a 30" wide-screen LCD for our graphics test systems, though, created a problem: there just aren't many KVM switches out there capable of passing through a dual-link DVI video signal. In fact, I'm aware of only a few made by Gefen. Those are ridiculously expensive (in the neighborhood of $600 for a four-port switch) and have gotten poor reviews for basic functionality.

I wasn't about to drop that kind of cash on an iffy product, so I was seriously considering another alternative. HP now sells a 30" LCD that comes with three DVI inputs and can switch between them. I'd almost rather pony up the $1300 or so for this monitor than $600-something for the Gefen switch. At least then, you're getting a nice display for your money, as well. The expense isn't hard to justify given the amount of lab time we can waste by running only one GPU test rig at a time. Some of our tests, like scripted 3DMark benchmarks, can be run concurrently on multiple systems. Given the breadth of hardware we test, we're talking about saving hundreds of hours in a month or two, merely by moving from one active test system to two.

That's still not exactly a cheap ticket to a simple input-switching capability, so before I pulled the trigger, I decided to look around once more online to see if any new DVI-D KVM switches were available. That's when I discovered the Belkin Flip-DVI-D. This cute little device seemed to be tailor-made for our needs: it's a dual-port switch that handles four kinds of inputs: USB keyboard, USB mouse, analog audio, and—gloriously!—dual-link DVI. Belkin claims to have designed it for users of Apple's 30" Cinema Display, a cousin to our Dell 3007WFP. Best of all, it was only $125 at Dell's online store. Sounded like a no-brainer to me. Belkin is a big name brand, so surely the quality would be there, unlike the quirky Gefens. I ordered one on the spot.

The Flip DVI-D. Source: Belkin.

When the Flip-DVI-D arrived, my first impressions of it were positive. The design of the device is slick and sensible. The cables needed to connect it to the two computers come permanently attached to the unit, so there's no question about needing to buy cables separately (a frequent gotcha with KVM switches) or what plugs in where. You can then hide most of the cabling mess behind the desk, because a separate remote control unit houses the one button needed to switch between computers. This remote also houses a single LED that glows either green or yellow, indicating which computer is selected. All of this makes perfect sense, with no unnecessary complications.

When I fired up the computers connected to the Flip-DVI-D, however, my hopes for this product were quickly deflated. The Flip-DVI-D fails quite visibly at its primary mission: passing through a DVI-D signal from a computer to a monitor. The video signal just doesn't make it to our Dell 3007WFP display intact. At best, the screen is readable, but has quite a few flashing and discolored pixels distributed around it. At worst, the video signal drops out, and the screen goes black. Sometimes, the thing will go from bad (but usable) to worse (black screen) while you're using it, for no apparent reason, and never recover.

I found complaints about this exact problem in a user review of the Flip-DVI-D at Dell's website, so I knew I wasn't alone, but I was determined not to give up hope too soon. I tried a whole range of different video cards to see if that affected things, and I found it really doesn't. Some video cards seemed to be worse than others, but the Flip-DVI-D didn't pass through a clean signal from any of them. My next step was to order a 3' DVI-D cable from Newegg, to see if that would help. Perhaps the longish cable that came with the 3007WFP combined with the Flip-DVI-D's cables added up to too much length and too little signal strength. If so, a shorter cable might do the trick, right? Nope. The 3' cable was no help at all. It may even have been a little worse.

To date, I've found no solution to the Flip-DVI-D's video signal problems, and I'm not sure what else to try. I confess that I've not been through the motions with Belkin tech support, but I'm not optimistic about their ability to fix such a fundamental problem on a closed-box device.

This thing is less than ideal for other reasons, too. The switch is evidently not compatible with HDCP, for one. I wasn't able to play back HD DVD movies on a PC attached to it. Also, switching between inputs involves a long delay—five to ten seconds, at least, sometimes longer—before the PC figures out that the keyboard and mouse have been reconnected. USB KVM switches seem to be inherently pokey about control switching, but the Flip-DVI-D is inordinately slow even for a USB KVM switch. Drives me crazy.

So I guess you could say my experience with the Belkin Flip DVI-D is pretty much a total failure. I love the product concept—an affordable, easy-to-use DVI-D KVM switch with a snazzy design—but the execution kills it. The thing just doesn't work right. TR

Tags: Displays Input devices

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