I have acquired a new machine which I’m currently using for Linux (Ubuntu) experimentation, bringing my total up to three, so I decided to replace my old 2-port KVM (a cheap one from Ebuyer) with a 4-port Belkin model from Aria.
It came to just over £33 for the Belkin OmniView E-Series KVM (Belkin part number F1DB104P) and four sets of 1.8m cables (part number F3X1105B) – not exactly expensive, but nevertheless I expected it to work properly, especially with the Belkin name.
I connected up my primary system and immediately noticed visible ghosting/shadowing, similar to what I would expect from using unshielded cables. I was surprised as the cables seemed fairly thick and weighed a lot more than the cables which were bundled with my old 2-port. I’m using a Samsung SyncMaster 173s (17″ TFT) running at 1280×1024 pixels with 32-bit colour and a 60Hz refresh rate, driven by a GeForce 5200 card. Interestingly, the ghosting was less noticeable when using a VGA adaptor on the DVI port instead of the VGA port directly, but it was still there.
Belkin have cunningly used a non-standard cable design – whereas all KVMs I have seen use male PS/2 and VGA connectors on both ends, Belkin KVMs require male PS/2s on either end, a male VGA on one end and a female on the other. This makes it difficult to use non-Belkin cables as neither standard male-male KVM cables (as supplied with my previous KVM) nor male-female KVM extension cables can be substituted.
Out of curiosity, I took the KVM out of the equation and used one of the cables as a monitor extension, plugging the male end into my graphics card and the female end into my monitor’s VGA plug. The ghosting still happens, and reading around suggests that the cables aren’t suitable for resolutions above 1024×768 – indeed, lowering my resolution causes the ghosting to disappear, but this is hardly an acceptable solution.
I have considered returning the KVM and cables to Aria, but their online system refuses to issue an RMA for the KVM until I call their 60p/minute technical support line first, and insists that I must contact Belkin in order to return the cables. On top of that, there is a £2.99 testing fee and £6.95 return postage payable per item should they fail to identify a fault, plus the cost of me sending the item to Aria. So it’s not really worth returning the item for the sake of £33, but I’ll certainly learn from this experience and use an alternative supplier in future.
I have ordered both a VGA gender changer (so I can use my old KVM cables) and an SVGA extension cable (instead of the Belkin male-female cable) to see what works best and whether I’m able to solve the problem myself. The two came to just under £7 from Redfish Computing, a company I found through eBay. I won’t recommend them or otherwise until I’ve received the goods (or otherwise!)
Even if I’m able to solve the ghosting, there are still a couple of annoyances with the unit itself. The beep it makes when switching displays as horrible – much louder than my old KVM – and, more seriously, the mouse goes mad when switching from my Windows machine to my Ubuntu box. I haven’t tested my old KVM on this particular Linux machine, so can’t say if it’s only the Belkin’s fault, but I will experiment later. A couple of things you can try is editing /etc/modules (sudo vi /etc/modules) and changing the psmouse line to:
I haven’t been able to get this working 100% yet – sometimes the mouse still loses control when switching, but I am able to use the keyboard to switch to and log in to a text-only session (Ctrl+Alt+F1) then type the following:
sudo modprobe -r psmouse
sudo modprobe -a psmouse
I can then switch back to the graphical X session (Ctrl+Alt+F7) and the mouse works perfectly, until next time I switch.
I’ll keep experimenting and update this post with my findings, but for now I commend you to think very carefully before purchasing from Aria or Belkin.
Update: I haven’t tried this yet, but according to the fantastic SayNoTo0870 website, it may be possible to reach the Aria technical support team via an 0870 or non-geographical landline number as an alternative to the extortionate 0906 number listed on the website.
Update 2: To make it slightly quicker to fix the mouse in Ubuntu, I’ve created a shell script which runs modprobe whenever I type fixmouse. To make your own, type sudo vi /usr/bin/fixmouse and enter the following lines (press ‘i’ first to enter insert mode):
sudo modprobe -r psmouse
sudo modprobe -a psmouse
Then hit Esc, then ‘w’, then ‘q’ to save your changes and quit the editor. Unfortunately you’ll still have to enter your password unless you have sudo’ed recently or are running in an interactive sudo session.
Update 3: I received my VGA extension and gender changer from Redfish promptly, however the new cable exhibited the same ghosting, as did my old KVM cables and a good-quality shielded VGA cable, although in the latter case it could have been the gender changer that was introducing problems. I’ll try another graphics card in my main PC and see if that solves the problem – I suspect it will, as other computers I’ve tried seem not to exhibit the ghosting issue.
I also noticed that the cables Aria recommended were not the same as Belkin recommend on the box, but that’s probably by the by.
In hindsight, although I’d still hesitate to recommend the Belkin, it’s not a bad unit for the price I paid. However, it is still unlikely that I will be purchasing with Aria again, because their premium-rate support line and over-complicated RMA policy is unacceptable in my eyes.
Update 4: I replaced the FX 5200 card with an ATI Radeon 9250, and the ghosting problem has disappeared. Unfortunately, I’m still getting some noticeable artifacts when I’m using my main machine and one of my other machines (with a Radeon 7500 card) is powered on, but at least it’s more acceptable than constant ghosting.