The past three weeks have been spent trying to get the last piece in my multi-gaming VMware ESXi virtual machine server efforts across the finish line: getting the KVM controller/switch to work. At first, I thought it would be as “simple” as passing the device through as a USB controller. It wasn’t. (In hindsight, there might have actually been something else causing the problems and I will investigate that again.)
So What Happened?
After a tremendous amount of research and reviewing, I settled on going with this AV Access HDMI 2.0 KVM HDBaesT Extender device:
It has a lot of really great features and it seems like it will be future-proofed for several years, given the current state of 4K gaming. There was another unit that I almost bought that cost a little less. But, it did hot support HDR (and a few other things) and it seemed worth the extra money today rather than needing to replace it sooner down the road.
The device wouldn’t pass-through like a keyboard or USB controller, as I was expecting. Instead, the keyboard and mouse I had attached to it needed to be passed-through. Several days and gray hairs later, I gave up and decided to get a USB pci-e card and pass it through just like I did the graphics card. I had read several other people suggest it on multiple forums.
Not All PCI-E USB Cards Are Created Equal
Don’t go to your nearest computer supply store and pick up any USB pci-e card, like I did. There are probably lots of people who know that different devices are made with different chip sets. I was not one of them. The Vantec card I picked up from Micro Center uses the “wrong” chip set. Despite my valiant, almost obsessive, efforts, my Windows VM kept throwing “USB Cannot Start (code 10)” errors.
I ended up finding some obscure post on a StarTech support site that said their device was not compatible with Etron USB controllers or ASMedia. Note that StarTech isn’t related, at all, to what I was trying to do, but it did give me a hint. Upon further digging, it turns out my Vantec card happened to be an ASM chipset. Upon even MORE digging, I found a VMware post that indicated people had success passing through FTDI and Renesas chipsets to Windows, but had problems with others.
Finding out what chipset each USB card manufacturer uses is…something. After a few more hours in the rabbithole, I emerged with a SIIG device with a Renesas chipset from Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XWXJT4C/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
Plug N Play
When my new USB card arrived, I installed it and passed it through using the same process I used for the graphics card. Once added to my Windows VM, it was like MAGIC! Windows installed some drivers and asked me to reboot. I happily obliged. After the VM rebooted, I held my breath and plugged in my Razer Huntsman keyboard. The melodious USB recognition sounds gleefully serenaded me! I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to hear that sound!! The Razer software began downloading. I then plugged in the Razer Basilisk mouse and my anticipation was greeted with that magnificent tone, once again.
KVM Device Thoughts
I did not fully understand what this device did or how it did it before I began tinkering with it. It’s actually pretty interesting. Going into it, I had two primary incorrect assumptions:
- The USB cable had to be connected to the server in order for it to do anything
- The Windows VM would recognize the device and install drivers for the video
I had an HDMI cable going from my graphics card to the input on the transmitter, a Cat5e cable going from the transmitter to the receiver and another HDMI cable going from the receiver to my monitor. Without any kind of USB connection, I was able to take advantage of the video passthrough over Cat5e. Windows doesn’t “see” this in the way I expected. It does recognize it as a USB hub, but nothing more. All of the other parts of it seem to be invisible to Windows.
I have only had it working for two days, but I do not see any performance degradation, at all. It actually seems to be working out better than the wireless Logitech USB keyboard and mouse I was previously using. Several times per day while playing Genshin Impact with the wireless Logitech, the keyboard would just quit responding for several seconds (up to 20s) at a time.
Following is a diagram of the final hardware setup.
I’ll be setting up two more of these stations for the younger two Lawlors once I get some CAT6 cables pulled.