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Author Topic: I Bought A New Personal Computer-Should I Bother Adding Serial Ports?  (Read 17193 times)
N0JS
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« on: January 30, 2012, 03:47:49 AM »

I bought a new desktop personal computer several weeks ago.  I haven't been real active with amateur radio, but I did notice that the programming cable for my Yaesu FT-8800 still has a serial port connector!  Anyway, as I do some planning and look towards the future, I am trying to determine if I want to add a serial port card, or possibly a dual serial port card, to my new computer.  What I am wondering is if most programming cables for amateur radios are now coming with USB connectors or are serial port cables still common?
 
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NA4IT
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« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2012, 04:27:58 AM »

I would add the serial ports. USB to serial adapters are problematic. A PCI Serial card only costs a few buck, easy to install.
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W8JX
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« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2012, 04:51:59 AM »

I would add the serial ports. USB to serial adapters are problematic. A PCI Serial card only costs a few buck, easy to install.

They are only as problematic as you make them. I find them to be very reliable. And as far as a card, first you have to find one as PCI is a dying standard and then you have to make your PC has a free PCI slot and some only have PCI-E slots.
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AA4PB
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« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2012, 05:13:11 AM »

PCI serial cards are cheep. I got one with two serial ports for $15. Once installed, it doesn't matter if PCI goes away because you already have it in your computer. USB-serial converters do work but, depending on the brand you have, can cause issues with some operating systems and some devices. In addition, as you get more and more USB devices you run out of ports and wind up having to get a hub. In my experience, real RS-232 serial ports are a lot more straightforward and have fewer issues.
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W8JX
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« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2012, 06:02:38 AM »

A external hub is not a big deal. I use about 5 or 6 USB port on a old laptop. Two are for USB to serial and others after for mem sticks, Rig Plaster PnP and other things. A few are on a external hub. It all works fine. I would not waste a PCI slot on a serial card as it is easy to emulate via USB. I would save it for if you need a NIC card or something.
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W5DQ
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« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2012, 05:34:37 PM »

PCI serial cards are cheep. I got one with two serial ports for $15. Once installed, it doesn't matter if PCI goes away because you already have it in your computer. USB-serial converters do work but, depending on the brand you have, can cause issues with some operating systems and some devices. In addition, as you get more and more USB devices you run out of ports and wind up having to get a hub. In my experience, real RS-232 serial ports are a lot more straightforward and have fewer issues.


Yes, this is true but it can also be a double edge sword. If someone configures everything for hardware PCI serial ports and that card dies, if the PCI card sources dry up then you'll be back at square one. If that same person uses a bit of analysis and determines which USB serial adapter works (I haven't found one yet that doesn't work as intended for my purposes - maybe I'm just lucky?), then any issues with the host PC system will not be that big of an problem to overcome. Simply replace a USB card if USB port dies and no other internal ones available or if needed add a powered USB hub and off you go.

Don't get me wrong, I use both methods. My older PC right now has only 2 hardware serial ports on the mobo. The rest (last count 6 or 7) are handled by USB serial ports and powered hubs with no issues. The USB adapters I most frequently use for ham radio are the IOMEGA GUC-232A. They are only USB 1.1 but they function just fine for my needs and price is right when you find them on sale or clearance.

Gene W5DQ
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Gene W5DQ
Ridgecrest, CA - DM15dp
www.radioroom.org
G4AON
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« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2012, 02:08:40 AM »

Real serial ports are always useful in the shack. Last week I upgraded my shack PC. I fitted a new power supply, motherboard, hard drive, RAM etc. The motherboard (Asus P8H61/USB3 REV3) includes 1 x RS232 and 1 x parallel port... it's unusual to have a serial port and even more unusual to have a parallel one!

My old (circa 2006) multi RS232 PCI card fitted without an issue and Windows 7 had drivers for it. I have 6 extra RS232 ports and one on the motherboard. They are used for:

Davis Vantage Pro weather station, K3, KPA500, SCS Pactor modem, KAM Plus modem, TS480 and an RS232 WinKey.

73 Dave

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K3TN
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« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2012, 03:39:00 AM »

When I built my Windows 7 PC early last year I did not put in a serial card. I have a Microham interface that provides virtual serial ports for connection 2 xcvrs, an amp, keyer, etc. - works fine. I had to learn not to use any Prolific chip set-based USB/serial adapters, once past that I really haven't missed having a serial port.

But if I didn't have something like the Microham or equivalent, I think I would have just built it with a serial port card or added one by now.

John K3TN
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John K3TN
AA4PB
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« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2012, 05:26:11 AM »

True, a USB hub is not a big deal. However, it's yet another piece of hardware that you have dangling off the computer. In addition, if you have several USB devices that get their power from the USB port (like most USB-serial adapters) then you'll need a powered hub which means another wall wart.

It's also true that if your serial card goes bad and you cannot get another then you'll have to revert to a usb-serial adapter. With the number is serial cards around I doubt that will become a problem for a long time to come. Even if mfgs stopped making cards there would be plenty available on ebay and other sources.

Personally, I use a serial card any time I can. Serial card port assignments stay put which makes them easy to locate. For example, COM1 is always COM1. If you unplug a USB-serial adapter and plug it into a different port it usually gets assigned a different COM number. That can make software configuration difficult if you have more than one adapter.
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KB9VGE
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« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2012, 07:55:17 AM »

One of the big disadvantages of serial vs. USB is that with serial, you always have to get to the back of the machine which may be problematic depending on your layout.

Which serial cable?  Null modem or regular serial?Huh   
USB never has that problem.

Serial is dying.  USB may not be here forever, but it it'll be here a long time, yet.
The newer usb-serial converters work fine.
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W8JX
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« Reply #10 on: January 31, 2012, 08:16:31 AM »

Personally, I use a serial card any time I can. Serial card port assignments stay put which makes them easy to locate. For example, COM1 is always COM1. If you unplug a USB-serial adapter and plug it into a different port it usually gets assigned a different COM number. That can make software configuration difficult if you have more than one adapter.

It is only difficult as you make it. Why would you feel you need to unplug them from a USB port and move them? (do you remove/unplug your serial card from bus slot regularly?)   I am using two USB to serial adapters here and they have not moved in assignment or resources in nearly a year now. Nor was it difficult to configure them. 
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AA4PB
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« Reply #11 on: January 31, 2012, 10:20:57 AM »

Why would you feel you need to unplug them from a USB port and move them?

Perhaps you want to temporarily connect another piece of equipment and don't have a spare USB port. I occassionally disconnect something in order to connect a USB programmer.

I just don't understand why people are suggesting that he should not install a serial card when he has the slot available and cards are so inexpensive. If he didn't have a slot available on his computer that would be a different matter.

While serial is going away as far as consumer products are concerned, there are still lots of commerical applications such as instrumentation that uses serial. My guess is that your present computer will go away before the use of serial is completely gone.
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W8JX
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« Reply #12 on: January 31, 2012, 11:02:42 AM »

Why would you feel you need to unplug them from a USB port and move them?

Perhaps you want to temporarily connect another piece of equipment and don't have a spare USB port. I occassionally disconnect something in order to connect a USB programmer.

Then add a card with extra USB ports or a external hub and it is far more useful than a 80's era serial card. After all USB stand for Universal Serial Bus.


I just don't understand why people are suggesting that he should not install a serial card when he has the slot available and cards are so inexpensive. If he didn't have a slot available on his computer that would be a different matter.

Perhaps because it is dead end technology and a terrible waste of a slot on motherboard when it could be better used to add more USB ports or a NIC card. They are cheap because they are dead ended with no growth potential.

While serial is going away as far as consumer products are concerned, there are still lots of commerical applications such as instrumentation that uses serial. My guess is that your present computer will go away before the use of serial is completely gone.

That list is getting shorter every day as new equipment replace old. Even new radios are now coming with USB ports and it is so easy to emulate a old serial on a USB port.
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AA4PB
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« Reply #13 on: January 31, 2012, 11:47:53 AM »

You've got to watch out for some of the gear that comes with a built in USB port. Many of them are nothing more than a built in USB to serial converter. You still have to install an appropriate virtual com port driver on the computer, figure out what com port number it has been assigned, and set software to use the appropriate com port. When they get to the point that you plug your radio into any USB port, it identifies itself as an Icom model xxx to the computer and the ham software automatically knows where to find it then it will be truly plug and play like most of the printers and other common USB peripherals.

I guess I'm just old fashioned. If I have something that works then I don't see a need to change it just to keep up with the times  Grin I have a laptop that has no serial ports and on that I use a USB to serial adapter. I have a Dell tower that has several internal slots available so I put a two-port serial card in that and save the USB ports for the devices that really need to use USB. By the time you plug in the keyboard, mouse, printer, and UPS control all of the rear USB slots are gone. That leaves two on the front that are handy for plugging in temporary devices like a memory stick, programmer, etc.

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W8JX
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« Reply #14 on: January 31, 2012, 11:57:28 AM »

Technology is moving forward and clinging to old ways will not stop it or make transition any easier when you are finally forced to make it.
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