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  • The never-ending saga of the dual DVI KVM switch

    Posted on December 1st, 2012 phpguru No comments

    It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    My Digital Audio Workstation, or DAW, was acting up. An aging Dell Dimension 4600, it was taking nearly 30 minutes to start up and giving a startup message about lacking a page file on a custom-tweaked dual-boot XP setup. I had set it up several years ago and installed so much crap over the years. I thought it was time to replace it.

    The trouble was, had had been using this setup with 2 other computers, another PC and a Mac, using a pair of VGA-PS/2 KVM switches. The Dimension is a PS/2 based design, and my other computers could share my VGA/DBI displays. I had gotten so used to using two screens, that I almost can’t think straight without it now.

    Well I finally gave in and sent the PC to my brother who happens to be a computer hardware whiz. I figured he could fix it, and I decided to upgrade it to a Dell Precision T1600 workstation. I got a great deal on one at the Dell Outlet. Since I had been using a collection of DVI to VGA adapters on the previous 3-computer 2-monitor configuration, I decided to also upgrade to a dual DVI KVM switch, thereby freeing up some desk space, cleaning up my studio, and giving me more room for my Native Instruments Maschine.

    So, off I go on the internet to search out dual DVI KVM switches.

    The first one I consider is a Belkin Soho on Amazon. I had pretty good luck with my old Belkin VGA-PS/2 KVM switch, and who doesn’t love Amazon, so I decided for $250 it was a pretty decent price and worth a shot. My workstations on are the ends of an L-Shaped desk, and I had to get 3 pairs of dual DVI KVM cables with it. Grand total: around $500.

    Five days later, I get the Belkin Soho dual DVI KVM switch delivered. I open everything extremely carefully, because I wasn’t sure it was going to work, and I wanted to be able to send it back if it didn’t. I open the box, tear down my entire rig across 3 computers and hook everything up, including some new miscellaneous adapters.

    Strike One.

    Wouldn’t you know it? Right out of box the Belkin Soho felt so cheap ho hum. Fragile and weak plastic. I tried it every which way, and was able to get only 1 screen working on a single computer! None of the other ports were sensed properly. I have no idea if I got a defective unit or what, but that thing was a piece of junk and didn’t work at all. Undo everything, redo everything back the way it was, with VGA PS/2 KVM. Everything works fine again, except I’m out 4 hours.

    Over the next few days, I worked with the Amazon seller to get an RMA number to send it back, I lose about $50 in shipping charges in the deal, and now two weeks later, I’m back where I was before.

    So, off I go again on the internet to search out professional quality dual DVI KVM switches. I arrive at a site called (SEO fans should be proud) KVM-Switches-Online.com. They have a whole section of their site dedicated to dual-display and multi-display KVM switches. I look at a couple of Avocent models and a few Adder products.

    I decide to send an email to sales to ask for some advice. A day later, I get a response with a recommendation. I decide to try a 4×2 dual DVI kvm switch (2SVDVI20BND1-001) from Avocent corporation. I later discovered that Avocent is now owned by Emerson, and the model I purchased seems to be either undergoing a transition, or in the process of being discontinued. Anyway, feeling pretty confident from their response and the knowledge of the salesman, John F, I thought I would give it a go, bought it and waited another few days. With 3 sets of 15-foot dual DVI USB KVM cables, this new order set me back close to $800. I figured for nearly twice the price of the Belkin Soho, it ought to be sweet.

    And it was. I got it home and the following weekend, set up this new one. The Avocent is much higher quality and durable feeling than the Belkin. I was immediately thinking this was going to be it, and I could get back to writing music. Another 4 hours later, I have everything all torn down and tested again, and insanely enough, I think I got a defective Avocent! Both screens were detected from all 3 computers, but I only was able to get a few horizontal pixel lines on the second screen, while the rest of screen 2 was completely black!

    “UGH! What a crock,” I complained. “Again?!”

    Strike two.

    Just because I got a defective Avocent KVM switch doesn’t mean you will, give them a try. They make nice stuff and their single-DVI KVMs look just as nice. But for me, having already spent a month an a half trying to solve this problem, I decided to return it a try a different one again. It was now becoming a little bit like deja vu. I tear everything back down, put everything back the way it was, check it all, re-package all the cables and KVM switch, and request another RMA number.

    Finally I decided to contact KVM-Switches-Online. I get forwarded over to John F, who says he’ll either send me a replacement Avocent or help me choose an upgraded product.

    John walks me through selecting an Adderview Pro Multiscreen, a unique product line that comes in Dual-DVI, Tri-DVI, and Quad-DV-USB-KVM switch versions. I have only two displays, so I ordered the dual (Quad pictured above). Adder switches are some of the best on the market, he said. Again I made sure to order 3 sets of dual 15-foot DVI-USB cables and used my RMA credit from the Avocent (now down around $600 after subtracting shipping the return back).

    I wait another few days. Five to be exact.

    When it finally arrives, I’m stoked. The Adderview Pro Multiscreen is really a nice KVM switch. It has a digital readout, not unlike the first digital alarm clock you might’ve had, multiple settings, and keyboard control. I get ready to install it and realize that although the packaging says “5-metre” the cables inside are clearly 3-foot (1m). Not long enough to reach my 3 PC.

    Good lord. Still no luck with 1 of my 3 computers, at this point I’m getting kind of frustrated, but try to keep my cool and contact John again. See, now we start to get on a first name basis, because I had to convince them that I wasn’t insane and that, in fact, the Cables that shipped with the Adder KVM Switch were mis-labeled in the wrong packaging.

    Another day or two goes by (I have a day job – this is for my hobby room’s PCs). I call John again and talk to Krissy, who manages customer orders and returns. She hands me off to John, who says he spoke with Adder, talked to the shipping manager, who called him back on his cell from the warehouse and indeed verified that I am not insane, that there was a packaging mistake, and to hang tight for 6 new 15-foot DVI USB KVM cables. Yes, dual DVI KVM for 3 PCs, six cables. They would offer me a discount of not having to pay shipping for the second shipment. I guess that’s something.

    Alright, great. I wait another five days. It’s been two months now since I started this journey to find the perfect dual DVI KVM switch.

    The new cables arrive, and they’re sweet! A few hours later, the third time now tearing down a 3-PC dual VGA PS/2 KVM and setting up a 3rd KVM switch, I can use my Mac and my Dell XPS perfectly now. But for some reason, the Precision T1600 is only working on one monitor.

    I try port 4 on the KVM instead of port 3. Same thing. Minus another half hour.

    I try to swap out the cables and verify it’s not that. Nope. I flip flop the cables, and see I get the other screen working, but not both. Minus another hour.

    It’s still Saturday afternoon, so I figure I will dig into the issue on the Dell support chat and forums. Turns out, guess what! Duh! My VGA to DVI adapter won’t work…

    “You can drive a VGA display from a DVI connector, but not the other way around,” The Dell support tech says. I was getting only the screen from the DisplayPort to DVI connector. So, off I go to Amazon to order a new Graphics Card that supports Dual DVI – the EVGA nVidia GeForce 620. It’s got exactly the ports I needed, and has 1GB of RAM. I figured that would be perfect.

    Minus another $50 and two hours of research & shopping, followed by another two days of Amazon Prime shipping.

    I get the card upstairs, installed it into the T1600 and still get one monitor to work. I can’t believe it, now. Using this card, only 1 display is recognized! I cannot for the life of me figure it out. I download the tech specs from the Dell Precision T1600 and the EVGA nvidia GeForce 620. There it is, in black and white, clear as crystal:

    GeForce 620: This card requires 350w of power and 18amps on the 12-volt rail.

    Hmmm. I start to become concerned that I don’t know a lot about PC power supplies.

    Precision T1600: Power supply 265w.

    Rats, that has to be it, I thought. Just to be sure, I fire up a chat support with Dell to confirm that upgrading the power supply won’t void the warranty or damage the PC. I’m told not to worry, just that Dell won’t cover the new Power Supply under their warranty and to keep the original one just in case. Surf for a few to find out how complicated buying a PC power supply can be. Doesn’t look too bad, thanks to this article on how to buy the right replacement PC power supply over at computershopper.com.

    Now I’m tearing down my DAW again, to yank the power supply out and head back to the computer store in search of a new replacement higher-wattage power supply. Minus another hour.

    I get back later with a 400w Antec 80+ Bronze power supply and install it. I reconnect the KVM and fire it up. Hmm, not looking good. I get VGA on one screen still.

    I can’t get Windows 7 to even notice that there is a 2nd monitor attached. That seems odd to me, so I Google it. I find a post where a commenter replies that you have to go into the bios and enable multi-monitor support. Hmm. Really? Gosh, I’ve been spoiled by using a Mac for way too long. So I reboot and press F2 and the Dell screen. Strange thing is, I can’t seem to find anything related to multi-monitor support in the BIOS I am running.

    I launch a Dell support chat in the other PC (I have some of the KVM ports working) to ask about that. I decide it would be easier to call and talk to someone.

    Dell: Are you using any adapters?

    Me: No, just DVI cables.

    Dell: The Precision T1600 with your Service Tag says it has integrated graphics, 1 Display port, 1 VGA port, so you must have some adapters if you’re using it with DVI monitors.

    Me: No, I am trying to install and use an nvidia GeForce 620 in PCI slot 4. The specs say it needed a larger power supply so I am also I bought one and I’m using that to rule out lack of power.

    Dell: I see. Well, if you use the DisplayPort with a DVI adapter, and a VGA monitor it should work.

    Me: I don’t have a VGA monitor.

    Dell: Please hold while I look up a few things.

    (Ten minutes go by)

    Dell: Sir, I regret to inform you that the bios on your machine only supports dual screens via the Display Port and VGA adapters. Because that machine came with integrated graphics and not a Dell-approved PCI card for multi-screen technology from the factory, there’s no way for you to enable multi-monitor support in the Bios, I don’t think there’s any way I can solve your issue, and since you’re using a 3rd-party graphics card, we can’t support that, either.

    Me: Wow. Unbelievable. Can I return this computer?

    Dell: I don’t know. Dell Customer Care is open weekdays during normal business hours. Would you like their toll free number?

    Me: Sure. (I write it down.)

    Dell: Is there anything else I can help you with?

     

    ARGH! I wanted to slap that guy! I know it wasn’t his fault and he was just following a script, but my God! I’m now 6 weeks down the road, several thousand dollars out of pocket and still don’t have a working solution to the Dual DVI USB KVM saga.

    Now I’m faced with a dilemma. Do I try to return everything and start over? Pillage all the parts I have in this dell in the fabrication of a new home-built PC? Buy a new one and sell this one on eBay?

    At the end of the day, building a DAW is a tricky pain in the neck, and making a production studio setup with 3 computers sharing one keyboard, mouse and two DVI monitors is even more complicated.

    I know once I get the kinks ironed out, the AdderView Pro Multiscreen is going to do the trick, and I received very good customer service from KVM-Switches-Online.com — they were all helpful and polite and were clearly interested in getting my order and my setup done right!

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