After my review last year of the TESmart IP KVM Extenders, they offered to send me another one of their products to review. I don’t normally do product reviews, but I figured it can’t hurt. After all, TESmart are a company which generally seems to hit the sweet spot of price and functionality in the lower end of the market.

The HKS0201A2U is a no-frills two-computer, one-monitor, USB-A HDMI KVM switcher. Very simply, it allows you to use one keyboard, monitor and mouse for two computers – by simply switching between them. It retails for about US$110.

I don’t typically use this type of switcher, because history has demonstrated they can be quite a pain. At a previous workplace, I actively removed them because they would regularly lock up and refuse to switch between the two PCs. I’m curious to see if this category of product has improved at all in the last 10 years. My guess is the switching will be better, but perhaps the complexities of HDMI will throw up new challenges. We’ll see…

I’m going to be trying this out to switch between an Intel NUC and a MacBook Pro, because I have those two things on my desk regularly. My testing methodology isn’t particularly scientific and will mostly involve plugging and unplugging various things and seeing what it does, and reporting if it breaks.

In the box:

  • Main HKS0201A2U unit
  • User Manual
  • 2x HDMI & USB-A to USB-B combo cables
  • 5V DC plug pack
  • IR Remote (AAA batteries not included)

The main switcher box is a fairly sturdy metal construction with rubber feet. It is just slightly wider than my MacBook’s trackpad, and about double as thick as the laptop itself.

On the front is has a power toggle switch, a single button to select your computer, some LED status indicators, and a 3.5mm audio output (I’m guessing this means it does HDMI audio de-embedding – helpful!).

On the back, it has two sets of computer inputs (each with HDMI, and USB-B), a HDMI output, two USB outputs (labeled for keyboard and mouse), plus an extra USB out (presumable for an extra USB accessory), and the 5V DC power connector.

The Australian plug pack I got supplied thoughtfully expands outwards from the wall, not down, up, or sideways. This means it doesn’t hog any other spaces on my power board.

Plugging it in

I first connected the KVM to power, and then to my MacBook. It immediately recognised an external monitor and keyboard, and stole all my windows and sent them to an external monitor which I had not yet connected. When I tried to open System Preferences that also ended up on the wrong monitor. This isn’t TESmart’s fault.

My MacBook recognised the switcher display as “ITE-FHD”. ITE appear to be a Taiwanese IC designer, so that checks out, and “FHD” presumably stands for “Full High Definition”.

When I connected a display, it passes through the EDID of that display instead, and when I unplug the display it reverts back to telling me I have a “ITE-FHD” connected. This means my Mac jumps around and rearranges my windows each time. This isn’t unexpected, but is a bit annoying if you do a lot of plugging and unplugging.

When I plugged in the KVM to my Mac, it came up with the ‘Keyboard Setup Assistant’, but as soon as I plugged in a real keyboard into the KVM this went away and didn’t come back in any of my subsequent plugging/unplugging.

Connecting the 2nd input (Intel NUC Mini PC running Windows 10) seemed fine. I do notice switching from the Mac to the PC is pretty quick, but when I switch back to my Mac the external monitor takes almost a full minute before picture returns. I’m unsure if this is the fault of the switcher or the Mac.

The keyboard and mouse seem responsive enough, and all the keys seem to map properly. I have a pretty basic Dell keyboard and mouse.

Keyboard Shortcuts

While you can switch between Inputs with the Botton on the front of the switcher, the user manual also reveals a variety of secret keyboard shortcuts.

Press Scroll Lock twice, and then the number 1 or 2, and you’ll get switched to that input.

Sadly the first press of Scroll Lock dims my Mac’s display slightly, and after a while I have to reach for my Touch Bar to turn it back up. I’m sure there’s a way to re-map this in the OS, but I couldn’t be bothered.

You can press Scroll Lock twice and then F11 to enable a very loud buzzer. It buzzes every time you hit that scroll lock key. I jumped the first time I heard this. That one got turned straight back off.

There is an auto-switching mode involving the spacebar. The manual tells me it switches every 6 seconds.

There’s also a mode where you can re-map the Scroll Lock button hotkey functionality to the right control key.

Audio & HDMI De-Embedding

I was keen to try out the HDMI audio functionality. Unfortunately, neither my Mac nor my Windows 10 box detected any audio output on the switcher.

Thus, I could not send audio to the monitor or try out the HDMI de-embedded feature via the 3.5mm jack on the front panel.

This is a bit disappointing and probably the only major letdown of this device.

Pulling it Apart

No review would be complete without popping the cover off and seeing what lies inside.

I’m not an electrical engineer, but the board design looks pretty neat and well-assembled. No evidence of dodgy soldering.

The main chip on the board is an ITE IT66321. It also has a few different WCH USB chips, and a STM32F ARM processor. The board has a big “XUFUNG” sticker but I don’t know what that means – the PCB assembler, maybe?

Conclusion

Overall, this product seems pretty solid and if you are in the market for a simple HDMI/USB KVM switch this one would be worth a go. The main issue I had was with audio, and this could be caused by user error. You can’t beat it for the price, and even in more expensive units it’s likely the same chips are being used anyway.

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I'm Anthony Eden, and I'm a IT Professional, Broadcast Technician, Software Developer, and Solutions Engineer. I've been working in broadcast media since 2008, and developing software and websites for just as long. Right now, I provide freelance services through Media Realm - in particular, to the media and not-for-profit industries.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_eden