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Belkin Omniview 4-Port KVM Switch 26th October 2002

Just in from Belkin is their new 4-Port KVM switch with audio. Belkin are famous for their KVM switches particularly in the corporate environment and this is the latest in their Omniview range. We did a variety of tests to see how responsive it was and to switch during critical times to see how it coped.

The package came with 4 sets of cables although these are usually purchased separately. This is a good thing as it allows you to select the number and type of cables (you may only have 2 computers for example but buy a 4-port KVM switch with a view to future expansion and may only need 2 sets of cables for the moment).

Here you see the contents of the box which include cables for connecting to your PC to allow a flash upgrade of the firmware should you be so inclined. The stand looks a bit small and it is difficult to balance the switch on its stand until you attach the cables, then it becomes very stable and wont fall over without a firm push. The plastic cover is well designed not only looking good in place but expanding towards the end to accommodate the increasing number of cables as you reach the opening. In practice it fitted without any problems with all the cables in place (4 switched + console) although we did go to great lengths to ensure there were no tangled wires. There was no need to bend any cables at untoward angles to get the cover on.

Here's a view from the business end and the one users will become most familiar with. An orange light shows which channel is active and each button is embossed with its associated number of dots which will be of benefit to the visually impaired or in low light conditions. We tested the switch with 4 PCs of various configurations and it switched flawlessly between them without hiccup although the beep that accompanies each button press is a bit on the loud side but this may not be a bad thing if you have 4 PCs on at once (20+ fans blowing in our case). Occasionally the mouse appeared to freeze for about half a second but this is probably down to it being in motion whilst switching. We had MP3s running on all 4 machines and switched between them without audible glitches (no crackling or popping noises) which is not the case with some other manufacturers where it's usually a good idea to turn the volume down before switching to avoid any possible damage to speakers.

The above image shows all of the connections in the device and they can be conveniently tucked away behind the back cover. All connections are color-coded and match the Belkin wires. The most noticeable difference with most switches is the inclusion of Audio out and Microphone sockets to enable full use of multimedia PCs through this switch. Desktop Video users will find this feature particularly useful and so will gamers with more than one rig.

We tested the device thoroughly and found only one small glitch - a noticeable fizz or dot crawl with one of the machines. However, after investigation we found this to be the case with a direct connection and was undoubtedly caused by a combination of the onboard Intel graphics and a high screen resolution. Each lead is separate (i.e. VGA, mouse, keyboard and audio are not joined together) so users who wish to substitute their own lead (high quality VGA lead or HiFi quality audio lead) can do so just by substituting one part without affecting the other leads to that channel.

The ultimate test was switching to and from one machine that was capturing video in uncompressed AVI format (18MB/s sustained throughput required). No amount of furious switching would cause even one frame to be dropped and if you know how easy it is to drop frames just by bringing a window to the foreground you will realize how impressive this feat is.

Conclusion

We can't really find fault with this product - Belkin is the big name in the KVM market for good reason by providing durable and reliable products and this latest switch is no exception. It looks more stylish than previous models but really brings KVM switches into the multimedia age by catering for switched audio and should appeal more to the home office and even consumer markets with this new look and functionality. The connectors are very sturdy and the cables are of a good thickness and quality to compensate for any signal loss due to the increased overall length the signal has to travel. Even with the full quota of PCs we did not need to use the optional DC power input nor was there a reason to flash the BIOS.

This isn't the cheapest switch on the market but it seems you can't go wrong with Belkin and this product will give you many years of trouble-free use backed up with Belkin's excellent customer service - we highly recommend it.

Our thanks to the PR Team at Belkin UK for providing us with these review samples.

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