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USB KVM switch comparison

Belkin and IOGear go toe to toe

USB PERIPHERALS have become increasingly popular among both PC enthusiasts and mainstream users. It seems that all the really nice high-end keyboards and mice these days are USB devices that only work with PS/2 ports via adapters. Not that I'm complaining; USB is far more versatile than PS/2, and it's also cross-platform. Unless you're talking about arcane workstations, you've got to reach back pretty far to find a PC without at least a couple of USB ports.

The USB revolution hasn't just applied to mice and keyboards, either. Portable audio players, digital cameras, printers, scanners, and even the RF remote dongle for ATI's Remote Wonder use USB. It was really only a matter of time before KVM switch makers took notice. After all, if you have multiple computers tied together with a single keyboard, mouse, and monitor, why not share your scanner and printer, as well?

Today we've lined up Belkin's SOHO OmniView USB/Audio and IOGear's MiniView III for comparison. Belkin and IOGear each have an ace in the hole, but which one wins the hand all depends on the cards you're holding. What the heck am I talking about? Read on to find out.

Don't worry if you've never heard of a KVM switch before; the concept is simple. KVM stands for keyboard, video, and mouse—a computer's most basic input and output mechanisms. Traditionally, if you have multiple PCs, you need a keyboard, monitor, and mouse to control each one. A KVM switch can rid you of all of that extra hardware by letting you control multiple PCs with a single keyboard, monitor, and mouse. With just the touch of a button, you can change which PC you're controlling, effectively commanding an entire fleet of PCs from a single workstation. Provided you don't need to be actively using two PCs at the same time, a KVM switch is a great way to reduce desktop clutter and save money on extra keyboards, monitors, and mice.

That's basic KVM functionality, but the KVM market would be pretty stagnant if that's all the switches did. KVM manufacturers love to differentiate their products with unique features and capabilities, so there's often more going on than simple KVM switching.

One could argue that programs like VNC or even Windows XP's remote assistance software do the same thing that a KVM switch does, but they're really different beasts. Remote administration software is designed to work over long distances where KVM switches aren't feasible. You can use remote administration software over shorter distances, but you're going to get far more responsive performance and better functionality from a KVM switch.

With that said, let's see what these two USB-enabled KVM switches can do.