MasterConsole IIs connects multiple CPUs to one monitor




Like many other users, I enjoy being in control of lots of systems. But the
clutter of monitors, mice and keyboards recently started to get to me. I needed to
simplify.


Before installing Raritan Computer Inc.’s MasterConsole IIs, I had five monitors
crowding three desks.


Now, I have one monitor and two clean desks.


The MasterConsole box, commonly referred to as a KVM switch, has keyboard, video and
mouse interfaces plus cables for multiple CPUs.


To ensure that all the computers function properly, MasterConsole keeps all three KVM
ports active. If you think that’s not important, just unplug your keyboard or try to
boot your computer without a mouse plugged in. Plug-and-play systems want everything
connected.


MasterConsole supports not only PCs but a mixture of Apple Macintoshes and Sun
Micro-systems Inc., Digital Alpha, SGI and other workstations.


My eight-port test unit had channel-selection membrane buttons for switching between
the different CPUs. Sometimes when I pushed one of the buttons, MasterConsole did not
change CPUs. A Raritan official confirmed that this is a known mechanical problem with
some units.


The front panel is not the only place to switch channels, however. Press Scroll Lock
twice on the keyboard and a small window will pop up. Click an arrow key or punch a number
to choose the CPU you want.


The alternative is handy for touch typists who don’t want to remove their fingers
from the keyboard.


A double Scroll Lock press also will bring up the MasterConsole features. Each channel
can be named uniquely in case you forget which unit is on which channel. You can set
MasterConsole to scan channels at a chosen delay rate—useful for administrators who
want to make a quick visual check of multiple servers.


There is no software to install. The keyboard, video and mouse connect to MasterConsole
directly, and the KVM switch intercepts when you hit Scroll Lock twice. The switch adds
its own video signal so you can see its menu. Hit the Escape key, and MasterConsole
disappears from the foreground.


I connected multiple PCs running basic VGA graphics all the way up to 1,280- by
1,024-pixel resolution. In combination with a good monitor, MasterConsole did a fine job,
although I wish the control window were a bit bigger at the higher resolutions.


Raritan sells KVM cables bundled together to make the wire-wrangling more manageable.
Cables come in 2- to 10-meter lengths, and there are labels to identify which channel
connects to which PC. Four- and 16-channel switches and rackmount versions also are
available.


Switches can cascade for access to as many as 256 computers.


If MasterConsole’s mechanical problems had not hampered full control, the unit
would have received my full endorsement. 


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