Zonet KVM3004 Keyboard, Video and Mouse Switch

Finally got around to ditching my aging serial-AT KV switch (yes, KV - it was so old, it didn't do mice) and replaced it with a rather natty Zonet KVM3004 including four sets of PS/2 KVM cables for less than £19 from Eclipse. That'd be a fair price for a 2-port KVM without cables; to get a four-port KVM with four sets of cables for less than 20 quid is an utter bargain. One set of cables alone would typically set you back eight quid!

For those uninitiated with KVM devices, they basically allow you to plug many computers into one monitor, one keyboard and one mouse. Ideal if you have a desktop computer and a server, for instance, but don't want the extra monitor hanging around taking up space. Basic KVM switches allow just two computers, expensive ones allow eight or sixteen; the Zonet KVM3004 one allows four. In my case, I wanted to attach my desktop Windows computer, my Linux server, my Windows laptop and still have one spare in case I needed to plug in another computer for repair.

The switchbox itself is 19x8x3cm, cheap semi-transparrent blue plastic with monitor output at one end, keyboard and mouse input at t'other, and monitor inputs plus keyboard and mouse outputs down both sides. In other words, cables sticking out at all angles. It's not exactly large, but with all the cables connected and sticking out from all sides, it definitely can't be left on a desk, and would still be untidy if mounted on the wall (there are no screw holes to do so, even if you wished).

So, definitely something that stays amongst the spaghetti under your desk, which makes me wonder why they bothered to have a "Select" button, although to be fair the button it was useful for testing when plugging in the cables. All the sockets are colour-coded and distinguishable to my red-green-colourblind eyes, so no confusion over which are the mouse sockets and which the keyboard.

As with most modern KVMs, the current computer in use can be selected by a special keyboard combination as well as the "Select" button. The manual supplied claimed that either the Scroll Lock or Num Lock key could be used; double-tap either then press 1,2,3 or 4 to select the computer. In reality I found that only the Num Lock key actually worked, which was a bit of a pain since I do actually use Num Lock on my desktop PC to activate MouseKeys when I've forgotten to charge the batteries on my wireless mouse. On the plus side, the KVM switch does remember the state of Num Lock on each computer; so you can switch between, say, a desktop where you want Num Lock normally on, and a laptop where you definitely always want Num Lock off, and the Zonet KVM does remember the settings for each no matter how many times you swap back and forth.

Another minor niggle and contradiction is that the manual claims you can turn off the "beep" that accompanies the special key activation, whereas in reality, no matter how closely I follwed the instructions, the beep remained resolutely on. The beep itself is quiet and unobtrusive, even on a quiet night, so I'm not too bothered about that.

The supplied cables are excellent. They're quite long - two metres (over six feet) each. Each set has two PS/2 and one SVGA cable moulded together, then split off about 20cm from each end, with a reinforced ring to prevent the cables being split any further. Thumbscrews are included on the SVGA plugs. The cables also appear to be screened - the SVGA part of them, at any rate. To find what are essentially free cables to be of such high quality and useful length is very, very impressive.

High resolutions and high refresh rates are the known bane of the KVM switch, and I'm delighted to report that the Zonet KVM3004 performed excellently and beyond my expectations. Absolutely no ghosting and no complaints at 1280x720 at 85hz, a crystal clear picture, as good as plugging the computer directly into the monitor. Superb. Higher resolutions also seemed to be supported.

Price in computing is, naturally, related to modernity, and there's no getting away from the fact that PS/2 connectors are being phased out in favour of USB. A delight, therefore, to discover that the cables and KVM are compatible with USB to PS/2 adaptors, and indeed worked flawlessly and without drivers when I connected such to my laptop (Eclipse threw in a dual PS/2 to single USB dongle for three quid).

Performance is excellent all round, and I can forgive the manual's foibles simply on the grounds of value. To get a 4-port KVM switch with four (count 'em, four) complete sets of high-quality 2-metre long cables, all for less than twenty quid, is a fabulous deal.

Public Domain - Andrew Oakley - 2007-02-06

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