FTDI still bricking chips?

I doubt anyone missed the recent FTDI driver controversy.

The Scottish company Future Technology Devices International (FTDI) released an updated version of their USB-to-Serial driver for Windows on their website late September and last month the driver became available via Microsoft Windows Update. It soon became apparent that these new drivers could 'soft brick' counterfeit and software-compatible clones of their chips by re-writing the USB product ID (PID) to "0000". This action prevents the chip from being recognised by drivers of any operating system, effectively making them inoperable unless the PID is changed back. This clumsy and ill thought out measure was intended to protect its intellectual property.

The ability to reprogram the USB Vendor/Product IDs is a feature of FTDI devices offered to equipment manufacturers and so most bricked devices could be reset by using the downloadable FTDI utility.

Obviously there was much outrage from the hobbyist community and FTDI were roundly criticised and as a result the malicious driver was supposedly removed from the Windows update system.

Or so I thought...

I am currently constructing another data mode interface for some experiments with FreeDV. It requires the usual PTT control driven using the RTS line from a serial port. I purchased a couple of simple TTL level interface boards on eBay which claimed to use FTDI chips.

I built up a little scrappy veroboard circuit with an open-collector drive transistor and plugged into the shack PC and everything seemed okay as this PC already had an older FTDI driver installed.

I am using another computer for the FreeDV experiments and plugged the board into this thinking it too already had a safe FTDI driver installed but instead it brought up the installing driver dialogue and appeared to go online and download drivers and install them. I really didn't pay much notice as I wasn't too worried as any malicious drivers had supposedly been pulled and sure enough after installation everything appeared to work, the port appeared in device manager.

I unplugged the board to make a slight change and was surprised when I plugged it back in the PC the driver installation dialogue reappeared followed by an error message saying driver couldn't be installed and contact the manufacturer.

The serial port now appeared in the device manager with a yellow exclamation mark saying no driver installed error 28. Examining the device details showed that the VID was still 0403 but the PID was 0000 it had been bricked! Unfortunately not soft bricked as I have been unable to reset the chips PID using the FTDI utility.

I am not exactly sure what has happened but still a case of beware when it comes to FTDI devices and I shall be avoiding them from now on.
Andrew Garratt, MØNRD, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from East Midlands, England. Contact him at [email protected].

7 Responses to “FTDI still bricking chips?”

  • jeff ww6l:

    what? you HAVE been avoiding them! You have been buying fake chips! Why not try a REAL one?

  • Don AE7QL:

    I know those who are using laptops can’t install serial ports on their systems. If you have a desktop…you can buy a dongle for less than $10 US to install on your motherboard which will allow you an actual serial port.

    The motherboard connectors are still on many boards. Just make sure that you get the longest you can get…since they make 9″ and 16″. With my micro-ATX board on a mid-tower case…didn’t want to use a slot for one of the PCI/PCIE connectors on the board.

  • Andrew M0NRD:


    While I agree that I should use REAL devices rather than counterfeit ones the problem is at the moment you have no idea what you are buying. The interfaces were sold as genuine FTDI, clearly they aren’t and is something I am currently discussing with the vendor. However to maliciously go out and kill the device crosses a line.

    Hidden in the driver license terms is the following “Use of the Software as a driver for a component that is not a Genuine FTDI Component MAY IRRETRIEVABLY DAMAGE THAT COMPONENT.” At no point did this license or any warning warning appear requesting acceptance on my part during the installation which was completely automatic.

    To clarify when I say I will avoid FTDI devices in the future I mean anything claiming to be FTDI since clearly you have no idea of what you are buying! Time and money are scare enough to be wasted.

  • Phil McCleary N4LNE:

    Hello Andrew

    We have the same problem with counterfeit Prolific chips that are used in Baofeng radio programing cables. I have a good cable and I hunted a long time to get a real chip cable. I agree with you that Microsoft and any chip manufacture have no business punishing consumes that unknowingly purchase these mis-marked chips.
    I see them as nothing more than virus peddlers with consumers as the victims.


  • jeff ww6l:

    Hogwash! what does anyone do when they realize they have been duped? You return the defective product to the crook that sold it to ya!

  • Peter kg5wy:

    Still too risky to buy counterfeit.

  • Karl-Max OE4KMC:

    Hi Andrew,
    first and foremost, that proves again that closed source software is evil. Second, the lookalikes on the market are typically not clones, they have only the same functionality, while their innards differ from the “original”. Third, what FTDI does there is wilfully damaging other peoples’ property and that is a *criminal* act. The evidence is there and it makes sense to report that to the public prosecutor.

    Aaaand….I am always astonished why hams use non free software at all. Free software is generally better and openness is a hallmark of ham radio, too. The spirit of closed source software is contrary to the spirit of ham radio. Ham radio is all about openness and sharing knowledge: just like the spirit of free software. Furthermore, the quality is much better and you don’t buy the proverbial cat in the bag. In other words: if you use a free/open source driver nobody builds destructive code into them because that would be visible to everybody reviewing the source code and subsequently tossed out ( and the contributor contributing such shit with it ).

    Throw out Windoze. Such crap has nothing lost in a decent ham shack. Use Linux, xBSD, Plan 9 or, if you want a Windows lookalike, ReactOS ( well, not that I’d recommend the latter because the Windows architecture is in fact crappy, it goes much further as being just non free ).

    55 es 73 de Karl-Max
    ….using Linux since kernel version 1.0.9.

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