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Old 02-11-2013, 6:57 PM
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Default Serial Ports

I have been wondering, for quite some time, why all amateur radio interfacing with a computer seems to insist on using a serial port connection. Serial ports have been obsolete for a good many years. More than just a few. I realize that a good many can be had in USB 2.0, but; for a large number of them a serial port is the only way to go. You can get the same interface cable in USB, but; usually for more money and additional aggravation of getting a USB driver. I do not have a great deal of familiarity with Windows, and; perhaps that is the problem. I don't know. I realize that there are very few ways to interface with a Mac. And, I keep a Windows unit for my radios, for only that reason. But, be that as it may, a serial port is obsolete ; even in a Windows environment. There will come a point when no electronics store will offer a serial port card. It's almost at that point, now. I program my Icom VHF/UHF's with a serial cable that I was lucky enough to get from Universal. It just seems to me, that our hobby is 20+ years behind the times. With a good many of us involved in weather watch, emergency response, etc., it would seem to me that; we would want to leave behind what is an early 90's technology. But, it doesn't appear that way. I would think we should be on the cutting edge, but; I just don't know. Anybody have any input?
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Old 02-11-2013, 7:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KF5EYR View Post
I have been wondering, for quite some time, why all amateur radio interfacing with a computer seems to insist on using a serial port connection. Serial ports have been obsolete for a good many years. More than just a few. I realize that a good many can be had in USB 2.0, but; for a large number of them a serial port is the only way to go. You can get the same interface cable in USB, but; usually for more money and additional aggravation of getting a USB driver. I do not have a great deal of familiarity with Windows, and; perhaps that is the problem. I don't know. I realize that there are very few ways to interface with a Mac. And, I keep a Windows unit for my radios, for only that reason. But, be that as it may, a serial port is obsolete ; even in a Windows environment. There will come a point when no electronics store will offer a serial port card. It's almost at that point, now. I program my Icom VHF/UHF's with a serial cable that I was lucky enough to get from Universal. It just seems to me, that our hobby is 20+ years behind the times. With a good many of us involved in weather watch, emergency response, etc., it would seem to me that; we would want to leave behind what is an early 90's technology. But, it doesn't appear that way. I would think we should be on the cutting edge, but; I just don't know. Anybody have any input?
I for one prefer DB9 serial programming cables over USB to serial drivers. I insist that all my computers have one.
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Old 02-11-2013, 8:05 PM
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One reason why they are still common is because they are a sort of common denominator. Almost any 'older' computer will have one, and not everyone is on the 'cutting edge'. Until the architecture of computers changes/'catches up' or how ever you want to describe it, a 'old style' com port is going to be at least accessible for a good part of the market. If you think about it, a USB port wasn't used much except on laptops until the last couple/few years. They are physically smaller which definitely is a plus for laptops. Right?
Now, I just wish there were 15 - 20 of the @#$ little USB ports on all computers!
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Old 02-12-2013, 5:47 AM
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Just because mass-marketed, consumer-grade computers don't have RS-232 serial ports anymore doesn't mean that they are obsolete. The Windows operating system still understands serial communications, aka COM ports. The various Unix-based operating systems now available still understand serial communications. And I suspect that the Mac operating systems still understand serial communications. Just about every IBM PC-based desktop computer has expansion slots, whether they be the original ISA slot or the latest PCIe slot, and there are serial port cards available for those slots. Laptop computers are a little more of a problem because of packaging limitations, but there are Cardbus serial port cards available, too.

USB communications is kind of a server-client relationship. Any external device that communicates with a computer over USB requires that a driver be installed to establish that communications. That's true for your thumb drive, your camera, your smartphone, your GPS receiver, etc. The difference is that, in many cases, the Windows operating system may already have the necessary drivers installed, so the set-up of the communications appears seamless to the user.

Even radios that have USB ports require that a driver be installed and, in most cases, that driver assigns an old-fashioned, "obsolete" COM port to the device. Why don't more radio manufacturers incorporate USB communications? Because writing and supporting the driver would then become their responsibility. By using RS-232 serial communications, they reduce the communications issues to the lowest common denominator and push the support issues onto the user or a third-party adapter manufacturer.
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Old 02-12-2013, 6:24 AM
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You can still get new PC's with a serial port. I have clients in the fire alarm and telephone field that still demand a serial port for their new laptops so their field people can service their equipment, they don't want to mess with converters.
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Old 02-12-2013, 11:10 AM
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I have a Mac and run VMWare Fusion with no issues. In fact, I just setup my new FT-8900 last night with the cable to the Mac. Works like a champ. VMWare Fusion has a 30 day trial and if if it works like you want it to, you can buy the license with I believe is only about $49. The nice thing is I can run it in seamless mode, so it looks like the app is running right in the Mac OS (or I can run it windowed).
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Old 02-12-2013, 1:48 PM
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I use serial nearly every day. Just installed a very expensive Cisco switch that had to be started via serial. I prefer it becasue it just works.
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Old 02-12-2013, 5:30 PM
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I guess a good portion of what I am talking about, is because I use a Mac. I don't know a whole lot about Windows. Just enough to get by in radio. Apple dropped serial ports back in the 90's, or thereabouts. I actually found a Windows unit that has Vista on it in pretty good shape. The reason for my interest is that I want to interface my Icom's as well as my public service scanners with the Windows unit. I think I can get an additional serial card at Best Buy so that I don't have to keep disconnecting and connecting my programming cables. Just was wondering about it. Also looking to get a Signalink to operate in sysop mode on Echolink, which is NOT possible on a Mac. Thanks guys, for all the input.
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Old 02-13-2013, 8:47 AM
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Its time to do away with programming cables altogether and use bluetooth instead. That's not just wishful thinking, there's commercial radios that are now being programmed that way.

I share your frustration with serial cables, mainly because they're so hard to get to and my radio programming computer uses the serial port for something else thats more important. USB is more convenient but makes me nervous since they aren't as secure and one accidental wobble during writing and you can end up with a paper weight.
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Old 02-13-2013, 3:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KF5EYR View Post
I guess a good portion of what I am talking about, is because I use a Mac. I don't know a whole lot about Windows. Just enough to get by in radio. Apple dropped serial ports back in the 90's, or thereabouts. I actually found a Windows unit that has Vista on it in pretty good shape. The reason for my interest is that I want to interface my Icom's as well as my public service scanners with the Windows unit. I think I can get an additional serial card at Best Buy so that I don't have to keep disconnecting and connecting my programming cables. Just was wondering about it. Also looking to get a Signalink to operate in sysop mode on Echolink, which is NOT possible on a Mac. Thanks guys, for all the input.
Skip the cards and go the route of a ftdi usb to serial adapter. Never an issue with adapters with that chipset.
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