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Pci Serial Port Card - A Guide to PCI Serial Port Cards

what is a serial port? common serial port applications

In computing, serial ports are physical interfaces that provide serial communication between devices. Serial communication is the process of transferring data sequentially one bit at a time. The contrast to this is parallel communication, supported by parallel ports, which sends multiple bits as a whole. Although most modern computing interfaces, such as Ethernet, FireWire, and USB, send data via a serial stream, traditionally, the industry reserves the term serial port for hardware compliant with the RS-232 standard.

Common Serial Port Applications

Modems and serial mice were once the most common use of serial ports, but these have fallen into disuse. Nevertheless, there are still devices that use them including, but not limited to, barcode scanners, digital cameras, joysticks, LED and LCD text displays, printers, and UPSs (Uninterruptible Power Supplies). Despite this, most of these devices are also available in versions that use another format, such as FireWire and USB. Because of that, it is common for modern motherboards to include only one serial port or none at all.

Introducing the PCI Serial Port Card

While PCI serial port cards have been around as long as PCI and serial ports have, they have become more prevalent recently due to the lack of motherboard support. For example, it is common to have a UPS that requires a serial port to detect power loss but also have a modern computer with no serial support. In these cases, adding serial support via a PCI serial port card is generally the only option.

PCI Types

When PCI serial port cards first appeared on the market, most desktop PCs simply had conventional PCI (Peripheral Component Interface) slots. Therefore, there wasn’t a great deal of choice involved in the purchase. However, we outgrew the bandwidth of PCI, and since those first PCI serial port cards, PCI has evolved. PCI is still around, and you may have one in your computer, but it’s going the way of the serial port. In fact, it’s much more likely that you have a PCI Express card. The current flavor of PCI Express is 2.0, and there is a 3.0 on the horizon. Current common form factors are x1, x4, x8, and x16.

Which One is Right for Me?

The original PCI is plenty fast to fully implement a serial port. Therefore, except in very specific scenarios, it doesn’t matter which style you use. You’re likely to be limited by what you have available, and if you have a choice, simply opt for the cheapest solution that fits your needs. Most modern motherboards include one or more PCI-E x1 slots that generally go unused. If you have one of these, it makes the perfect choice if you do not have standard PCI. If you do have PCI, this should be your least expensive option, and you can get by for a handful of dollars if you’re willing to buy used.

How to Install a PCI Serial Port Card

1. Turn the power off on the computer, and then flip the power switch on the PSU. You don’t have to disconnect the cord from the PSU to the wall. In fact, leaving it plugged uses the outlet’s ground to ground the PSU and all of the internal components connected to it.

2. Do disconnect all other unnecessary cords. Unscrew the side panel to the case. This will slide either up or to the right. Be careful of attached wires if you have a panel-mounted fan. When the panel is off, lay the tower on its side for easy access.

3. When working inside the case, best practice is to wear an antistatic wrist strap. If you do not have one, maintain contact with exposed metal. The PSU or bare case metal are good choices. Now, remove the panel by unscrewing it from the PCI slot where you intend to install the PCI serial port card.

4. If your PCI slots have tabs at the end, raise these. Line up the PCI serial port card edge with the PCI slot. It’s OK and sometimes easier to start with a corner, and then work the card into the slot. It should snap into place, and as long as the card is lined up properly, don’t be afraid to apply a little force. If there were tabs, they should have snapped into place with the card.

5. Use the holding screw you removed from the PCI plate to secure the PCI serial port card. Reattach your side panel, stand the tower up, and reconnect your wires. Turn the computer on. Windows will recognize it as a serial port. The drivers should already be in place, and if not, Windows will be able to install them automatically.

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