Saturday, January 12, 2013
USB to Serial
For years, I have been using an ancient Toshiba 4000-series laptop. My wife bought this monstrosity back in the late 90's in order to work with custom embroidery software. I'd upgraded it to Windows 98 SE, and it managed to do OK running various Windows contest logging software. While I'd rather run stuff on the Mac anyway, writing some good contest software for the Mac has been one of my Great Unfinished Projects (GUP) for many years now. That's far too long a story to go into right now.
The old Toshiba 4000 wasn't much, 400 MHz Pentium, 800x600 screen. One serial, one parallel and one USB port. It didn't even have networking (much less wireless networking). Old.
When I purchased my MacBook, I set it up through BootCamp to boot in Windows 7. I had tried to run the Windows contest software using it, but I ran into a weird problem. Randomly, after a few minutes to an hour, the machine would flash the screen blue, then reboot. Certainly you could use this in a contest -- at least, not one you were serious about.
About the same time, I attended PDC 09 and came home with an Acer 1420P. Every attendee got one. Although Acer built it, Microsoft had specced this machine. The idea was pretty simple. Microsoft had been tired of evangelizing technologies such as Tablet PC, or 3G networking, Windows 7, etc. Only to have developers say "Well, I don't have a machine that does that." Instead, they seeded the 4000 or so attendees of the conference with these machines. Sweet.
I tried to use the Acer to run contest software, but ran into the same weird problem. Since I couldn't see what flashed up on the blue screen before the reboot, it was hard to tell what was going on. So, I went back to the old Toshiba, and the Acer found some utility at work. Until about a year ago, when the Acer took a tumble off a desk and cracked the screen. It still worked, but the two jagged cracks across the screen made it difficult to use.
My XYL wanted the Toshiba back to do some embroidery, so I went about fixing the Acer. I found a replacement screen for $70, which seemed a reasonable investment. The replacement didn't have the touch interface -- so no Tablet PC. Considering I have an iPad anyway, and Microsoft has moved beyond the Tablet PC with the Surface, it seemed to be a small loss.
As I was setting up for the RTTY Roundup, I ran into the same problem as before -- random BSOD and reboot. However, I'd learned more about Windows 7 in the intervening years. Turns out the automatic reboot is a "feature" you can turn off. Now I can read that blue screen.
After a couple of trials, the culprit appeared to be the driver for the Keyspan USA-19HS. You see, the one thing that the MacBook and Acer have in common (other than running Windows 7), is they have no serial ports. In order to talk with the K3/100, you need a serial port. So I used this Keyspan device that I bought several years ago. Updated drivers were no help. Same problem.
This surprise me somewhat. I really like the Keyspan. It works great on Mac OS X. I was a big fan of Keyspan products -- a decade or so ago, I even met a couple of their developers at Apple's WWDC. At least, I was a fan until Tripp-Lite bought them out. Now, I'm not so sure.
While I suffered through the RTTY Roundup with the occasional BSOD, this seemed like an easy problem to fix. Elecraft sells the KUSB device which would be sure to work, but it's a little expensive at $40. I found a Plugable 2303 USB to Serial converter on Amazon for $13. I was encouraged when I read the driver release notes for this device had the same BSOD problem on Windows 7, but it had been fixed in the latest release.
I got a chance to try it earlier this week. Getting the drivers and setting the thing up was an experience, but not atypical for Windows. Once configured, I cranked up N1MM, put the K3 in TEST mode, and set it up to repeat CQ in CW after 1 second and left it for a few hours. All the DTR access should give the serial port a work-out. Six hours and no BSOD. Seems like it works.
The Plugable 2303 appears to be a good solution. I also tried it on MacOS X. Works fine there. It appears I can retire the Keyspan USA-19HS to MacOS X-only use.