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TMC Labs
March 2000

 

ServSwitch

Black Box
1000 Park Drive
Lawrence, PA 15055-1018
P: 724-746-5500
Web site: blackbox.com

Price: $550 � 2-Port; $675 � 4-Port. Contact Black Box for pricing on other configurations.

Editors' Choice Award

RATINGS (0-5)
Installation: 4.75
Documentation: 4.5
Features: 4.5
GUI: N/A
Overall: A


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.

INSTALLATION
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.

DOCUMENTATION
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.

FEATURES
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 available.

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.

OPERATIONAL TESTING
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 situation.

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 this situation.

CONCLUSION
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 Award.







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