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.

Julian Moss, G4ILO, is a regular contributor to and writes from Cumbria, England. Contact him at [email protected].

5 Responses to “Prolific problems”

  • Robbie kk4fgm:

    I also bought some usb-serial converters on eBay from China. I don’t use Windows much at home or in the shack, and the Prolific drivers in Linux did not get along with the converter. I chose to use a Parallax FTDI usb-serial converter for my application.

  • Lee, KC4ART:

    I am having this problem with a CV-I interface I bought quite a few years ago. Worked fine on XP, but not on WIN7. I ended up making a CV-I interface so its no big deal really. I use an XP machine for all programming anyway, and usually buy Serial cables, and use an adapter I have that came with a LaCrosse weather station that I know works. Even it wont work on WIN7 though.

  • W0FMS:

    Prolific USB chips are horrible anyway. The Manufacturer were probably upset that the clones actually worked better than the real ones! Spend the extra buck or two and stick with FTDI which are rock solid, even if you put more than one on your Windoze box…. (I’ve never had two Prolific RS-232 ports work more than a few hours without one or both not disappearing requiring a unplug-replug).

  • Michael N5TGL:

    I’ll second the FTDI cables, they work perfect the first time you try. The fact that prolific has intentionally bombed their driver for the clone chips sucks, and has to be the reason my “prolific” cables stopped working. Well, even though they may be clones, they are sold with the prolific name, and it still looks bad when “their” chip doesn’t work.

    There are apparently drivers on the yahoo baofeng group that work with win 7. I don’t have the cable, but probably will be getting one.

    W0FMS: where did you find a FTDI cable that works with baofeng, specifically the UV-5R? I’d far prefer FTDI over Prolific.

    73 Michael

  • Ben:

    @ W0FMS: “Prolific USB chips are horrible anyway” – you realise the cheap knockoffs are possibly a big part of the reason why Prolific get caned for reliability? I’ve got a few “prolific” cables, and some work great, some are crap (disconnect randomly, drop data). The crap ones are the cheapy Nokia cable clones from ebay. I can’t blame Prolific for saying “we’re not going to support or put up with the bad PR from the clones”.

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