USB to serial port adapters are gadgets that we have a love/hate relationship. We love that we can add serial port to a new PC, but we hate that many of those adapters do not feel reliable in use. Counterfeit copies of USB to serial ICs have caused headaches for users and manufacurers. And it seems that in the future they cause even more headaches. Counterfeit electronics components are a serious problem to electronics and chip manufacurers. It seems that two big USB-serial converter chip manufacturers have come up with their own fight against counterfeits, which is could be viewed both good and bad. It is bad news if your hardware has counterfeit ICs in it.
Prolific (PL2303) adapter is an common solution about USB to Serial port adapters. Note: How to not get scammed with Prolific (PL2303) USB – Serial adapters forum discussion tells that the latest Prolific driver has strict chip identification code in it: If the Prolific chip in your adapter is a fake copy, the driver does not work with it: “This device cannot start. (Code 10)” error. Lots of cheap product claiming to have PL2303 do not work with new driver, but they could work better with old driver (if you want to gamble that option). And usually those fake copies work quite well with Linux.
Prolific has an warning about the fake chips in their website too. The fakes are quite common in the cheap translucent USB to serial converters. Common problems are the drivers refuse to work (code 10) or they are just not reliable. That does not feel not very friendly if you happen to own such hardware. But that’s correct and healthy corporate cooperation. Prolific needs to protect them self’s from all those counterfeit parts. 1) Looses money from those. 2) Their work it must be patented, and so they have to protect it.
Another well known USB-serial converter IC manufacturer is FTDI. Their FT232RL chip is an extremely common chip used to add a USB serial port to projects, builds, and products. The FTDI FT232 chip is found in thousands of electronic baubles, from Arduinos to test equipment, and more than a few bits of consumer electronics. Because is it commonly used, there are counterfeits of them also (probably one of the most cloned pieces of silicon on Earth). FT232RL: Real Or Fake? article shows picture of real and fake FT232RL chip. In this case the fake chip is really just a microcontroller made protocol compatable with the addition of a mask ROM. It’s very hard to tell the difference between the real and fake.
Watch That Windows Update: FTDI Drivers Are Killing Fake Chips article tells that thanks to a recent Windows update, all those fake FTDI chips are at risk of being bricked (“soft brick“). If fake FTDI chip is plugged into a machine running the newest FTDI driver something unexpected happens: the latest driver bricks the fake chips, rendering them inoperable with any computer. So , all those fake FTDI chips are at risk of being bricked.
Reports of problems with FTDI chips surfaced early this month, with an explanation of the behavior showing up in an EEVblog forum thread. Watch That Windows Update: FTDI Drivers Are Killing Fake Chips article mentions a work-around to fix those bricked devices: use FT232 config tool from the FTDI website on a WinXP or Linux box, change the PID of the fake chip, and never using the new driver on a modern Windows system.