As most self-acknowledged techies eventually figure out, providing pro bono technical assistance to family and friends comes with the reputation. This doesn’t prove to be much of a problem when they live down the street or around the corner, but when distance comes into play, and you need to walk Uncle Joe through editing his registry over the phone, things get much hairier.
Remote access solutions such as Virtual Network Computing (VNC) meet this need, and allow you to administer PC help from afar when properly configured. But they hit a major snag when dealing with the most seriously dysfunctional computers, since they all require working operating systems to function. That means you’re out of luck when Uncle Joe’s spyware-infested eMachine can’t even load Windows anymore.
Image Courtesy Iogear
The Iogear GCN1000 PCPortal cuts the host operating system out of the picture by taking the reins of the computer from outside, allowing one Internet-connected computer to control another even when it can’t even load an OS. Think of it as a remote-control version of Uncle Joe – rather than controlling an already working computer, you can control the inputs to the computer independently, as if you were sitting in the room looking at the monitor and working on it yourself.
The PCPortal accomplishes this by sitting between a computer and all of its vital inputs and outputs – the keyboard, video and mouse. All components connect to the PCPortal box with color-coded cables, and the box itself connects to a computer with similar cables. During normal operation, it acts as a pass-through, but when fired up via a hard LAN connection, it takes control of the keyboard and mouse remotely, and sends video signals from the host computer to the remote computer.
It allows, for instance, a remote administrator to change BIOS settings, which must be done before an operating system even loads. This wouldn’t be possible with traditional remote access software that depends on Windows to run, even if the Windows installation were perfectly fine. Since the PCPortal handles the processing needed to control a computer remotely, it expands the types of work that can be accomplished from afar.
Besides handing off full control of a computer to someone potentially thousands of miles away, the PCPortal also supports file sharing via its Virtual Media Drive. After running a USB connection from the PCPortal box to a host computer, a flash drive in a remote computer can act just as if it were plugged into the host computer, making it easier to transfer files from PC to PC.
The Iogear PCPortal GCN1000 goes for $499, which sounds exorbitant until stacked up against similar IP-based KVM boxes meant for businesses, with prices that reach into the thousands. The PCPortal actually ends up being one of the few devices of its sort affordable enough for home use. So while it’s not cheap, a few skipped computer repair bills or four-hour-drives to lend a hand could quickly help it pay for itself, if Uncle Joe just can’t seem to stop clicking banners to win free Xboxes. More information can be found at Iogear’s web site.
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