The Master View CS-1774 is an audio-capable four-port KVM (keyboard-video-mouse) switch, but with a couple of neat additions. These are a five-port 10/100 Ethernet switch, and a two-port USB hub that lets attached systems connect to USB devices plugged into the KVM.

Aten's idea is that the combination should be just the ticket for anyone who needs to drive a bunch of systems around the office - either for management and monitoring, or as I used it, to get some work done on one PC while I installed software on another. The five-port autosensing Ethernet switch is enough for an up-link plus the four local systems, of course.

The unit itself is a compact 'brick' designed to sit on the desk. The four switches on the front are transparent, as they are also the lights to show what's in control - an orange light for the KVM and a green one for the USB hub. If a light is dim, it shows that a system is connected on that port, and if it is bright, it shows that system is in control.

Set up is as simple as you would expect. Plug the special cables in - they're non-standard because while the VGA and USB connectors are normal at the CPU end, Aten's designers have combined video and USB into a single 15-pin plug for the Master View end. To avoid confusion, the latter is not the same shape as a VGA plug. Power up the KVM and the attached systems and you're away.

Like most KVMs these days, it assumes that the mouse and keyboard will be USB, though Aten also included a single USB-to-PS2 converter. For a PC, whether it runs Windows or Linux, the KVM simply passes through the video and USB signals, but you can also redefine the keyboard on a port by port basis for either Mac or Sun.

A neat touch - but one which threw me until I figured it out - is that you can easily choose to switch either just the KVM or the KVM plus audio. A quick press of one of the front-panel switches flips just the KVM to that system, while a three-second push flips the audio too. It means you can have your main PC carry on playing music or the radio while you work on another machine.

Another feature which will be useful to some is the ability to connect USB devices such as printers, scanners or storage devices to the CS-1774 via it's built-in hub. They can't be accessed by multiple systems simultaneously, but you can choose which system currently has control of the USB hub, though to do this you will have to switch via the keyboard.

You can even have your KVM connected to one system, your speakers and microphone to another and the USB hub to a third.

Switching systems via the keyboard uses hotkey combinations. As standard, the latter start with hitting Scroll Lock twice, then for example typing the target port and either K for KVM, U for USB or S for sound. If Scroll Lock upsets your systems, you can change the trigger to Ctrl-Ctrl.

The CS-1774 can also be set to cycle through the attached systems at regular intervals, for example if you just need to monitor them.

As you might expect from all the above, the CS-1774 is an intelligent device in its own right, so there's also a set-up mode. This lets you alter hotkey settings, disable the port switching keys and do firmware upgrades on the KVM.

All in all, this is a neat little device that should suit anyone who's running or monitoring multiple systems - and who also wants to cut out a bit more clutter than the average KVM would manage.

OUR VERDICT

If all you need to run is four systems, this three-in-one device is simple to use and should considerably reduce your office or desktop clutter.