Aten CS1782 DVI KVMP Switch Review

- 2008-06-16 20:19:00 in Gadgets
Category: Gadgets
Reviewed by:    
Reviewed on: July 2, 2008
Price: MSRP $279.99

Introduction:

One of the biggest challenges in having multiple computers, is space. This is especially true when you also have computers coming in that need some form of repair. Most of us aren’t rich enough, nor have need for a lab or other large room, but yet we want (or need in the case of techs like myself) to be able to have multiple computers going. Personally, I have a minimum of four that are running, and as many as eight depending on if friends are over and we are having a mini-LAN. However, our computer room doesn’t have room for a desk for each computer.

Then there is desk space. I have a lot of CRT monitors, and they tend to take up an extraordinary amount of real-estate on a desk. Even flat-panel LCDs still take up horizontal space, and then you get into floor or desk space to put the towers. Keyboards and mice are also something there is never enough room for. Plus all the cables for everything…a snaky, ugly, tangled mess.

This is where such a thing called a “KVM switch” comes in. What exactly is a KVM switch? The KVM stands for Keyboard/Video/Mouse, and as you can probably guess, the switch part means it can switch between these devices. So how does it all work? It’s very simple really, and during this review, those of you that aren’t familiar with KVM’s will have a clear understanding of what they are and what they do, while those of us that know what they are, will understand that this Aten CS1782 is unlike any KVM switch we’ve seen before!  

 

Closer Look:

“The Aten CS1782 USB 2.0 DVI KVMP Switch charts a revolutionary new direction in KVM switch functionality by combining a 2-port KVM switch with a 2-port USB 2.0 hub at the same time as providing an interface for a DVI monitor. The CS1782 also supports state-of-the-art 7.1 channel surround sound to give a theater digital audio experience that enlivens video playback.”

Taken directly from the owner’s manual, it promises quite a bit. Most of us have never seen a KVM that can do audio switching, which is interesting enough. Combined with a USB hub and a DVI (LCD/flat panel digital) monitor, you can sense this is definitely not for a boring “server room” in an enterprise/corporate environment. Aten has made a KVM for the modern age, and made it for you and me, the guys who have multiple computers that have all the latest goodies.

Let’s take a look at the box this puppy comes in!

 

 


Now let’s take a quick look at the peripherals that are included with the CS1782.

 

 

Closer Look:

Now we’ll view the front and rear of the CS1782. The front panel may look a little bare, but it has everything you need. Starting from left to right are the two main Port Selection buttons. Since this KVM supports independent USB, audio, and KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) switching, each of these Port Selection buttons have multiple functions. See the table below for a list of the functions. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Function / Number
Component
Description
1 & 2
Port Selection Buttons

Pressing and holding either button alone will bring the focus of the entire unit to the corresponding attached computer (i.e. holding the port #1 button for two seconds forces KVM, USB, and audio to all focus on computer #1).  

Press a button for less than two seconds to bring ONLY the KVM focus to the computer attached to CPU 1. 

Pressing and holding both buttons together for two seconds will begin Auto Scan Mode (more on this in a bit).

 
Upper (KVM) LED’s
Port LED’s

KVM LED’s: DIM ORANGE lights indicate attached computer is turned on.  

BRIGHT ORANGE lights indicate attached computer is focused (currently being controlled)

 
Lower (USB) LED’s
Port LED’s

USB LED’s: DIM GREEN indicates USB is connected to attached computer. 

BRIGHT GREEN indicates attached computer is focused (attached computer controls USB hub).

 

 

 

 

 

The real party begins on the rear of the CS1782. Turning it around, you’ll see all the jacks and ports necessary to deliver on the promises I told you about earlier!

 

If you’ve ever looked on the back of your computer, you probably know exactly what all of these ports and jacks are for. Here’s bit of a diagram that is a little more informative as to what goes where. Two PC’s, two Mac’s, two Linux boxes (kernel 2.6 or later!), or any combination in-between. Also take a look at the upper right-hand corner on the rear of the unit, and you will see a Firmware Upgrade Port. One of the first things to catch my eye was the Firmware Upgrade Cable. This is unusual but wholly welcome, as it means the CS1782 can be ‘fixed’ should Aten find a compatibility problem with a peripheral that plugs into it. More importantly, it means the CS1782 can possibly be upgraded should a new peripheral hit the market that the unit didn’t support right out of the box (think: BIOS upgrade for a motherboard to fix/enhance/make compatible).

 

The last thing I want to talk about before I get into the actual testing of the CS1782 is its size. I’ve owned many KVM’s in my life, and currently have a D-Link 4-port KVM and a ZoneNet 4-port KVM. While most 2-4 port KVM’s are not large by any means, they do tend to take up some of your desktop or wherever you place them. Here’s a couple of shots of the CS1782 with 80mm case fans next to and on top of it just to give you an idea of how little real-estate you’ll have to give up with this thing (which is even more impressive when you consider everything that has to go under the hood to do DVI, 7.1 audio, USB, automatic scanning and switching, as well as firmware upgrading):

 

 

One thing I feel the need to point out here, is that this KVM is definitely very current in terms of technology, with the ability to support DVI, USB, and 7.1 audio, yet I was left scratching my head over the fact that the Firmware Upgrade Cable depends on an older technology (serial/COM port) to work. Most motherboards today, especially those on the cutting edge, and even including the latest models from Dell and HP, do not have a COM port. Almost every motherboard does have a COM header, but almost every motherboard neglects to actually ship the port module with the board.

A secondary negative is the fact that both computers attached to the KVM must be off, and a third computer must be used to perform the upgrade. Now of course, you can simply detach one computer from the KVM and attach it directly to your mouse, keyboard and monitor, and then perform the upgrade (assuming it has a COM/serial port), but that seems like about the same amount of extra work as having a third computer to perform the upgrade. For guys like me, and maybe a lot of you, this isn’t such a big deal, especially since most of us have a laptop as well as our desktop(s). I’m wondering however, how many that would have two desktops, will also have a third desktop or a laptop to go this route.

Either way, I congratulate Aten for thinking ahead and providing a way to upgrade, but in my opinion, it should be done with a flash drive attached to a USB cable that can be plugged into the CS1782, or something similar via USB that doesn’t involve the need of a COM port (if I want to upgrade my CS1782, I’ll have to dig for an hour through too many boxes just to find a COM module that will work on any of my motherboards that have the header).That being said, the upgrade process looks to be extremely pain-free if you have everything ready. Simply download the firmware update from Aten, and run the utility within Windows while attached to the Firmware Upgrade Port. Everything is automated, and Bill from Aten assures me they’ve made it as smooth as it sounds.

(Note: one thing we all understand is that smooth sometimes turns into a nightmare, and thankfully Aten has thought ahead on that as well. If a firmware upgrade goes badly, you can simply get a screwdriver, remove the screws on the CS1782, pop the top off, and put a jumper cap on two pins and it will reset the firmware to factory default…just like clearing a motherboard’s BIOS!)

 

Specifications:

Video

DVI-D(Single Link)

1920 x 1200@60Hz / 3840 x 2400@13Hz

DVI-D( Dual Link)

2560 x 1600@60Hz
Connectors-Audio(CPU)
Line Out
2 x Mini Stereo Jack Female (Green)

Center/Subwoofer

2 x Mini Stereo Jack Female(Orange)

Side Speaker Out

2 x Mini Stereo Jack Female (Gray)
Line In
2 x Mini Stereo Jack Female (Blue)
Microphone
2 x Mini Stereo Jack Female (Pink)

Rear Speaker Out

2 x Mini Stereo Jack Female(Black)
Connectors-Audio(console)
Microphone
2 x Mini Stereo Jack Female (Pink)
Line Out
2 x Mini Stereo Jack Female (Green)

Rear Speaker Out

1 x Mini Stereo Jack Female (Black)
Line In
1 x Mini Stereo Jack Female (Blue)

Center/Subwoofer

1 x Mini Stereo Jack Female (Orange)

Side Speaker Out

1 x Mini Stereo Jack Female (Gray)

Physical Properties

Case Weight
18.3 lbs [8.3Kg]
Unit Weight
2.1 Lbs [0.940KG]
* Housing
Metal

Case Dimension

20.1 x 9.1 x 13.5 in [51.2 x 23.2 x 34.2 cm]

Unit Dimension

2.2 x 10.1 x 3.5 [5.5 x 27 x 8.8 cm]

Unit Package Dimensions

3.9 x 8.3 x 12.8 [9.8 x 21 x 32.5cm]
Case Qty
10

Unit Weight with package

5.3Lbs [2.406KG]
Environment

Storage Temperature

-4~140F (-20~60C)
Humidity
0~80% RH, Non-condensing

Operation Temperature

32~122 F (0~50C)

Console Connectors

Mouse
1 x USB Type A Female
Monitor
1 x DVI-D Female
Keyboard
1 x USB Type A Female

CPU Connectors

Keyboard & Mouse

2 x USB Type B Female
Monitor
2 x DVI-I Female
Scan Interval
1 ~ 99 secs. (5 secs. default)
Power Consumption
DC5.3V, 4.8W

Testing:


This item doesn’t require charts and graphs to tell you how fast it is, because it isn’t a piece of hardware that can be “benchmarked”. However, since it’s made for DVI + 7.1 Audio, which means it’s geared towards gamers and other “power” users, it definitely needed to be put through some feature tests:

Here are the test systems:

 

Test Setup #1

Test Setup #2


Common Components used for testing:


Initial testing consisted of only using the PS/2 Microsoft keyboard, USB 5-button MS optical mouse, and the Viewsonic LCD monitor on the Logitech 6.1 speakers. My first roadblock in testing was finding out that analog CRT monitors will not work with this unit right out of the box. The manual does claim the CS1782 supports analog CRT monitors, but it didn’t mention that you were required to use a specific analog-to-digital converter, specifically a DVI-D (DVI-A and DVI-I adapters will not work). Since all current aftermarket video cards are DVI-only, it’s not a problem from the PC to the CS1782. It’s only a problem if the monitor you are going to use is an analog CRT.

(note: HP, Dell, and other OEM computers that have integrated video seem to still be clinging to the analog RGB (blue) video port, so if you’ll be using a PC that only has an analog RGB output, you’ll definitely need to order the DVI-D adapter from Aten or elsewhere).

Aten has assured me that they will revise their manual to state this specifically, so there won’t be any confusion.

Once this was sorted through, I decided to let my wife sit down and play through as many games as she has installed on her computer, for about one hour or more for each game, over the span of about 4 days:

As well as the games installed on the Asus P5WD2-E + Pentium D:

 

Testing:

KVM:

Overall, the CS1782 worked like a charm. One of the best things about it, is that you can be blasting through enemies in Vegas 2 on one computer, while using the second PC to voice-chat via Ventrilo, Teamspeak, or your voice program of choice. You can switch between the two computers at will without issues, whether in a game or out of a game. No more alt-tabbing out of games and causing them to crash! One of the things the Wife and I need most, is to be able to check out some of the wiki sites for WoW while playing (or hint sites for any game really, or to yap on MSN, whatever). WoW tends to be incredibly stable when alt-tabbing, but I had her test it repeatedly while playing anyway. Other games, like Vegas and Vegas 2, are notorious for either crashing or doing weird things like stuttering, hitching, etc when you alt-tab out of them, so during those games she and I both played and used the CS1782 to switch back to the Asus to surf the net, turn on music, open Ventrilo and Xfire and MSN and...you get the point.

Video quality was excellent on the Viewsonic VA1912wb LCD. Whether at the desktop, using MS Word, or gaming, the quality was the same as plugging directly into the video card instead of the KVM.

 

USB:

The front USB hub allows our Logitech RumblePad 2 USB gamepad to function on both computers, and switching back and forth between say, Race Driver: Grid on one and NFS Hot Pursuit 2 on another, gave us zero issues. We did come across a couple of minor and/or annoying issues during game testing. The MS PS/2 keyboard had a polling problem in World of Warcraft. Using the WASD keys to move in the game, if holding the W key to move forward, hitting A or S or D or any key actually, would cause the character to come to a complete stop. This is more than annoying while playing, but it isn’t a deal-breaker, as long as you have a USB keyboard. Once we plugged in the Aopen USB keyboard into the front USB hub port of the CS1782, this problem went away.

We also encountered this issue while playing Vegas and Vegas 2, but it was slightly more odd in the sense that holding W key to move your character forward, would only be interrupted/stopped if you hit D to turn right, as your character would come to a complete stop, forcing you to let go of W and then pressing it again. However, if while holding W to move forward, you held down the A key, your character would continue moving forward-left. The oddest thing about it, is that it was more apparent in Vegas 2, but it didn’t occur 100% of the time. Using the Aopen USB keyboard made this issue disappear instantly.

Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3 was the last game to show any strange issues while the computers were hooked in to the CS1782. The Logitech gamepad had zero problems, but trying to type anything with the PS/2 keyboard in the menus (character creation, etc) was basically impossible. Once again, using the Aopen PS/2 keyboard resolved this issue completely, which leads me to believe the problem is something to do with the way PS/2 devices “poll” (or ask) for CPU time. I’ve submitted this question to Aten, and I will update this review with a reply as soon as I receive it. I’ll hopefully get to use that Firmware Upgrade Port! (Some of us just cannot resist flashing a bios/firmware!).

Update: I asked Bill @ Aten about this, and he gave me a reply:

“We need to put some firmware between the keyboard and the output of the KVM (emulation), this firmware reads special key stroke combinations to allow the KVM to independently switch video, audio and USB sharing between computers. By necessity this emulation needs to be as basic as possible and because of this simplicity sometime programmed keys or special gaming key combinations are not passed through the KVM to the computer.”

 

Audio:

The audio ports up front work properly, and more importantly, they work to give you front audio headphone + mic inputs for computers that don’t have front audio ports (or don’t have them hooked up). Anyone who has a Creative or other PCI sound card but doesn’t have the front-panel device that goes with it, knows the pain of not being able to plug your headset/mic into the front of the computer. The CS1782 does the job perfectly because the KVM is plugged into the rear ports of your sound card, eliminating much cursing as you try to reach around the back of your computer to plug in the headset/mic (and going back and forth between headset/mic and speakers = triple cursing grrrr).

How did the audio sound? Since I don’t have a true 7.1 system, I could only test with 6.1’s and 5.1’s. I noticed no discernable audio degradation going through the CS1782 while plugged into either speaker set. The Klipsch 5.1’s almost always allow me to hear differences in audio, as I almost always use them in digital optical mode with a Creative DTS-100 decoder. Yet even at high volumes with both computers playing Winamp FLAC (lossless) audio files through the analog cables (the CS1782 doesn't support digital optical/coax), it sounded almost exactly the same as if the computers were plugged directly into the DTS-100 (typical difference between digital and analog which isn't all that much unless you have audiophile ears and extremely expensive hardware to differentiate sound qualities).

Since audio always sounds awful through the Logitech headphones (they’ve been stepped on, dropped, and abused in many ways over the years but the microphone is still the best in the lab), we mainly used it for the microphone, and used the Sennheiser HD 485 headphones. While the Senns are not the top-of-the-line, they are definitely some high quality headphones. Once again, I found no difference in audio when plugged into the front of the CS1782 vs. plugging straight into the Audigy2 ZS or Realtek ALC888. The microphone worked perfectly as well, without the need to adjust volume/sensitivity levels. I experienced no lag while using Ventrilo to talk smack while getting a good beat-down in Vegas 2.

 

Hotkeys:

All that is left to talk about now is a very cool feature that can eliminate the need to press any buttons to control the KVM. Bill at Aten was quoted earlier about the problems with some games using a PS/2 keyboard, because of certain key combinations, and these are those key combinations that he was talking about.

Hotkey Setting Mode, or HSM, allows you to hit a specific combination of keys that commands the KVM to do whatever function is tied to that combination.

For example, if you hit:

[Scroll Lock] [Scroll Lock] [Enter]

this combination commands the KVM to switch KVM, USB, and audio focus completely from the computer it is currently focused on to the other computer.

Other combinations in HSM do everything from switching audio only, USB only, to just about any function that the CS1782 can control. You can even set [n] variables (for those of you who remember algebra, which isn’t required!) to control how many seconds the KVM will scan, to inputting the port number that a command will affect.

Honestly, I didn’t play around with the HSM as much as some of you might. I did fool around enough to get a sense of how the thing works (as it will now be my #1 KVM since it can do DVI and audio which clears up some space by removing a monitor and a set of speakers!), and to verify that it definitely does work as advertised. For me, just reaching forward to press or hold a button is not a worry, but I could easily see myself over time learning the HSM keystrokes by heart. Another welcome addition in a feature-packed piece of hardware that feels like it was built just for gamers and enthusiasts, like myself, as well as a lot of you reading this review.

Conclusion:

Overall, I’m extremely impressed with this Aten CS1782 KVM switch. The Wife was very annoyed by the WoW keyboard problem, but as mentioned, it went away the instant I plugged in a USB keyboard, which made her happy and negated that annoyance. I would figure most gamers that are willing to drop the cash for something like this, would already be beyond the older PS/2 keyboards and into something like the Logitech G15. Speaking of price, Aten’s MSRP is $279.95, but I’ve used my Google and shopping skills and have found it around the net from $172.87 to $237.83. This is definitely a bit pricey for a KVM, especially considering most KVM’s that users would buy (other than enterprise/corporate clients) cost around $50.00 to $100.00. My own KVM’s have never nailed me for more than $55, but then again, my KVM’s won’t do DVI natively (and LCD’s look ghosted or strange through a KVM with a DVI adapter), most don’t have USB functions, and not a single KVM I’ve ever seen before has had the ability to 7.1 audio.

Combine that with the ability to independently switch monitor, USB, and/or 7.1 audio between two computers, and you can see that the Aten CS1782 is definitely worth the price. While such a device isn’t for everyone, it will definitely appeal to the enthusiast.

 

Pros:

 

Cons: