When StarTech.com released their latest line of professional KVM (keyboard, video & mouse) switches last year, it was a notable announcement for people that wanted to clear some space off their desktops. Even though the overall design wasn’t packing any frills, it was still the first product of its type to be compatible with computers and monitors that used DisplayPort connectivity. Moreover, not a single adapter cable was needed in the setup, which was another rare feature at the time.
What do you actually use a KVM switch for? Multitasking across multiple computers. Instead of having to make room at your cubicle or home workspace for several different computers and laptops, a KVM switch lets you control each system from a single monitor. That means you can shove your two Mac Pros into a far corner of your workspace, connect them both to a KVM switch, and give all your space to that gorgeous new 30-inch monitor you’ve been bragging about. Or (more realistically), you can have two Mac minis sharing the same monitor on your desk and use the KVM to effortlessly switch back and forth between the two computers on the fly.
StarTech.com’s 2 Port USB DisplayPort KVM Switch is little more than a black box with a few buttons and a handful of ports for all your systems. Both of the connected computers will each use up a DisplayPort port and a USB port, while the remaining DisplayPort supports your main monitor. There’s also a trio of other USB ports that you can use to connect your mouse, keyboard, and a USB hub, so there’s a built-in solution for printers, external USB hard drives, and other devices. While that’s a lot of cables to be running between computers (none of which are included with the KVM switch), your mileage may vary depending on your organization skills.
Setting up the KVM switch was hassle-free after finding all the right cables, and I saw no sign of glitches or dropped connections when flipping from my MacBook Pro to our lab’s Mac Pro. Also, StarTech.com’s KVM switch features “hotkey swapping,” so you don’t have to be physically right next to the box if you choose. Just use a very simple keystroke provided by the manual, and you can freely alternate between computers with nothing more than your USB-connected keyboard.
For what it’s worth, seeing the content from my 15inch MacBook Pro (1280 by 800 pixels) on a high-definition display (supported at 2560 by 1600 pixels) looks fantastic due to the DisplayPort connectivity. Even when mirroring the displays, there wasn’t a dramatic loss in sharpness. With the increase in crisp visuals and vibrancy, this is a great solution for people who deal with a lot of graphics and video, and running a dual display set-up with this KVM switch would work fine for people who need the extra monitor’s expanded real estate.
The only major problem I’ve noticed with the KVM switch is pretty Macintosh-specific. If you have a device plugged into the USB hub, it will force eject if you don’t tether it to one of your connected computers. On a PC, this wouldn’t be a problem, since ejecting a USB flash drive or other device is as simple as pulling it out of the port. On a Mac, you’ll always have to eject the device before switching systems, or just plug your USB drive/external drive into the rear ports on your computers. Forget to do that, and you’ll start racking up error messages pretty quickly. While it would be nice if the KVM switch would eject the device for you, I think that’s asking for a little more than what the technology is actually capable of doing.
Macworld’s buying advice
At $220, StarTech’s 2 Port USB DisplayPort KVM Switch definitely isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it for professionals who need a flawless solution for connecting two computers to a high-end monitor without constantly switching cables. In addition to the versatility offered by the USB connectivity, the DisplayPort compatibility has great potential to provide crisp, clear visuals for various projects. Just make sure you have all the right cables handy, since the cost of new ones can add up quickly.
[McKinley Noble is a Macworld editorial intern.]