Solving the Baofeng Cable Problem

baofeng b5The various models of Baofeng handheld transceivers keep popping up everywhere. At prices less than $50, radio amateurs (including veterans and newbies) are scarfing up these radios. See my postings or check out PD0AC’s blog for more information.

Also very frequently, the new owner of such a radio finds that they cannot figure out how to program it. Of course, the solution is “use the programming software” which is often helpful (and often not). The really gnarly problem that usually surfaces is getting the programming cable to work.

It appears that many of the cheap Baofeng USB programming cables use a clone of the Prolific PL-2303 chip that is not supported by the latest Windows driver. This Miklor web page does a good job of explaining the driver problem and giving some helpful advice. (Actually the Miklor site has tons of information on these radios, so check it out.) I’ll also note that the same cable can be used to program a Wouxun radio, so the same remedies apply. Using the info on the Miklor site allowed me to get my Baofeng/Wouxun cable working with my old Windows XP computer. When I bought a new notebook PC, it came with Windows 8 installed, which I later “upgraded” to Win 8.1. (I will spare you the sad story of dealing with Win 8 and 8.1)  Anyway, I have not gotten the Baofeng cables to work on Win 8 or 8.1, even following the Miklor advice.

I started using the Chirp programming software, an open source application that supports a wide variety of radios. (I have found the supplied Baofeng and Wouxun software to be, uh, well, crapware. It can be made to work but it is a pain.) While the Chirp software is not bug free and is in perpetual beta, it basically works well and does a great job of supporting a wide range of radios. I noticed that the Chirp Cableguide recommends the use of programming cables with an FTDI USB chip. I found this one on Amazon for $19, a little more expensive than the cheapo cables but not bad.  I plugged it into my Win8.1 computer and it started working immediately. I did not load any drivers, Windows actually did its job and took care of it for me. In minutes, I was programming a variety of Baofeng and Wouxun radios. Success!!!

My strong recommendation at this point is to use the Chirp software and get a FTDI-based programming cable. You will be a much happier Baofeng or Wouxun owner.

73, Bob K0NR

Bob Witte, KØNR, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Colorado, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

9 Responses to “Solving the Baofeng Cable Problem”

  • Stewart VA3PID:

    The other advantage of FTDI cables is their cross-platform support: they’ll work on Linux and OS X. Prolific work mostly under Linux, but are a horrible fight under OS X.

    There are knock-off versions of both types of these chips, but Prolific seem to be the ones most commonly pirated.

  • Harry K&ZOV:

    Prolific chips and software have some serious issues with Windoz 7, 8 and 8.1. This is not a Chirp issue. Prolific seems to work with XP, however for years of running HRD/DM780 and having the program just stop..I blamed the HRD program. I was wrong. Now I am using nothing but FTDI in all my systems I can leave HRD/DM780 on for days (a test I have done) and never once loose com with any radio. It is better to pay a little more for FTDI then pull you hair out with frustration with anything that is using Prolific..

    73
    Harry K7ZOV

  • Alan KE4NU:

    If you download the live cd from chirp, burn it to a cd you’ll have pain free programming of your uv-5r. I’ve used it with several cable and never had a problem. Its a version of Linux and it works well. Just remember to save your image files to a flashdrive or something that you can retrieve later when needed.

  • Robert Gulley AK3Q:

    Thanks – finally bit the bullet and bought the uv-5ra last month, and got a programming cable from Amazon with was supposedly genuine Baofeng, but did not work. Tried on three computers – no go. Usually have no problems with anything driver related because I do my research, but this one was just not going to work. Returning previous cable and ordered yours today.
    Cheers!
    Robert AK3Q

  • Dennis KK6ILM:

    I went on YOUTUBE and learned how to program my radio this was the best resource. Chirp has many bugs.

  • Craig - N7LB:

    When programming any radio with a Kenwood style 2-prong jack, you basically have several choices (which all work to varying degrees):

    One, most of the cheap cables on Amazon, E-Bay, etc. will work, but ONLY if you have the knowledge of how to disable the newer Prolific driver in your version of Windows (and prevent it from re-installing the newer driver every time Microsoft does an auto update). For “most” hams, that level of software driver and operating system knowledge just isn’t there.

    Two, if you are lucky enough to have a computer that still has a serial DB-9 port, you can eliminate the Prolific USB driver issue by simply buying a DB-9 to Kenwood 2-Prong programming cable, normally around $20.

    Three, if you aren’t one of the famous (or is that infamous?) dumpster diving hams (we all know some) and can afford to part with $20 to $25, you can either choose a genuine Prolific or genuine FTDI cable that will eliminate your USB driver woes and keep you from begging the 14 year old down the street to “fix your computer” so you can program your %^#* Chinese radio.

    Four, if you are “really” well off, you can purchase a complete software/FTDI cable kit from RT Systems (or their dealers) for around $49.

    There are pros and cons to each approach. As others have stated, FTDI cables are really the way to go if you use Linux or Mac, but genuine Prolific (or FTDI) cables work fine in a Windows box. The RT Systems software/cable kit only works within Windows, but it’s soooooooo much easier to use correctly (vs. Baofeng’s VIP or Chirp software) that I have switched all of our programming on the radios we sell to it (if RT Systems has software for the radio I need to program). I’m waiting for them to support the newest TYT UV-8R and the Anytone 3318UV before we switch those over as well.

    Before the Chirp and VIP fan guys go crazy, yes, Chirp (and VIP) are both free and RT Systems does cost money, but Chirp and VIP really look like Beta software compared to RT Systems, plus Chirp seems to be in a constant weekly upgrade in an attempt to fix the bugs.

    One look at the Miklor website will reveal that even when the USB cable driver issue is overcome, many, many folks still have programming issues with Chirp and VIP.

    For full disclosure, our company sells many various brands of radios, both pre-programmed and plain jane versions (like you see from the big name dealers), but we don’t sell the RT Systems software/cable kits (yet), as they feel they have enough dealers already, but we are trying to add them.

    In the meantime, we’ll keep selling folks the pre-programmed radios for their area and use RT Systems software to do it. It’s not the cheapest way to go, but if you use Windows, it’s really the best way to go.

    Craig – N7LB
    RF Gear 2 Go

  • xe2pea menny:

    EXCELENTES TIPS,ESTO DE CONSEGUIR EL SOFTWARE DE CHIRP,CON UN CALE DE FTDI CREO QUE VENDRA A SOLUCIONAR NUESTROS PROBLEMAS DE PROGRAMACION DE NUESTO MARAVILLOSO RADIO PORTATIL “BAOFENG”,DEL CUAL YO ME REFIERO A EL COMO EXCELENTE EQUIPO,MIS MOTIVOS:-BUENA RECEPCION,FACIL PROGRAMACION MANUAL,YA QUE CON TAN SOLO SEGUIR LOS PASOS DEL MANUAL Y ENTRANDO AL VFO,EN EL CANAL DE ABAJO DEL DISPLAY,PODREIS PROGRAMARLO FACIL Y MANUALMENTE,…SE QUE QUIZAS NO LES INTERESE ESTO,PERO ACABO DE PASAR EN MI CIUDAD,ESPECIFICAMENE POR MI BARIO,UN TREMENDO APAGON ELECTRICO DE MAS DE 3 DIAS, EN ESE TIEMPO TRANSCURRIDO,MI BAOFENG,..PERDON MIS BAOFENG,PUES TENGO 2 PIEZAS Y SUS BATERIAS,PLENAMENTE CARGADAS,ME DIERON ILUMINACION,CON SU PODEROSO LED Y MUSICA,ASI COMO NOTICIAS VIA RADIO COMERCIAL,POR SUPUESTO TAMBIEN COMUNICACION CON MIS AMIGOS VIA REPETIDOR EN 147,210,EN FIN ESTOS PEQUEÑOS APARATITOS CHINOS DE $ 40 DLR.ME DIERON MUCHO POR TAN POCO..DEFINITIVAMENTE MULTIFUNCIONALES ESTOS CHINITOS DE PLASTICO…….73 Y DX…….MENNY

  • Scott N9TGW:

    Prolific chips have issues with MOST versions of windows going back to XP. Sadly your best bet it to stick with the FTDI chip and avoid the Prolifics at all costs. Even once you get them working you run the risk of losing them the next time your windows upgrades, as I have found through personal experience. Next there is the software itself and many of the radios do have firmware bugs, which is why one of the importers has stopped dealing with the manufacturer (no need to go into specifics here, other than to acknowledge the issue). So it is important to understand that you may need to do some settings on the radio, via the control panel. But remember, at the price the extra effort is not a deal breaker by any means.

  • Gordon KC1BLF:

    My experience may supply the reason for so much trouble with these cables:
    I bought one of the cheap ones, hoping to connect my UV-5 to Chirp through my Linux machine.
    It would not connect with the radio, so I decided to carve up the radio plug end of the cable, and found bad workmanship, namely defective and non-existent soldering.
    One of the 3 wires to the USB module was not even touching the barrel of the plug base.
    I soldered it and glued the plug back together and it now works, but I got a more expensive Kenwood cable anyway.
    Both types of driver chips work OK here. Looks like cheap labor (hand soldering) is the #1 culprit for the high failure rate of the cheap cables (judging by Amazon comments).
    It’s possible to check continuity by popping the USB clamshell open–I did so by twisting the strain relief, forcing it open.
    Tx (green) goes to the middle of the thin pin, Gnd (black) to the base of the thin pin, and Rx (white) to the base of the thick pin.
    Chasing software problems when there’s an intermittent connection can lead to madness.
    I recommend checking for this apparently common fault!

Leave a Comment

Subscribe FREE to AmateurRadio.com's
Amateur Radio Newsletter
News, Opinion, Giveaways & More!

E-mail 
Join over 7,000 subscribers!
We never share your e-mail address.



Also available via RSS feed, Twitter, and Facebook.


Subscribe FREE to AmateurRadio.com's
Amateur Radio Newsletter

 
We never share your e-mail address.


Do you like to write?
Interesting project to share?
Helpful tips and ideas for other hams?

Submit an article and we will review it for publication on AmateurRadio.com!

Have a ham radio product or service?
Consider advertising on our site.

Are you a reporter covering ham radio?
Find ham radio experts for your story.

How to Set Up a Ham Radio Blog
Get started in less than 15 minutes!


  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor




Sign up for our free
Amateur Radio Newsletter

Enter your e-mail address: