|ServSwitch by Black Box is a monitor and
peripheral-sharing device for computers with VGA and USB ports. As USB
grows in popularity on both the Windows and Macintosh sides of the fence,
there is a growing need for devices in this market. ServSwitch fills that
need. It is both a space-saving and money-saving measure, which means that
multiple computers can share a monitor and USB devices such as printers,
scanners, and drives, regardless of platform.
ServSwitch is a hardware-only piece of equipment. There is no software to
install, no GUI to worry about � it�s all about making sure the
connections are right. Since everything is clearly marked, installing the
jacks into the proper plugs is no more difficult than setting up a new PC.
For the basic set-up, a non-technical user will have no problems properly
plugging in the cables. The only items that a novice would have trouble
configuring might be the Hotkeys or the DIP on the bottom of the unit.
Installation is a breeze; it�s the epitome of plug-and-play. Windows
users might even realize how easy Macintosh users have it, when they see
how easy it is to install ServSwitch.
We unpacked the product, installed the AC adapter, and plugged it into
the outlet. We then plugged one of the cables from the ServSwitch into the
PC. We plugged the keyboard, mouse, and monitor into the ServSwitch, and
we were done. It actually took much longer to install the appropriate
software for the scanner and camera (not to mention setting up the
printer) than it did to configure the ServSwitch. It doesn�t get any
easier than this.
The lone manual that comes with ServSwitch is a 36-page booklet. We found
it very helpful, especially because it contains adequate illustrations and
examples, as well as all the configuration specifications. The chapters
(Specifications, Introduction, Configuration, Installation, Operation, and
Troubleshooting) cover all areas of the unit and are very thorough.
Although there is no documentation on the Web, we wanted to mention
that Black Box�s Web site is very
good. It is easy to navigate, contains a lot of great information, and
when we wanted to customize our our ServSwitch purchase (more on that
below), we were given several choices.
Black Box has a reputation for developing excellent products, including
many hard-to-find items. (Their catalog is at least as big as a telephone
book!) Black Box gives users the option to order their devices � la
carte, customizing cables, and the number of ports. ServSwitch is
available in 2, 4, 8, 12, and 16 port models, and in three different
chassis styles (mini, slim, and full).
The product allows Macintosh commands to work on the PC keyboard, (and
vice versa). It also features an optional remote control module, which
works with the 4 and 8 port models. This gives you control of the
ServSwitch from up to 50 feet away. Also, cables up to 100 feet long are
Other features include:
- Support for the three-button mouse and Microsoft IntelliMouse.
- Availability of rackmount kits and ServSwitch racks.
- LED display on the front panel of device.
- Autoscan of ports monitor USB activity.
Black Box recommends that you call their technical support department
for compatibility issues regarding laptop and notebook computers.
We tested the 4-Port ServSwitch USB Plus (model #KV824A), which has the
ability to connect to four CPUs and three USB devices. We hooked the
ServSwitch to our E-Machines etower, which has a USB jack both on the
front and back.
We used a hodge-podge of different USB devices: a scanner, a printer,
and camera of suspicious origin. (Actually, the camera was an Intel camera
from the Create and Share package.) The point here was to play Art
Director for a day, and to work with all the devices in a real-world
We set up the ServSwitch, plugged in the peripherals, and powered them
on. Since we had previously installed the appropriate software for the
scanner and camera on the PC, all that was left to do was boot up the
machines. Things worked seamlessly, and all of our peripherals operated
exactly as if they were plugged directly into the PC.
This device would be a great help in a production department,
especially one that runs both Windows machines and Macintosh computers.
Both machines can share the same monitors, and the standard Windows
104/105 keyboards can be used to perform the Macintosh commands. (The
older model 101/102 Windows keyboards are unable to perform the Macintosh
keyboard commands.) The keyboard mappings to perform Apple commands on the
PC keyboard worked flawlessly.
Finally, we unplugged a USB item, and rebooted the PC. When we plugged
it back in, the computer had not uninstalled the drivers, and was able to
recognize the device. This is helpful and saves time when the item is
plugged back into the ServSwitch.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
We can only find a few legitimate room for improvement issues with
ServSwitch by Black Box. A solid item, it does exactly what it is supposed
to do, without a lot of complications, or bells and whistles. Plus, it�s
a neat and unobtrusive-looking box.
ServSwitch doesn�t fare well with legacy items, however. It doesn�t
work with the 9-pin serial port mouse, or the old-fashioned DB-9 keyboard
connectors. Also, an old-school (ADB) Macintosh keyboard won�t work on
the ServSwitch, but one of the newer USB keyboards that Apple now makes
will indeed work with the ServSwitch.
Most Windows machines won�t automatically detect a USB keyboard
without receiving a signal from a standard PS/2 keyboard, but this can be
remedied by a few hacks. GHOST Emulator gives the users a chance to solve
the problem without having to hook up a second keyboard (which would
defeat the purpose of the ServSwitch). Although this is not an issue that
can be improved by Black Box, it�s important to make the reader aware of
ServSwitch is a solid, platform-independent device for hooking up several
USB items to one (or multiple) machines, or several PCs to one monitor.
Every test we ran performed flawlessly, and Black Box has delivered a
product that wholeheartedly deserves to receive our Editor�s Choice