Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pass the COM ports please

I recently built a new computer for my ham station and installed plain vanilla Windows XP 32 bit O/S. If you're interested I have a blog entry on the new machine, and best as I can tell it's completely compatible with the F5K and PSDR, fast and stable. This computer has been running swimmingly without a hick-up 24/7 for a few weeks now. It is an architecture that has eliminated many of the old ports like the PS-2 ports for mouse and keyboard and it has NO com ports and NO parallel port. There is a header on the MB to add some kind of PS2 ports but there is no cut out on the case to install such.

No problem I just switched to a USB keyboard. I had one that I use to trouble shoot computers but its a bit to small for comfortable typing so I went in search of a USB keyboard that made me happy. Here is what I bought:

All of my laptops are Thinkpads and I love the keyboards and this thing is nice sized. This is just a Thinkpad keyboard that is put in a little plastic case complete with mouse and hooked up to a USB feed. For years I used an IBM server keyboard because it had the IBM feel but was small. I don't need number pad sized keyboards sucking up my desk space. This keyboard has a nice palm rest and and that little eraser mouse which is OK with me, I also have a regular mini AOPEN O-35M mouse plugged in another USB port which is what I mostly use. That mouse is on the smaller side so it also saves a few cm^2 of desk space. I can highly recommend the lenovo keyboard if you are in the market for a USB keyboard

Now to the issue of COM ports: I don't got any!!!

My winkeyer USB uses a usb port. I upgraded from the serial port version just for this reason. PSDR allows you to key the program from an external keyer using a serial port, and I have used that as my first choice for CW keying for many years now. I have a paddle plugged into the F5K directly, but I almost always use my favorite paddle and my winkeyer. I have a special little pushbutton block of 4 buttons I had Pierro Begali make for me years ago and I have that wired into the winkeyer so it makes for a nice easy memory keyer setup. Now my first glitch: How do I get a physical serial input so I can input the output from my keyer? I made a little adapter using a PNP transistor and a resistor on a 9 pin plug that plugs into a serial port that allows me to plug in my keyer and key PSDR, but I have always used it with a regular serial port. I had a USB to serial converter laying around so I installed that and plugged in my adapter and set up PSDR to read that port and voila' it works!!! So that part is done. Next I have a bunch of other programs that need virtual serial ports to interconnect. I use DXlab suite and I use Skimmer and I sometimes use N1MM and sometimes fool around with the dreaded "digital" programs, so I need at least 4 virtual COM ports available.

Up to now I have used VCOM for this duty, but VCOM is kind of buggy. There were two guys sitting on a porch rocking. Every so often a hound dog next to one guy would raise up and go OOOWWWWWWW. After a while the other guy said "why is that dog doing that?" The first guy said "because he's laying on a nail". The second said "why don't he move" and the first said "it don't hurt enough yet".... that was my relationship with VCOM. I would get BSOD with VCOM even with XP 32 bit, but it wasn't enough of a hassle to change. There are a couple of other alternatives but each had its show stopper for me so I just plodded along with VCOM. VCOM is no longer supported by its author, the formidable N8VB who has gone on Quicksilver SDR fame. As far as I know it only supports XP 32 bit so if you are more exotic than that as far as VCOM is concerned you're out of luck

I read on the Flex list that Steve Nance K5FR (also quite formidable) has created a virtual port program using the Eltima V.S.P.D. 6.9 serial driver. This is probably the best windows based virtual port driver out there and supports all versions of windows from 2000 onward. Suddenly the nail hurt wayyy to much. I downloaded the driver from this website. I had previously un-installed VCOM and rebooted. I installed this driver and rebooted just like it tells you in the instructions.

I then opened the configuration program and here is what I saw:

I proceeded to add some ports (since that is what this is all about) and low and behold:

I have serial ports out the ying yang. I always number my pairs such that 10 is added to the lowest number eg 6,16, 7,17 etc. This program recognized my naming pattern and all I had to do to add ports was push the friggin button. It was so easy and that damn nail is not hurting me anymore.

Steve of course is the author of DDUTIL a program without which my ham radio experience would be far less rich. If you're in need of ports get off the nail and give this program a spin. Slicker 'n mucopolysachrides (aka snot)