Why I don’t recommend the Belkin OmniView E-Series 4-port KVM


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.

Fixing Ubuntu shutdown problem

Some users, myself included, have had problems getting Ubuntu 5.10 (Breezy Badger) to restart correctly. When attempting to reboot my machine, it instead powered off – not ideal if I want to restart the machine from a remote location!

This thread details a number of possible solutions. One of which is to type the following line into a console:

sudo vi /boot/grub/menu.lst

and edit the following section (or similar), adding the italicised changes:

title Ubuntu, kernel 2.6.12-9-386
root (hd0,0)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-2.6.12-9-386 root=/dev/hda1 ro noacpi nolacpi quiet splash
initrd /boot/initrd.img-2.6.12-9-386

After a restart (or power off/on), the restart functionality should work as expected. You can also try adding reboot=h as well as, or in place of, noacpi nolacpi.

Unfortunately none of this worked for me, but turning the ACPI feature off on my motherboard (an MSI 6330) did – I assume I’m losing some power saving functionality by doing this but I’m not too concerned as it’s a desktop machine, not a laptop.

Really Slick Screensavers


Really Slick Screensavers is a collection of particularly nice-looking screensavers for Windows. There are also ports available for Mac OS X and Linux users. My favourite, pictured above, is SolarWinds (apparently no connection to the network monitoring software of the same name).

Unfortunately there seems to be a bug in Ubuntu Linux 5.10 (Breezy Badger) which prevents the Linux port of RSS from functioning correctly (the screensavers don’t appear in XScreensaver), so my Linux box is running Fireflies which is just as nice and also available for Windows and OS X. For Ubuntu users it should be as simple as downloading the Debian package and running sudo dpkg -i fireflies_2.05-1_i386.deb to install.

Recycle faulty RAM sticks in your Linux box

I’ve built a Linux box from my spare parts bin, but unfortunately two out of the three 128MB RAM sticks I have are faulty. Fortunately, an enterprising Linux hacker by the name of Rick van Rein has built a kernel patch which allows Linux users to mark faulty areas of RAM so that they are never accessed, similar to the way that bad sectors on hard drives can be marked unusable. You can read more at the BadRAM site.

Unfortunately, enabling BadRAM support requires recompiling the kernel, which is a daunting procedure for non-technical users. However, Ubuntu users might find this thread helpful.

“Domain Registry of America” scam

I’ve just received a letter from the “Domain Registry of America” (scam site URL) warning me that the expiry date of one of my domains is approaching. This is nothing but a scam which attempts to trick unsuspecting users into “renewing” their domain with DROA (i.e. transferring their registration to them) for up to 5 years. My advice is to either renew your domain with your existing registrar or let it expire.

The letter reads as follows:

As a courtesy to domain name holders, we are sending yiou this notification of the domain name registration that is due to expire in the next few months. When you switch today to the Domain Registry of America, you an take advantage of our best savings. Your registration for: *****.com will expire on June 07, 2006. Act today!

Domain name: *****.com
Reply Requested By: April 7, 2006

You must renew your domain name to retain exclusive rights to it on the Web, and now is the time to transfer and renew your name from your current Registrar to the Domain Registry of America. Failure to renew your domain name by the expiration date may result in a loss of your online identity making it difficult for your customers and friends to locate you on the Web.

Privatization of Domain Registrations and Renewals now allows the consumer the choice of Registrars when initially registering and also when renewing a domain name. Domai nname holders are not obligated to renew their domain name with their current Registrar or with the Domain Registry of America. Review our prices and decide for yourself. You are under no obligation to pay the amounts stated below, unless you accept this offer. This notice is not a bill, it is rather an easy means of payments should you decide to switch your domain name registration to the Domain Registry of America.

The letter goes on to offer me the choice of renewing my domain for one, two or five years, for £18, £30 or £55 respectively, and also offers the .net and .org variants for £30 each for 2 years.

Looks like exactly the same standard letter that was sent to this blogger a little over a year ago. Steer clear!

Fix Logitech keyboard annoyances

Ben Pope has created a registry file for Windows which fixes a few annoying features of newer Logitech keyboards. By remapping keyboard scancodes, it effectively inverts the effect of the “F-Lock” key so that the F1-F12 keys work as standard function keys when F-Lock is off. This means you don’t have to turn F-Lock on every time you boot your computer or restart Windows.

The registry patch also remaps some of the media keys to return the Windows standard keycodes, which for me has stopped the annoying behaviour of the “Play/Pause” key which will sometimes start playing my current Winamp track from the beginning instead of pausing it as expected.

There are two caveats, though – firstly, it will only work when connecting the keyboard via PS/2, not USB (I’ve never seen the point of wasting a USB port when there is a dedicated keyboard port anyway), and it will cause you to lose functionality of some of the special keys.

I’m beginning to think I’d be better off with a “cheap and cheerful” keyboard rather than any of Logitech’s or Microsoft’s current offerings – anything with a standard keyboard layout, no F-Lock key, and play/pause and volume control will do the job.