Potential problem for users of datalogging equipment

Today I read a TechRepublic article that reveals a potential problem for occupational hygienists using older direct reading instruments that connect with their computers using the RS-232 (serial) interface. This interface was used on older occupational hygiene equipment and used a  cable to connect to a 9-pin or 25-pin serial port on the computer. It could use a “USB-to-serial” adapter for connecting to computers with USB ports. The concern is not with the instrument, but rather with the USB-to-serial adapter. Follow this link to read the article.

FTDI abuses Windows Update, pushing driver that breaks counterfeit chips

The RS-232 interface has been used in other devices as well, but because of its wide application in older hygiene instruments, I wanted to alert our readers to this potential problem. It is most likely to affect people like myself who have picked up a cheap USB-to-serial adapter at a computer store. These devices may contain counterfeit chips to keep their manufacturing costs down; however as the TechRepublic article points out, the nature of electronics supply chains today could mean that  counterfeit chips can end up in name-brand devices as well. Thus buying an expensive adapter is no guarantee that you will not face this problem.

How will you know if your USB-to-serial adapter has been affected?

If an instrument that has been working perfectly, suddenly stops talking to your computer but seems to be OK otherwise, do not assume there is something wrong with the instrument. It might be that a chip in the USB-to-serial adapter has been destroyed by the driver update described in this article. If you have an old computer with a built in serial connector, try to upload from the instrument to that machine (assuming it has the appropriate instrument software installed). If it works, the problem has been isolated to either your USB-to-serial adapter or your newer computer. I keep an old computer (actually several) in the office to use for instrument file transfers and other tasks. When I have had a problem with a USB-to-serial adapter cable, I have used one of these old machines It is not connected to the Internet and so its drivers are not updated by Microsoft. Files transferred to it from the instrument are then copied to my main computer using a USB flash-drive. Although it involves another step, this does get around the adapter problem. I would be interested to know if any of our readers have encountered this problem and how they resolved it.

Chuck

 

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