Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Prolific problems

A package from China arrived in the post this morning - a USB programming cable for the Baofeng UV-3R+. I got it from eBay seller happyhamshop where it was sold as a "USB programming cable for Wouxun handheld radio" but Baofeng claims that the UV-3R+ is compatible with Wouxun accessories. I was going to make my own cable but I didn't have a 2.5mm stereo jack plug in my parts box so I decided to take the easy option and get a ready made cable for not much more than the cost of the plug from a components vendor.

The cable was detected and appeared as COM1 - the same com port number as my other USB to serial adapters that use the Prolific chipset. I haven't tried it on the Wouxun - I can't think of a reason to program channels on 4m - but it works with the Baofeng using both the manufacturer's software and CHIRP, the platform and rig-independent memory management program.

It took me several attempts to transfer the memories from the old UV-3R to the new one. Writing a file taken from the old radio to the new one using either program caused the frequency display to read DDDD.25. Fortunately I knew enough about this issue to have used the software to make a backup of the factory configuration, which was easily restored.

The solution, if you're interested, was to use CHIRP to export the memories from a file saved from the old radio to a rig-independent .chirp file, then load the factory configuration from the radio and import the file you just exported.

Problems with programming cables seem to be making up half the traffic in forums and groups dedicated to handheld radios. The problems are all associated with cables that use (or claim to use) Prolific USB adapters. These days, programming cables come with USB adapters built-in, so the need for separate USB to RS-232 converters - which could use a less troublesome FTDI or Silicon Labs chipset - is eliminated. But so, unfortunately, is the option to solve the problem by using a different type of adapter.

A couple of days ago I became aware of something that is certainly not going to make this issue any less common. Apparently a Chinese chip manufacturer has produced an unlicensed clone of the Prolific PL2303 USB to serial chip which is now being used in many of the USB cables that come from China. Prolific is understandably not very happy about this. It has released a new driver that detects the clone chip and fails with an error code 10, causing much frustration for the innocent end user.  The solution, apparently, is to turn off automatic updating and install an older driver (the cable vendor will hopefully have a link to a driver that works with the cable they sold you.) The problem seems to be worst for users of 64-bit Windows 7 for which there are fewer old drivers in circulation. I deliberately stay as far from the bleeding edge as possible, and have automatic updates disabled on my shack PC. So far I have had no problems with the 32-bit Windows XP Prolific driver I've been using for the last couple of years.
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