Product Review: Asus ASMB5-iKVMWritten on August 8, 2011 by Matt Bach
Remotely accessing and controlling a computer is something that has become increasingly popular with both network administrators as well as many home users. In a nutshell, it allows you to remotely access a computer and control it as if you were physically there. It can allow the user to make software changes, fix minor software bugs, troubleshoot OS-related issues or just access and use the computer like normal from any place that has internet connectivity.
Most remote management today uses software to act as the bridge between the computer and the user remotely controlling it, but that has the major problem of only working if the remote software is running. That means that if the software is not installed, not currently loaded or if the system is not in the OS you cannot remotely access the system. If the remote system has a major issue that requires diagnostics using utilities launched outside of the OS, or if the OS needs to be reinstalled, software-based remote management is simply not an option. In those cases, you would typically need to be on-site to work on the system.
The Asus ASMB5-iKVM has the advantage of being a BIOS-level remote management solution, so you can remotely access the system at any point whether the OS is loaded or not. You can configure the BIOS, run test diagnostic utilities, and even reinstall the OS completely without being present. The ASMB5-iKVM also has the ability to remotely power on a computer, so even if the system is powered off you can turn it on, do whatever you need to do, and turn it back off once you're done.
With the Asus ASMB5-iKVM, there are two ways to remotely access the machine. The first is to install the “Remote Console” software provided by Asus. The second is to access the system by inputting the IP into Internet Explorer and using the “Web Based Interface”. In this article, we are only going to be looking at the Web Based Interface as the Remote Console simply does not have any functionality that is not present in the Web Based Interface and has many, many more limitations. A few brief examples are that the iKVM functionality in the Remote Console will only work in the BIOS and that there is no way to change the remote access username and password.
Before we take a closer look at the ASMB5-iKVM, there are a few bits of terminology we need to define. First: KVM stands for keyboard, video and mouse. This is generally used as shorthand for a device that can control the keyboard and mouse inputs to a computer as well as redirect the video output. In this article, we will often refer to iKVM which is the controlling of the keyboard, video and mouse over a network or internet connection.
We will be calling the computer that has the ASMB5-iKVM chip installed the "server" as this technology is currently aimed primarily at server hardware. The machine being used to remotely access the server will be called the "remote system" which is in line with Asus' documentation.
Installation of the iKVM chip into the server is very easy. Simply insert the iKVM chip into the appropriate connector on the motherboard (see your motherboard documentation for the exact location) and you are done with the physical installation. You also need to have a dedicated network cable plugged into the iKVM LAN port on the motherboard (again see your motherboard documentation for the exact location) which is used solely for the iKVM remote management. If the server needs network connectivity you will need another network cable plugged into one of the other RJ45 network jacks.
It is strongly advised that you set a static IP for iKVM network port (Labeled in our test system as DM_LAN1) which can be configured in the BIOS. You will need to check your motherboard manual to find the exact location, but on the Asus P8B-M motherboard we used for testing it is located in Server Mgmt -> BMC Network Configuration. The port by default uses DHCP to get its IP address, but since you need to know the IP address to remotely access the server using a static IP is recommended.
Web Based Interface
As the Web Based Interface just uses Internet Explorer, there is actually no setup or installation necessary. The only requirement is that you run Internet Explorer and have Java installed.
To access the Web Based Interface, open Internet Explorer and put the server's iKVM IP into the address bar. For example, our testing server's iKVM address was "https://192.168.0.63". You will immediately be asked to login, and after that you can freely navigate the Web Based Interface. The default username/password is admin/admin and it is highly recommended that you immediately change it to something more secure.
The Web Based Interface allows for a very wide range of management. You can set custom alerts, view sensor readings, remotely change the server's iKVM IP, turn on/off the server, add/delete/change users and passwords for remote access, remotely control the server and much more. It doesn't require any software to be installed beyond Internet Explorer and Java, so any Windows-based computer can remotely access the server. We will not be going through all the possible options in this article since that is covered in the ASMB5-iKVM manual, but we will quickly go through the main navigation pages.
There are six links on the top of the Web Based Interface for navigation that lead to the following pages:
The remote iKVM feature is much more robust than we expected. In addition to being able to see and control the server's screen you can also redirect your DVD drive or even an ISO from the local system to the server. This means that running DOS-based testing or even reinstalling the OS can be done completely remotely without the need for CD/DVD's to be inserted into the server. Simply choose to redirect the CD ROM or ISO in the iKVM interface, and it shows up in the server's BIOS as a new bootable device. If the server is running an OS with plug and play enabled, the redirected ISO or CD ROM shows up as a new removable device.
Responsiveness within the iKVM interface was very good on a local gigabit Ethernet network - with the software reporting 15-20fps when in Windows. While using it, it felt pretty much on par with software-based remote management, although there is a bit more mouse lag. The small amount of lag is more than made up for with the all the advantages of it running on the BIOS level rather than through software.
Using only the Web Based Interface, we were able to remotely configure the BIOS and install Windows 7 (using a redirected ISO from the remote system) with no problems. Technically the machine was only a few feet away, but since it was completely done through the network the procedure was no different than if the machine was in a room on the other side of the building.
The one thing we did do locally on the server is to setup the static iKVM LAN IP address. While the iKVM port does default to using a DHCP address, without knowing what that address is you cannot remotely access the server to change it through the Web Based Interface.
The one major limitation to using the iKVM feature through the Web Based Interface is that you must use the onboard video. If you use an add-in video card, you will just get a blank screen when you try to use the iKVM feature. Even with using the onboard video, there was one time when we loaded up a Linux live environment that we had to restart the video feed. Luckily this is easily done through the iKVM interface by selecting Video → Restart.
The ISO redirect in the iKVM also appears to only allow files less than about 3GB in size, so some OS installations might need to be done by either redirecting the remote system's DVD drive or by having the discs inserted into the server directly. This appears to be a bug in the Web Based Interface so we would not be surprised to see this resolved in a future firmware update.
Our only other problem with the iKVM is that things like mouse capture are not automatically started. You need to enable the Sync Cursor option under the “mouse” menu every time you start the iKVM if you want to use the mouse. You also can not send combination keypresses like alt-f4 or special keys like the Windows key through the iKVM. The “keyboard” menu does however have options for things like “hold left alt” that you can select, hit f4, then go back and deselect the option to allow for combination keypresses. It is definitely cumbersome if you are used to using keyboard shortcuts, but it does get the job done.
The biggest issue we had in all our testing was not isolated to just the Web Based Interface, but also appeared when we tried using the Remote Console. We had a big problem with the software not reporting the correct sensor readings for temperatures, fan speeds and voltages. For example, the software reported a CPU temperature of 118 degrees C while the BIOS reported a reading of 58 degrees C. Voltage sensor readings were closer, but a few of them were still off by up .3 volts. At times, the sensor readings were correct, but when we would check them a few minutes later, they were back to being off.
We found no reliable way to get the software to report the correct sensor readings. We tried restarting the software, rebooting the server, fully powering down the server, and rebooting the remote system. We even tried starting the server before the software and starting the software before powering on the server to see if perhaps one or the other had to be running first. We also made sure to flash both the motherboard BIOS and iKVM firmware to the latest available. Most likely, this bug will be fixed in a future firmware update, but for now we were unable to find a way to reliably access the sensors. Luckily, you can remotely control the server and launch a local sensor monitor utility (like CoreTemp or SpeedFan) to check those sensors.
Another issue that will most likely always be present in a product like this is that in the event of a BIOS reset, there is no easy way to remotely access the server to reconfigure the BIOS. Like we stated earlier in this article, the iKVM LAN defaults to using DHCP, but unless you have a way look up the address for the server you have no way to access the server remotely. The easiest way around this issue would be to have your DHCP server configured to always assign the same IP address to the iKVM using its MAC address.
When we first started testing the ASMB5-iKVM, we were using the Remote Console software and were somewhat underwhelmed with this product due to the limitations of the Remote Console's iKVM. Once we started using the Web Based Interface which had much more robust iKVM functionality however, we were immediately blown away. Network administrators everywhere and even smaller tech support teams would absolutely love to have a product like this installed into all their machines or at the very least their servers. While it does cost a little bit of money, the current sub-$100 price tag could easily pay for itself even if all it saved was a few hours of driving time for a tech to get onsite when there is an issue with the server.
Overall, we were very impressed with this product. We listed a lot of problems that we found, but most of them were minor and are more inconveniences than major issues with the only major issue being the inaccurate sensor reporting. Not being able to be 100% confident that the software is accurately reporting the correct readings pretty much makes those reading moot.
This technology should even work to access an off-site server although port forwarding would need to be setup on the router. The responsiveness of the iKVM would be noticeably more sluggish, but just having the option of remotely setting up a machine rather than having to drive to the location is amazing.
Unfortunately this product is currently only available on a limited number of motherboards. We certainly hope that this technology takes off as even our own tech support department would love to have the ability to remotely configure a customer's BIOS, which is at times a difficult and time consuming thing to talk a customer through. If motherboard manufactures see a huge demand for this technology, we could easily imagine them integrating it into all of their future motherboards. For at least the next year however, we expect this technology to stay as an add-in component simply because the demand is not enough to justify the price increase that would need to happen in order to integrate it fully into the motherboard. Given how easy it was to install, even having to purchase and install it separately is not that big of a deal considering just how useful a product like this could be.