KVM switches can be useful for some folks. Like me who has three PCs in the basement, it’s a lot easier to be able to connect them to a KVM and interface with them using one set of controls and one monitor. When doing installs of fresh systems or testing out equipment, I don’t have to go and purchase more than one high end monitor by having everything funnel through the KVM. Most of the ones I’ve used though were pretty basic with PS/2 connections and VGA inputs. IOGEAR though has come out with an impressive KVM switch that’s geared towards gamers and HTPC users and its one heck of a peripheral.
The GCS1784 is a four port KVM switch that supports DVI-D Dual Link inputs and 7.1 sound. Yes, you read that right. You can hook up to four computers with digital video connections and 7.1 surround sound to this puppy and have it all be controlled at one place. A quick look at the features includes:
- One console controls four computers
- 2-port USB 2.0 peripheral hub [ backward compatible with USB 1.1 ]
- Share a 7.1 audio surround sound system
- Asynchronous hotkey switching between KVM focus, USB peripheral, and Audio ports
- Switching "Beep", mutable via hotkeys
- Complete keyboard and mouse emulation for error free booting and real-time switching
- IOGEAR's Display Emulation Technology reads and remembers the monitor's parameters (EDID) so the user doesn't experience delays or change in video resolution when switching between or booting computers
- Supports MAC keyboards and special keys
- Maximum video resolutions:
- DVI-D Dual link: 2560 x 1600
- DVI-D Single link: 1920 x 1200
- Supports Special monitors to 3840 x 2400
- Full support for DDC, DDC2, and DDC2B monitors
- Firmware upgradeable
- DVI compatible, HDCP Compliant
- Out-of-Box solution including all cabling
The GCS1784 is a pretty thin box for what you can plug into. The front has four LEDs for each port and buttons to select each one. The design is a sleek silver tab cover that makes the front panel look pretty flat. The LEDs give you some status on what you are controlling as well as what ports are active. On the lower left are headphone and mic jacks as well as a USB 2.0 port. For those that use headphones, having the jacks in the front make it pretty convenient to plug and unplug when necessary. If you want to share USB peripherals, the front USB connector also makes it convenient as well to interchange USB products. The USB port supports high-speed USB products as I was able to plug in a few USB thumbdrives and transfer items at a good speed and no notice came up saying to plug the item into a high speed port. The front design of the GC1784 is simplistic and clean making it nice to look at as well as presenting you with all the functionality you need.
Once you go to the back, you’ll see a massive array of connections. The “console” area, or the connections you’ll need to your main controllers and monitor, is marked with a grey faceplate. To accomplish the 5.1 or 7.1 sound compatibility, six audio jacks are available to plug into computer speaker systems that support that number of connections. Everything is labeled cleanly so you know exactly what you need to plug where and the audio jacks are color coded as well. Two USB-A ports are here for you to plug your mouse and keyboard in.
Moving on down the line to the right of the console area, you’ll see four identical connection setups for the computers you want to control. To save space, there’s one USB-B port that will handle all the USB traffic to the satellite computers. The rest are pretty much the same as the console with six audio ports and one Dual-Link DVI connector.
What’s great about the setup is all the cables necessary are included by IOGEAR so you don’t have to purchase any additional items to connect four computers to the KVM switch. The video cable also houses a one audio connector, one mic connector and one USB cable. One end of the USB cable, of course, is USB-B to connect to the switch while the other end is the normal USB-A type connector that will go into your computer. If you don’t have a 5.1 or 7.1 sound card on one of your computers, IOGEAR has smartly made these connections separate from the main cable. That way you don’t have to plug them in or have them hanging and taking up more room. All the cables are of good length measuring about six feet so you can keep your computers at a good distance from the switch. Also, most of the them have caps on the ends that are also attached to the cable so they protect the connectors; a very nice touch.
For controlling the setup, you just need a USB mouse and keyboard. If you only have the PS/2 style, no problem as IOGEAR has supplied converter cables from PS/2 to USB for you as well. Having used PS/2 KVMs I’m really appreciate the USB ones and I haven’t run into any issues with switching between computers and not having the keyboard or mouse work. I’ve ran into this a few times with other KVM switches but the GC1784 worked like a charm switching between computers.
When switching between computers, you can use the front buttons or keyboard hotkeys which can be convenient. Pressing and releasing the front button will switch to the port you select but only the mouse will be active. Holding the button down a little bit releasing will then activate the keyboard to the active port. Being able to have the keyboard work on a different port was helpful at one point. When installing some software I had to grab the serial key for one of my products. I set the cursor active in the textbox to enter in the key and then did a quick switch to my other computer with the serial number on the screen. I was able to type the serial key in while viewing the active screen and have the keyboard interact with the computer that was currently on another port.Switching between computers is pretty quick though with a delay only about a second going from one computer to the next. What’s great about the device is that it remembers the resolution of each setup so you don’t have to go fiddling around with it. When you switch you hear a beep, which is muteable, letting you know you’re going on to a different computer.
I did run into some compatibility issues though. For starters, I first used a Microsoft SideWinder X5 mouse along with a Microsoft X6 keyboard plugged into the back of the switch. The keyboard worked fine but for some reason the mouse would only move left and right. For the life of me I couldn’t get it to move up or down either by re-plugging it in the back or resetting the switch. When I moved the connection from the back to the front though, the mouse worked fine. I tried a Logitech G9 mouse in the rear port and had no problems. So, there might be some hardware compatibility issues with the rear USB console ports as I found one issue with one of my gaming products.
My Windows mobile phone has the ability to act as a flash drive when plugged into a USB port. Plugging my phone into the front of the GCS1784 seemed to work at first as my phone asked if I wanted to initiate ActiveSync or emulate a drive. Choosing the drive option, I waited for a removable storage option to appear in the My Computer area. Nothing happened and it seemed to have installed the drivers correctly as well. When I plugged the phone straight into the computer with the same port, everything worked fine however.
The two certainly aren’t show stoppers but it does go on to show that not everything might be compatible. The nice thing though about the unit is that it does support a firmware upgrade so hopefully IOGEAR will be releasing updates for the problems that they or their consumers find.
If you are going to be using the switch as part of a setup where it’s connected to a large screen TV, you can be assured that watching any DRM HD video will be possible as the company has assured me that product is HDCP compliant. Just grab a DVI to HDMI connector and you should be good to go. With the ability to transmit up to 7.1 surround sound from any of the satellite computers, you’ll also be enjoying the audio quality without sacrificing lost speakers with the GCS1784.
Seeing a 4 port DVI 7.1 surround sound USB switch, I can see some gamers benefitting from this product. If you’re one of those that play a multiple amount of accounts on an MMORPG like World of Warcraft or Everquest, you can hook up multple computers to the switch and be able to go from one computer to another with just a single control setup and retain the resolution and sound that’s essential to a great gaming experience. The GCS1784 can suppor the high resolutions of some high end LCD monitors so you won’t be limited in that area. When I was switching between my various setups, the picture quality remained great and I couldn’t tell from an eyeball test any difference going through the switch or going straight into the computer. Colors and clarity did not seem to suffer when using the GCS1784.
The one thing I didn’t like, and it’s a small issue, is that the power connecter for the GCS1784 is a large box shape on the end. For those with powerstrips, it can take up some room. I would’ve liked to have seen a normal sized plug but again it’s a small issue.
Another thing I would have like to have seen is some connectors for optical S/PDIF that’s available on some sound cards. I have all my computers plugged into my Logitech speakers this way eliminating th need for five connections and it would help clean up the setup.
For the most part, the GCS1784 KVM switch from IOGEAR worked out very well in connecting my various computers with high-end video and sound cards and delivering control over all of them. The compatibility issues are a little concern as I’m sure not everyone has access to the various hardware items I do if something should not work correctly. The one thing that will set this product back though is its hefty price of $799. Yes, you read that right. It’s definitely not one that’s going to be affordable by many though. What you do get is a high quality KVM with all the cables you’ll ever need and support for high resolutions and up to 7..1 surround sound.