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Keyboard/video/mouse (KVM) switches are a necessary accessory for server rooms, lab environments, Help desks, and any place multiple computers exist and space is limited. Antiquated manual switches have given way to intelligent devices, which boast new features that increase reliability and productivity.
Keyboard and mouse emulation—a must-have feature for most environments—ensures that all connected devices can boot without the errors that an unplugged keyboard or mouse usually generate. Basic KVM switches consist of one master keyboard, a video and mouse port, and two or more sets of ports that let you switch between systems. Typically, you switch by pressing a button on the switchbox or a hot-key sequence on the keyboard. Additional valuable features are onscreen display, scanning, concurrent multiple-user access, multiplatform CPU support, and audio switching. Some KVM switches use Category 5 UTP cabling and consist of a master console, transmitters, and receivers to transmit KVM signals for remote control capabilities. Each controlled system still requires KVM cables that run from the back of the system to the console or transmitter. If you don't want to manage a lot of cables, you can choose a box-free solution that uses an internal PCI card and one cable for each controlled system. Another feature you might want to consider is the KVM switch's ability to pass a high-resolution video signal without signal degradation.
With so many KVM choices available, you can narrow your options by deciding how many devices you need to switch among, how many concurrent users you need to connect (and the distance of those users from the main console), and the maximum video resolution you'll use. Most devices employ programmable hot keys for switching, but make sure that the device you select has at least one key sequence that doesn't conflict with another function in your organization. If you need to support many systems, you'll most likely need to cascade multiple KVM switches. In that case, look at how clean the cascading process is for both implementation and operation. In addition to the device's features, you need to consider form factor, cable quality, and ease of use.
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