Review: StarTech 4-Port StarView Dual DVI USB KVM Switch

If you’re like me, you like using multiple computers at any given time, but you don’t want to have one monitor (or two) per computer in addition to separate keyboards and mice. I’m a Windows user who wants to take advantage of using both Mac and Linux without extraneous hardware. I don’t need 4 keyboards for 4 desktops, do I? Having the StarTech SV431DVIDDU 4 Port StarView Dual DVI USB KVM Switch with Audioimg, thus, is an opportunity to get the best of both worlds (or three worlds, or four) since I can connect up to four computers via one console to two DVI monitors, a USB mouse, a USB keyboard, and even 2.1 speakers.

First things first: before using this device, you need to get the right hardware for it. Your VGA video cards should definitely also be DVI compatible, and you should have a solid 24-pin DVI cable at the minimum (a 20-pin DVI cable won’t work on any KVM switches from my experience). Furthermore, you need to resolve to use either VGA mode or DVI mode, not both. Most likely, your video card manufacturer has set this limitation, so if you’re planning on testing out functionality like this, you’ll need to do a complete reboot to get full functionality.

Once you get the computers hooked up, though, you’re well on your way to becoming a multitasking guru. I was able to successfully connect a Linux machine using Fedora 11, a Windows XP desktop, a Windows XP laptop, and a Mac Pro to the KVM switch without a hitch, save for a few frustrations with the Linux box (see below). Further, and something I was especially appreciative about, I was able to connect USB devices that aren’t even recommended by their manufacturers, such as the Logitech MX Revolution mouse which is completely wireless. Even on Linux, the mouse just worked. (On Linux, it was actually the only thing that worked flawlessly.)

The Linux box was the only real issue, but if you’re using Windows and Mac, you should be fine. In the graphical user interface, I often ran into horrible blinking of the screen (on, off, on, off) which was not predictable at all. I’m not sure if it was isolated to the graphics card I had or the KVM, but in the end, I plugged the monitor directly into the graphics card and did not encounter the issue any longer. Occasionally, I encountered a “sticky keyboard” in the sense that when I typed on the keys as expected, the computer thought that the keys were still being pressed and I had to interrupt the inputs which would normally stop myself from writing “zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz” or “hhhhhhhhhh.” Again, I’m not sure if this was a KVM or keyboard issue, but it’d be interesting if the latter because I encountered two oddities with the setup.

I don’t have the KVM switch sitting right next to me, so while I can press the buttons to get to another terminal, StartTech has hotkeys that you can use to get access to the desired terminal. For example, to get to my Windows XP machine, which is specified as PC 1, I just needed to rapidly press ScrollLock+ScrollLock+1 (default) or Ctrl+Alt+1. These are user-defined through software, though, in case you have any interest in using an alternative configuration.

What if, say, you use your Linux box like I do, for a “server” rather than a regularly-used OS? When I’m playing music on my XP PC but want to switch over to Linux for some quick diagnostics, I don’t want the sound on my Linux box to take over. That’s fine — you can select a default computer for the music through the software to avoid losing that great song. (Of course, you can also just keep the speakers plugged into the main computer, but we’re talking about unleashing the potential of this StarView KVM switch here).

There are several useful hotkey configurations as well that can be done directly from the keyboard, so you may not need the extra software at all. To that end, the manual comes handy so that you can get familiar with the various options. Once you’ve set up the KVM switch to your desired settings, you no longer will need to use it anymore.

What did I think of output and inputs? As mentioned, it worked with everything except for a computer I use on the command line via SSH anyway. No image was distorted. In the end, the StarTech SV431DVIDDU 4 Port StarView Dual DVI USB KVM Switch with Audioimg was a solid performer for DVI and USB output across multiple devices — with a slight hiccup.

Tamar Weinberg is a blogger and author of The New Community Rules (July 2009), a book on social media marketing and how to leverage existing communities for awareness and profit. She is also a new mom.