Who said we dont need serial cards anymore?

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While many are mourning the demise of the serial port, like Mark Twain its death has been greatly exaggerated. The assumption has been made that as the IT world continues to move steadily towards wireless connectivity and USB, the use for serial ports will diminish. PC and laptop manufacturers are certainly banking on this, as they supply machines with few, if any, serial ports.

It is certainly true that the majority of consumer applications no longer use the serial port. When was the last time you used a serial modem or serial mouse at home? However, many industries are inherently disinclined to move from solutions that are proven and cost effective. They rely on secure serial connections, often for mission critical applications and this presents an opportunity for resellers to add margin to systems by offering additional serial connectivity options to PCs and laptops that no longer have them.

So why are these different industries not moving to USB or wireless solutions? Well in some cases they are. However, for many companies the cost of upgrading peripherals that work perfectly well cannot be justified.

Lets consider PCs first. Serial ports are often chosen where security, efficiency, and cost are paramount. Whether we look at retail, banking, transportation, healthcare, or general industry many end users are still specifying devices that require a serial port.

When you buy your clothes or groceries, chances are that the bar code scanners, cash drawer, credit card reader used to process your payment are connected via a serial port to a base unit. Retailers are often reluctant to throw away this costly equipment when they upgrade their base system. Similarly, banking and finance institutions make good use of the serial port to connect devices within ATMs or for cash counters and cheque readers behind the retail counter.

Wireless is great for mobility, but in static installations cables are often the clear price performance winner.

RS Components is currently overhauling its global database system to provide an improved SAP system that will control all of the ordering, billing and accounting for their global distribution network. The servers at the heart of this system use Brainboxes serial cards as an integral part of this system.

So why are these different industries not moving to USB or wireless solutions? Well in some cases they are. However, for many companies the cost of upgrading peripherals that work perfectly well cannot be justified. USB to serial devices are increasingly prevalent, but there are many situations where they will not work with existing applications, so they are ruled out. Wireless is great for mobility, but in static installations cables are often the clear price performance winner. In addition, wireless solutions are often not an option in areas where end users expect the inherent security that comes from a cable.

In summary, from the serial applications we see today, it is clear that RS232 and RS422/485 cards still have a long life ahead of them, which presents an excellent margin opportunity for resellers.

What about laptops? Surely they no longer need the humble serial port? Well, when a major Japanese electronics company was looking to provide laptops for satellite navigation use during the Round the World Yacht Race, they used ruggedised PM-143 PCMCIA serial cards from Brainboxes. Relying on wireless connection in these extreme life-threatening situations would just not work; sturdy, reliable connectivity is essential. In the stormy seas of the Southern Oceans good navigation and communication between peripherals could mean the difference between life and death.

However, it is not just in these extreme conditions that the conventional serial port is still found. Laptops are now standard issue for many service engineers as they are on site checking on the performance of air conditioning, security systems, or other industrial or building equipment. Much of this equipment relies on a serial port to communicate. This connectivity can be easily be added to a laptop by using products such as Brainboxes PCMCIA high performance serial cards that is available either with a detachable cable, or in a ruggedised format designed for field applications. Ruggedised cards such as these are suitable for use in a wide range of applications including industrial, marine, aviation and engineering. The stability it provides makes it particularly appropriate for use with GPS systems.

Brainboxes is able to provide support to resellers and system integrators with selecting the correct serial product for the customers application. With over 15 years experience of designing serial cards and associated software, our cards will function in situations where USB to serial has been rejected as an option. Our cards are also designed for use in mission critical systems and are used in large rollouts for retail point of sale and banks.

In summary, from the serial applications we see today, it is clear that RS232 and RS422/485 cards still have a long life ahead of them, which presents an excellent margin opportunity for resellers.

Stephen Evans is managing director of Brainboxes, a leading PC communication card developer and manufacturer. The company develops and owns all of its own core technologies, including USB, CompactFlash, PCMCIA, RS232 and PCI products.

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