USB Share Switch Review

April 13, 2005

imageIf you’re a regular reader of this site, you’re doubtless familiar with my ongoing battle with DVI/USB KVM switches.

Since I finally came to the conclusion that DVI switches just aren’t ready for prime-time yet, I decided to bite the bullet and add a second monitor for my secondary machine (a Windows box I use mostly for testing; my main machine is a PowerBook).

Unfortunately, that still left me with the USB switching issue; it’s a lot easier for me to accomodate two monitors than it is for me to accomodate two keyboards and mice.  Also, I occasionally find it handy to switch the printers I use back and forth between machines as well.

Enter the “USB Share Switch”.

Life was a lot simpler when we were just switching VGA and PS/2 keyboards and mice.  On the KVM switch threads, many people reported USB switching problems as well—keyboard-switching not working, intermittent keyboards and mice, bootup issues, etc.

The keyboard-switching (making the device switch based on certain keystrokes) seems to be a major problem, so I wanted a manual switch that didn’t even try to interpret keystrokes.

The device I found (from SewellDirect) is labeled as a “USB 2.0 Manual Share Switch Hub”.  The price was $29.95 plus shipping.

This thing couldn’t be more simple or straightforward.  It is basically a 4 port USB 2.0 hub, with two PC connections instead of one, and a pushbutton to switch between them.

Physically, it’s pretty much the same dimensions as a standard “mini” hub, about the length and width of a deck of cards, and slightly thinner.  It has a “wall-wart” transformer about 1” x 1” x 2”, which thoughtfully mounts perpendicular to the outlet, to keep from covering additional outlets.

I have a Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse plugged into one port, an HP inkjet into another, a label printer into a third, and a spare for later use.  My powerbook is plugged into one PC port, and my Windows box is plugged into another.

This thing works a treat—thus far I’ve had no problems with it.  Both the PC and the Mac recognize the devices instantly on switch, and it appears to be recognized as a fully 2.0 compliant device (the PC used to bitch that the KVM wasn’t 2.0).

I’ve had no keyboard or mouse stuttering or freezing issues, no problems rebooting either machine, and the PC has not once so far “lost” the keyboard or mouse.

The only slight negative I have with it is that the switch is “soft” to the touch, and there is no audible feedback, so sometimes I’m not sure for a second whether I actually pressed it hard enough.  Not a big deal, just a minor annoyance.

On the whole, I couldn’t be much happier with this.  If you’re looking for a USB switching solution, I’d recommend this highly.

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4 Responses to “USB Share Switch Review”

  1. PVictory on August 12th, 2005 10:43 pm

    I’ve read up on a few of the other discussions about those DVI KVMs and I liked what one user (didn’t note who) suggested about using the D-sub connector on the monitor to switch the video and a switch like this for everything else. One of the immediate problems that got pointed out with a switch like this is the difficulty in changing BIOS settings or using a bootloader to select from multiple operating systems.

    Have you experimented with either of these to see if it intereferes? Has anybody?

  2. PVictory on August 13th, 2005 12:41 am

    I suppose another good thing to ask about is whether or not it requires any fancy software or whatnot. I’ve seen some USB switches that have either proprietary drivers or an actual client that needs to run. One machine I’d like to use this on is a Linux machine and I’m hoping it’s as transparent as possible.

    Also in reference to transparency: Do you notice any loss of special features/buttons/keys from the keyboard or mouse?

  3. Chuck Lawson on August 13th, 2005 3:35 am

    I don’t switch using the D-sub connector; I finally sprang for a second DVI monitor. But I do use the switch described above.

    It seems to be completely transparent; the only issue I have is that I have to switch back to the PC when I reboot it, or it gets a “keyboard not found” error in post (I haven’t bothered looking for a bios setting to disable the error).

    The Mac doesn’t even care about that much — it boots fine with the keyboard and mouse switched away, and finds them when they’re switched in (it does take it about 2 seconds).

    There are no drivers of any kind with this, proprietary or otherwise.

    It appears to be essentially the equivilent of swapping a USB hub back and forth between the machines by plugging and unplugging it, just made easy with a pushbutton switch.

    I’m using this at the moment with a Microsoft wireless kbd and mouse; both the Mac and PC drivers for them recognize them and enable all of the appropriate features.

    – Chuck

  4. Kevin Purcell on September 18th, 2005 7:23 pm

    One issue I’ve had with my IOGear GCS104U USB/VGA switch — which doesn’t do USB emulation; it just switches USB connections — is that if I put any of my Macs to sleep then switch the KVM away from the slept Mac the Mac wakes up. It’s the same as if you had connected or disconnected a USB device during sleep. So I can only sleep one Mac on a 4 port KVM (sleep it then don’t touch the KVM).

    Have you tried the “switch away from a slept Mac” scenario with the USB Share Switch? Could you try it?

    Does it wake the Mac up when you switch the keyboard and mouse to the other machine?

    If it doesn’t wake the Mac then this seems like solution for me (using a VGA connection and DVI connection to so single monitor and a USB share switch and VNC for anything else).


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