capsule review

PowerKey Pro USB 650

At a Glance
  • Sophisticated Circuits PowerKey Pro USB 650

    Macworld Rating

For complete power control, Sophisticated Circuits offers the PowerKey Pro USB 650, a programmable six-outlet power strip. Mac owners can easily manage the strip either from a computer or remotely via telephone. They can then determine when devices such as Macs, other peripherals, or even lights are on or off. Even better, the PowerKey Pro can restart crashed Macs or relaunch failed applications--a godsend for server administrators and others responsible for unattended Macs.

The PowerKey Pro takes its direction from the well-designed PowerKey 4.1 software, which is now available for OS X, as well as for OS 8.6 through 9.

Fire It Up

With six numbered outlets spaced far enough apart to accommodate most AC adapters, the PowerKey Pro looks like an oversize, translucent blue power strip. Six switches let you turn outlets on and off, and each outlet has an LED that indicates whether it's receiving power. A custom cable connects the PowerKey Pro to a USB Mac, and a standard telephone jack lets you connect it to a phone line for remote management.

The hardware is cool, but the heart of the system is the PowerKey software, where you tell the PowerKey Pro how you want it to behave. For each of the six outlets, you can schedule when the power is on, as well as one-time or recurring events that make your Mac wake up, start up, shut down, or go to sleep. You can also assign systemwide keyboard equivalents to PowerKey actions. For example, with one keystroke, you can turn off power to your printer or turn on a bank of video-production equipment.

Connecting the PowerKey Pro to a telephone line enables you to trigger PowerKey events remotely: you determine how many rings it should wait before answering the line and then designate touch-tone key combinations that effectively serve as passwords for your events--a great feature for off-site administrators who might need to restart a Mac server without driving across town.

Like magic, both scheduled and phone-controlled events work even if your Mac isn't turned on, allowing you to shut down when you leave for vacation and know the PowerKey will turn the office printer on and off each weekday for everyone else while you're away.

Take Control Over Crashes and Restarts

Two versions of the PowerKey Pro are available: the $199 SOHO version includes scheduling, hot keys, and remote management via telephone; the $299 Admin version adds comprehensive logging and the ability to restart your Mac after a system crash or power failure.

In OS 8.6 through 9, the Admin version can attempt to relaunch any application that crashes. And in OS 8.6 through 9 and X, the PowerKey software can also monitor certain server applications directly; no servers support it yet in OS X, but WebStar, LetterRip Pro, Web Server 4D, and others do in OS 8.6 through 9.

If an application crashes frequently, the PowerKey can restart the machine--great for servers and other unattended Macs that must be running 24 hours a day. And if the hardware can't communicate with the software for a set period of time, it can turn off power to your Mac, turn it back on, and then send a restart signal via USB. You can implement a similar method to effectively restart your Mac after a power failure.

These restart features were completely reliable in our testing, but some Macs (iBooks, for example) don't support USB start-up (so you'll want to enable the Restart Automatically After Power Failure energy-saver option), and some USB hubs don't let the start-up signal get all the way to your Mac (so you'll want to test your hub or make sure the PowerKey Pro is connected directly to one of your Mac's USB ports).

Macworld's Buying Advice

The PowerKey Pro USB 650 is reliable, flexible, and elegant. The question is whether power management is worth the premium price. It may not make sense for home users--who should perhaps check out the Kick-Off 1.5 (see "Kick-Off 1.5 Keeps You in the Game")--but it's worth every penny to server administrators and others who manage unattended Macs in offices or labs.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • OS X support
    • Flexible, reliable power management
    • Admin version can restart Macs after crash or power failure

    Cons

    • No support yet from Mac OS X server applications
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