StarTech.com SV411KANov 20th, 2005 | By Archive
: 11/20/05 – 05:27:20 PM
: Input Devices
Page 1 : Index
With our ever expanding interests here at O², we are happy to present our first StarTech.com review. StarTech.com has been a provider of top quality computer components since they were established in 1985, some 20 years ago. Offering over 3,000 products, StarTech.com claims to be a one-stop-shop for its customers where they can come and get everything they are looking for in one place. A quick jump to their web site backs this claim up as they seem to offer any and everything a computer user could need. StarTech.com caters to the IT professional but, as we will see today, you don't need to have a server farm to enjoy their quality components.
When I was recently searching online for a quality KVM switch that would allow me to control multiple computers with a single keyboard monitor and mouse, I kept coming across one name, StarTech.com. It was usually in IT forums or at web sites dedicated to the IT professional so I thought I would not be fortunate enough to find a product from StarTech.com that would fit my needs and budget. Much to my surprise, when I got to their web site, I found a line of ‘Economy’ KVM switches that had everything I needed at prices that were far less than I anticipated.
I use the quotes around the word economy because their base level KVM switches are hardly of a quality that is associated with the term economy. Today I will be looking at the reasonably priced Starview SV411KA. It is a 4-Port KVM switch that also incorporates audio and microphone switching ability. I have tried a few generic and lower priced KVM switches with very limited success so I am anxious to see if the SV411KA is going to live up to the StarTech.com name.
Page 2 : Package
As with most products you buy, the SV411KA comes in a retail package designed to provide potential buyers with information about the product inside.
Once again, StarTech.com is going to be marketing the majority of their products to the IT professional, so it is no surprise to see a very mature and sophisticated package. There will be no mythical creatures or reflective logos incorporated into the design of this package. It is just a basic look that clearly outlines features of the product inside. The one thing that does stand out is the large seal stating that cables are included inside.
The rear of the package outlines more of the features and technical specifications that we will look at in the next section. StarTech.com has included a small diagram showing exactly what the 4 port KVM switch can do. We also see the ISO 9001 registered logo along the bottom. This lets us know that the product was manufactured under ISO 9001 standards.
Like I said, there is nothing flashy, just more substance seen on the sides. The StarTech.com logo is visible on almost all sides of the package and so is verbiage explaining what the package contains. If you can judge a book by its cover, then I would have to say this KVM switch from StarTech.com is all about business and doesn't appear to be in the mood to fool around. This is what I am hoping the performance will be like.
The bottom edge of the package is used by StarTech.com to provide toll free support numbers, the UPC barcode, and a small list of the contents in the package. Not only are cables included, as stated on the front of the package, but 4 sets of cables are included. This is normally overlooked with other 4 port KVM switches that only provide 2 sets of cables leaving the user to purchase additional hardware.
Page 3 : Specifications
StarTech.com offers plenty of information about the SV411KA and has this to say about the 4 port KVM switch on their web site:
- All cables are connected to the rear for a more secure and neat connection
- Auto-scan mode automatically switches between computers
- Footprint space saving design
- Front panel LED's indicate which computer is active
- Hotkey or push button control
- Keyboard and mouse allow for hot plugging without having to turn either the KVM or the PC off
- Operating system independent, compatible with all operating systems
- Power-free operation draws power from attached computers and requires no power adapters
- Supports high VGA resolution of up to 1920×1440
- Supports hot-plugging of PS/2 keyboards and mice including: M/S IntelliMouse(Pro), Explorer and Optical mice
- Supports microphone and speaker for all connected computers
- Unique 3-in-1 cables included prevent keyboard and mouse connectors from becoming loose
I didn't forget about the IT professionals looking in today and will now provide the list of technical specifications that came from the StarTech.com web site:
It is now time to open the package and see what this KVM switch looks like.
Page 4 : Package Contents
Inside the outer package is a protective cardboard box with all contents securely packed inside.
On top is a clear plastic package with the actual KVM switch located inside. Just on top of the unit we can see the four rubber feet that StarTech.com includes. We will see those again when we setup the SV411KA. Below the plastic package is the massive amount of cables that come with this offering from StarTech.com.
Earlier we saw on the box that four sets of cables were included. That includes four 3-in-one cables and four sets of microphone and audio cables. The KVM switch itself is not that big but this pile of cables is.
I have taken two of each cable out for viewing here. For those unfamiliar with KVM switches the cable used has a VGA connection on one end and a VGA connection with PS2 connectors for the mouse and keyboard on the other. The included audio cables are stereo mini-plug patch cables color coded for easy identification that should match up to the colors used by most all motherboard manufacturers.
The instruction guide included with the SV411KA is also included with the SV211KA 2-port switch. Setting up a KVM is very straight forward. Especially this one because there are no drivers or software to install and it supports hot-plugging. This means that to set it up, it is just a matter of plugging in cables and getting to work. As a result, the manual is not that substantial and doesn't need to be.
Here it is in all its flat black glory. Throughout this review, I have talked about StarTech.com as a hardware provider for IT professionals and this means products that don't rely on fancy packages or elaborate color schemes to entice buyers. Instead, they rely on building quality products that blend into your computer setup instead of sticking out like a sore thumb. The SV411KA is no different in this aspect as we can see here.
Like the top of the SV411KA, the rear of the unit is clearly labeled for easy identification of what each connection is for. Like the cables, the audio and microphone connections are color coded. The bottom has four locations where those rubber feet will be attached to give the switch soft feet to sit on a shelf or desk.
On the left side is where our keyboard and mouse will be plugged in. The connections use the standard color coding and are of course labeled with images. On the right side is where a DC adapter is connected. Since the unit does not require a power connection, I am not sure why there is even a DC power input on the SV411KA.
Each PC port is labeled 1 through 4 and has an LED beside the label to indicate which machine on the switch is the active one. The grey button in the lower right hand corner can be used to cycle through the four ports changing the active one. Really, there is not a lot of complication with a KVM but StarTech.com has made this switch even less complicated by labeling everything clearly and the layout should allow for a clean and easy setup. With that said, it is time to set the SV411KA up and see how it handles the 1600×1200 resolution on my Samsung CRT.
Page 5 : Physical Setup
Setting up the StarTech.com SV411KA is very straight forward. There is no install CD and instructions really are not necessary, but of course Startech.com provides a small booklet to walk us through the process.
The first thing we want to do is stick the rubber feet to the underside of the unit as I will have the SV411KA sitting on my glass top desk during the review and its use. There are round grooves where the ‘feet’ belong, so it is just a matter of peeling the rubber footings off the 3M tape and placing them in the center of the circles.
The feet are not necessary, but if your going to have the SV411KA on a hard surface they work well to keep the unit secure. With those in place, I can now run my cables from the monitor, keyboard, mouse, stereo, and microphone. You can see in the photo above that the connections at the back and side of the SV411KA are clearly marked for what goes where.
We now have to connect the three computers I will be using for testing of the StarTech.com unit for the next couple of weeks. In the manual they state that the SV411KA supports hot swapping of PS/2 keyboard and mice but I will have the three computers turned off for setting the unit up. In the testing, I will see how the hot swapping works. With all three machines turned off, we can begin to plug the cables into the back of the switch.
There is also no mention of which ports need to be used in the instructions so I am assuming it will be fine to use any of the four. I will be using port 1, 2, and 4 as that is how the computers are laid out. With the three main VGA cables connected to the switch, it was time to plug in the audio and microphone cables just under the port where the VGA cable is connected.
Now we can turn our attention to the computers that the KVM will be tested with. The first computer is a DFI motherboard setup on my desk. The VGA cables included with the SV411KA connect tight and the screws are easy to secure. What I like most about the included cables are the flat sides on the PS/2 connections to indicate the top of the cable.
These flat tops take the guess work out of plugging them into the PS/2 ports. Older PS/2 connections use to be like this and then for some reason manufacturers decided they needed to smooth them out round and rely on raised images or arrows that are almost impossible to see for those of us that don't have the best vision or work in the dark.
The last machine I will be including in the KVM fun will be that of a Foxconn NF4SK8AA-8EKRS tucked inside the Antec Take 4 rackmount. Again, everything hooks up perfectly and the PS/2 plugs in easy as pie without even moving the case thanks to the flat spot I mentioned earlier. It looks like we are ready to start hitting power switches and do some switching.
Page 6 : Testing
Obviously testing of a KVM switch is not going to involve a suite of benchmarks or time demos. Instead, it will be more of an account of my thoughts on working with the unit for the week and a half that I have had it running with my systems. I will start off by listing the full specs of the three machines that were used in testing.
DFI LanParty UT nF4 Ultra-D
AMD 3000+ Venice @ 295*9 = 2655MHz @ 1.60v
OCZ PEDC 2*1048MB PC4000 @ DDR531
HIS X800GTO 256MB
MGE Magnum 500W
WD Raptor 36.7GB 10,000RPM 8MB Cache
Windows XP Pro SP2
Components spread out across desk
KVM Port #2:
AMD 3000+ Venice @ 270*9 = 2430MHz @ 1.54v
Corsair TWINX 2048-3500LLPRO @ DDR442
Sapphire X700PRO 256MB
Antec SmartPower 2.0 450W
WD 250GB SATA II 16MB Cache
WD 250GB SATA II 16MB Cache
Windows XP Pro SP2
Components mounted in the Antec Take 4
KVM Port #1:
IBM Thinkpad T-22
Samsung 19′ SyncMaster 955DF @ 1600×1200 (DFI/Foxconn) @ 1024×768 (T-22 Laptop)
Logitech Wireless Multimedia Keyboard (PS/2)
Logitech Wireless Optical Scroll Mouse (USB > PS/2)
MS Scroll Wheel Mouse (PS/2)
BenQ X800 Internet Keyboard (PS/2)
StarTech.com SV411KA 4 port KVM switch
For the last 10 days, the laptop and the DFI machines have worked flawlessly with the keyboard, mouse, and monitor. All key combination on the keyboard function and all features of the mouse worked such as the scroll wheel and the thumb button. The simple keyboard shortcut of ‘CRTL – CTRL – 1/2/3/4′ allows for easy switching between the four computers without any kind of software being setup. The number you push after the double CTRL defines which machine you are switching to. In all the time I have spent with the StarTech.com SV411KA, I can't say I noticed a single difference between running through it or going straight to either of these two machines.
The Foxconn powered machine was not quite as fortunate. For whatever reason, the mouse does not consistently work. The keyboard has always worked fine and I can switch to and from this machine and use the keyboard to navigate through windows but the mouse is intermittent. I have checked cable connections, swapped out the cables and tried every single combination of mice and cables I can find with nothing curing the intermittent problem. Sometimes when I boot up the Foxconn machine the mouse works fine with full functionality including thumb button and scroll mouse. Other times it will boot up without the scroll wheel function and sometimes with no mouse function at all. This is with either the Logitech USB to PS/2 optical mouse or the standard MS PS/2 Scroll Mouse.
I have tried with all the machines powered off but the Foxconn, as well as with no other machines plugged into the switch, with no change in symptoms. I double checked the mouse port on the Foxconn bypassing the switch and it works 100% of the time so I am convinced it is just the Foxconn motherboard that is having issues receiving the signal from the SV411KA. I contacted StarTech.com technical support and was greeted by a friendly agent within a minute or two. I explained the situation and asked if they had any previous knowledge of specific motherboards not working with the unit and he advised me that they had not. After a brief look at possible solutions he contacted his support team who informed me that the details of our conversation would be passed on to the production team to ensure that the issue I was experiencing would be looked at in future StarTech.com KVM switches.
At this point I decided to pull out all motherboards I had access to and see if there were any others that did not function with the SV411KA. These motherboards include the Foxconn 6150K8MA-8EKRS, Asus A8V-E Deluxe, Asus A8V Deluxe, MSI K8N NEO4-F, MSI K8N NEO4 Platinum/SLI, DFI NF4 Ultra Infinity and an Asus P5GD1. With all the extra motherboards, not one had an issue with either mouse I was using. So out of 10 motherboards, only the Foxconn NF4SK8AA-8EKRS has an issue with the mouse. This tells me it is something specific with that motherboard and I am confident that pretty much any other motherboard will be perfectly compatible with this KVM switch. Perhaps just my copy of that motherboard is the culprit but it is impossible to tell unless Foxconn was willing to send me another one which I doubt is a likely scenario.
I did some goofing around switching back and forth between machines seeing if I could get the switch to become confused and make an error or mess up the display but it was rock solid even after 20 minutes of constant switching through the 3 different ports. I also did a few heavy gaming sessions to see if there would be any ghosting of the display or mouse with no issues at all. It really is impossible to tell that you are running through a KVM switch with the StarTech.com SV411KA.
Being completely satisfied with the display, keyboard, and mouse switching, I also wanted to test the audio and microphone switching. For this, I simply used Skype, MSN Messenger, JetAudio, and QCD Player. With a call in progress on all three machines I was able to easily switch between computers and talk with all parties with both Skype and MSN Messenger voice chats. The audio actually kicks in first after switching computers with the display a close 1/2 second after. The microphone and audio sounds as it does when plugged directly into a single machine. None of the callers on my three machines complained at all about the microphone quality or even noticed any difference between going through the switch or not. Playing music through JetAudio or QCD did not show any signs that the signal was being passed through a switch to either headphones or my home stereo. Again, there was no discernable difference to be found with the microphone and audio being switched through the SV411KA.
The only other thing I will mention that I found out during the testing period is the keyboards repeat rate when going through the SV411KA switch. It is slow and there is nothing I could find to get it back up to speed. The windows setting is maxed out but the repeat rate feels like its at about half of the full speed. I also went into the BIOS of the motherboards that supported this feature and set the repeat rate there to the maximum with no luck in it speeding up. I guess the repeat rate is just a byproduct of the switch that I am going to have to live with. It's not really a big deal but something I thought was worth mentioning.
Page 7 : Conclusion
What more is there to say? A four port KVM switch that also has the ability to distribute audio and a microphone across four computers in or out of the OS can be the ultimate tool for those of us with multiple systems. I feel as if the last ten days have been a heavenly vacation without having to use VNC to control the other machines on my network.
Sure VNC has very little lag when on the same network but it still cannot compete with a KVM switch. With a quality KVM like the SV411KA, there is absolutely no lag whatsoever. I was worried that mouse lag or stuttering would show up with all three machines on, but it certainly didn't. Even at 1600×1200 the display kept up 100% when gaming and watching movies. The other huge benefit to using this KVM over VNC is the ability to switch between computers outside of Windows allowing me to jump into the BIOS of any of the three machines without swapping a single cable, this is priceless for an overclocker and especially for reviewers.
The audio and microphone abilities surprised me a little bit as I was surely expecting degradation in quality or at least volume but I did not experience either. As wonderful as the StarTech.com SV411KA performed, there was the one major drawback with the Foxconn motherboard. That issue was that the mouse would not work. I mean once in a while when I would boot that machine the mouse worked fine, but only 10% of the time. This is really the only setback, but don't get me wrong, the StarTech.com SV411KA is one heck of a KVM switch.
- Lightning fast hotkey switches
- No lag or delay of any kind
- Indistinguishable audio switching
- OS independent means BIOS control on all machines
- The keyboard repeat rate is slowed
- The mouse problem with one motherboard out of nine
Overclockers Online would like to thank StarTech.com for providing the review sample.
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