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Author Topic: microHam, you get what you pay for!  (Read 4966 times)

Posts: 378

« on: February 07, 2012, 12:12:36 PM »

   I'll be the first to admit.  microHam products are not cheap.  BUT, you do get what you pay for.

   You get innovative station accessories that are well made and very well supported.  In the never ending chase to keep up with station automation and changes made by a west coast software company that releases an operating system that infuriated and confounds many, I once again lost a station feature after upgrading to their latest and greatest mess.  Silly me.

   After installing Win 7, I lost the ability to directly control the parallel port that I had in my brand new PC I had put together.  Yup, some of the most important items were a parallel and serial ports to support my legacy station controls when I built that PC.  One item I built many moons ago was a remote coax switch where the controller was interfaced to the PC via the parallel port.  Using HRD, I was able to select one of the TTL address lines holding it high to turn on a transistor in the controller.  That Transistor in turn drove a relay that closed the vacuum relay on the tower to select the correct antenna.  Slick, simple and worked well.  Until Psycho Soft in their infinite wisdom decided direct control of local hardware was a security risk (HUH?).  So in Win 7, the parallel port could no longer work the same way.  My coax switch was reduced to manual operation.

   I looked for a solution and finally found the Station Master accessory offered by microHam.  It had band selection as one of it's features and with very little changes, I could take that remote coax switch and interface it to the Station Master.  Whoo-Hoo.  Whoops.   One thing I overlooked is I also have an IC-PW1 in my shack and if I use a rig control software (I use HRD) then there's an issue with serial bus collisions.  I have been using a microHam DigiKeyerII to solve this, but how was I going to get everything to play well in the same sandbox?

   Well, on Sunday afternoon (Superbowl Sunday to be exact), I fired off a message over the tech E-Mail to microHam.  I asked my questions and would you believe I got answers from Joe within 2 hours!  Now, that is customer service.  I had no expectation of getting a reply before Tuesday!

   Thanks Joe.  Thanks microHam for providing great quality and innovative accessories for us Hams!

Posts: 83

« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2012, 08:16:11 AM »

I really fail to see how this is Microsoft's fault.  Most pre-assembled PCs no longer have serial or parallel ports on them.  Instead, they're coming with more USB ports.  Microsoft is just following what the hardware is doing.  It's been my finding that amateur radio manufacturers have been too slow to recognize the changes.  It has only been in the last few years that radios have started to be produced with USB support instead of serial.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2012, 05:38:41 PM by K7CB » Logged

Posts: 378

« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2012, 11:23:34 AM »

I guess you missed two of the points.  The first being I built the PC with a parallel port incorporated in the design.  The second I build the parallel port switch some years ago and I still want to use it.

How is it Microsoft's issue?  I wished they'd stop trying to protect ourselves from ourselves.  No system, in my over 34 years of computer industry experience, had been damaged via software control of the parallel port.

FWIW, the PC I built has 4 USB 3.0 ports, 12 USB 2.0/1.1 ports, 3 serial ports, 1 parallel port, 4 Firewire ports and 5 eSata ports.  More than enough I think.  It's based on an ASUS X58 motherboard and is overclocked.  Not to mention uses an i7-960 processor, 12 Gb of PC1600 memory, 256Gb of RAID 0 SSD Boot drive and 4.5 Gb of RAID 5 storage.  Plus an external 1Tb storage system used for off PC backups and redundant storage schemes.  I needed to use Microsoft's OS as several suites of software used in the shack (as I said - HRD being one of them) only run under Windows.

The focus of the post was on the ability of microHam's Station Master to resolve the issues I experienced under the upgrade to Win7.  Editorial license taken.  I'll bet I am not alone and posted for others to find a possible solution.  Many are not aware of the change to the parallel port access in Win7.  Someone who only upgrades to Win7 and finds his/her parallel port non functional may read this post and learn the cause of his/her issues.

Posts: 490

« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2012, 06:56:33 AM »

Without knowing more about how you wrote your app, it seems like you have several options:
1) install Windows XP instead of Windows 7
2) run your app in one of the compatibility modes Windows 7 supports
3) make sure the LPTx ports are accessible (e.g. in Device Manager)
4) download the Device Driver Kit and see if you need to modify a parallel port driver for your app.
5) modify your app to access the parallel port differently (i.e. in a way that works on Windows 7)

If you wrote an app that manipulates devices on one version of an operating system, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect some integration issues when changing operating systems. Inconvenient perhaps, but not unreasonable since the purpose of an operating system is to provide the interface for application software to run on and with various types of computer hardware.

Posts: 378

« Reply #4 on: February 16, 2012, 11:28:10 AM »

I did not write an app.  I never said I wrote an app.  I use HRD and HRD had the ability under XP to control the parallel port directly.  Since I did not write it, I am not able to modify it.

My original post said I built a coax switch that uses the TTL voltages from the parallel port to drive a transistor that drives a relay... 

I do not wish to go back to XP and have moved forward into a 64 Bit OS (yes, I know that XP was also available in 64 bit, but I do not have that version and it is not possible to purchase it today).

Why does everyone only seem to look at the Microsoft side of the review and not the microHam side?  This is a review about microHam, their products and their service.  As the title suggests.

Posts: 8911


« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2012, 02:43:24 PM »

Your problem and your review are clear to me.

I've solved a similar problem with a homebrew system.  (Details here:   In my case I wasn't worried about operating systems but rather I was worried about the inevitable switch to a computer that didn't have a parallel port since I use laptops in the shack.

There are expensive laptop add on cards that might work but not if the OS does not support them directly.

USB parallel devices, at least the ones I've tried, cannot be used for station control even under Win XP: they have printer specific drivers and don't show up as a LPT.  The parallel port as a simple switch driver is disappearing and taking good useful pieces of station automation gear with it.  

MicroHam's product can fix this problem and does a bunch of other things too.  It's a nice unit!  Good stuff to have on the market.

My Arduino+shift register unit is a lot cheaper but it took time to develop, is still a bit buggy and will freeze and require a reset if I leave it running for a couple days.



Monkey/silicon cyborg, beeping at rocks since 1995.

Posts: 378

« Reply #6 on: February 16, 2012, 05:32:43 PM »

Thanks Dan,  Finally someone gets it!

Posts: 1364

« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2012, 10:12:03 AM »

I recently "went USB" via Win7 and will also attest to the quality of microHam.  The hardware, software, documentation, and support are all excellent.
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