A simple yet powerful way to use a notebook as a full controller. (December 6th, 2009)
StarTech's Crash Cart is an appropriately named tool: much like the emergency medical kit, it allows any USB-equipped notebook to function as the monitor, keyboard, and mouse for any 'headless' server or for a desktop computer that may need urgent maintenance. It's not a trivial expense at $470, but does it work well enough that those who need it can expect to work well? Our review finds out.
Product Manufacturer: StarTech
- Works exactly as advertised.
- Simple setup and software.
- Linux, Mac and Windows support.
- USB drive for install.
- Needs an adapter for DVI or DisplayPort output.
hardware and setup
The Crash Cart is certainly portable: it's about the size of a deck of cards and has just a short VGA video connector and a USB cable affixed to one end. On the other end is a female USB port for which StarTech includes a 5-foot cable. Besides these, StarTech also provides a USB to PS/2 adapter for PCs with aging ports; notably, there's a USB thumb drive containing all of the drivers and software for the peripheral, so it's possible to get the Crash Cart working even when the notebook being used doesn't have an optical drive, such as a MacBook Air or one of Dell's smaller Latitude models.
Setting up and installing the Crash Cart is very simple. The PC or server that you'll be connecting the Crash Cart to doesn't need any software or drivers installed. On a Windows system, we simply plugged in the USB drive and ran the setup file; it should be similarly easy for a Mac and potentially Linux as well (if running Fedora or Ubuntu). With the software installed we plugged the Crash Cart in and it automatically searched for, found, and installed its drivers.
The one flaw may simply be the newness of the system you're diagnosing with the Crash Cart: our test unit desktop only had a DVI output, so we installed a DVI-to-VGA adapter for testing. Macs in particular are likely to face this issue as many of these no longer have native VGA output, though thankfully adapters exist both from Apple and from third parties.
The Crash Cart software package is incredibly simple to use. Once the Crash Cart is plugged into the notebook and the app is launched, you'll be viewing the server's desktop in about two seconds. The entire user experience is very reminiscent of Virtual PC software such as GoToMyPC, except that the direct connection means greatly reduced lag.
We found that the default video settings worked properly, but the software does allow users to fine tune video the configuration if need be. To ensure that users can completely control the server there is even a menu to allow special key commands to be passed through to the target system and not the host, such as Ctrl-Alt-Delete on Windows or Cmd-Option-Eject on a Mac.
The Crash Cart may be expensive, but it's honest: it works as advertised. As such, it probably won't appeal to home users but could be exceptionally useful to IT professionals and network administrators that don't always have the convenience of an external display and keyboard.