Three Auditees

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Three report on their experiences with software audits. – Ed

SUMMARY: Looks about like an even split for and against, although emotions are stronger against.

Abit is introducing a motherboard without PS2 and Serial Ports, and I asked readers for their opinions – and did we get an earful! I want to thank all who responded – too many responses to acknowledge everyone who spent time to reply.

First, the responses sorted into four categories:

  • For Elimination:               42%
  • Against Elimination:         41%
  • For Eliminating only one: 11%
  • Neutral:                                 6%

First thing I noticed from the responses is how some of you feel pretty strongly about this issue:

Depth of Feelings…


No ports, no sale!

Boards without “proper” ports won’t get my business until I’m good and ready. That won’t happen for years.

They’ll pry my PS2 ports out of my cold, dead KVM switch. ;^)

Abit and anyone else who dumps those ports can go to hell.

and For:

Death to PS2 and all legacy devices. ’nuff said.

Serial, parallel, and PS/2 devices should have died long ago.

I think the move to USB only was pretty inevitable.

I say good riddance. Take the parallel port while they’re at it. I’ve had a USB printer for over a year. Oh, and take the floppy controller too – haven’t used a floppy drive in almost 2 years. Imagine all the extra IRQ’s this is going to free up?

Though it won’t matter all that much with ACPI throwing everything onto one IRQ.. But it’s the thought that counts. Should save some space on the motherboard too, with all these extra antiquities removed. 🙂

I’d say about 20% of you on each side feel strongly about it, with perhaps more intensity on the Against side. For the Against folks, there’s a host of legacy devices that stir the passions:

Legacy Devices

If I have to give up my PS2 and Serial Ports, I will have to either replace or convert my UPS’s and KVM switches….Either way, it will cost significant amounts of money. At $25 bucks a pop, I could spend $200 or more just to convert to USB. I think I’ll stick to boards with legacy ports.

…a serial port is essential for faxes, communications to my UPS, and communications to home automation. So if that is the case, whether or not a mobo had serial ports would be an issue. But then how hard would it be to add a high speed serial card?

I have several devices that use my serial ports, my Palm Pilot and my remote control.

The serial port, OTOH, should not go away. From external modems,
terminals, routers, etc, all use serial ports.

The reason that I am against it is because I am currently typing on my
keyboard that has to be eight years old and clicks on every key.

I’ve grown very attached to my PS/2 mouse and keyboard

I use a perfectly good external 56K modem that I see no good reason to change just because Abit (or anyone else for that matter) is trying to do away with legacy ports. If you are an Athlon user, you have to live with the past history of Via’s problematic chipset releases and at least with the legacy ports you can operate your computer.

The only thing that bothers me is that I’ve got a TI-89 calculator and I can send programs to it using a serial port cable.

Now, as for RS-232, I have unusual motives on this one. RS-232 is a great low-speed and low cost interface to home-brew peripherals. USB interface chips are a lot more expensive than a simple MAX232 chip! Not to speak of the custom device driver work that I’d have to do… I use RS-232 to connect to LCD’s, PIC programmers, EEPROM programmers, my multimeter
with the built-in oscilloscope, home automation projects, and other miscellaneous items.

I am a heavy duty (at least in my opinion) serial and keyboard port
user. I have PIC (and others) microcontroller programers that use both
the keyboard and the serial ports. I have 2 types of programmable device
programmers that use serial ports. The bad thing-they will NOT us the
USB drivers available for USB-serial converters.

What are we to do with the Lego IR programmer…

I am against it since my mouse can run 200 polling rate on PS2
and I know others who set their mouse to that for smoothness;
USB can only do 133 maximum.

This is somewhat of a big deal to me. My wife uses a diabetic test kit
(INTOUCH One Touch Ultra) that interfaces with our PC through a serial port. I download her blood sugar information from the test kit and send it to her doctor.

Some of the applications and systems I use demand serial ports. USB is simply not an option. USB flatly does not work for these systems and the time line to change that is 5 to 10 years out. So I think I will no longer consider Abit.

Loss of Serial ports: This is frustrating actually even though I’ve been aware of Intel’s legacy-free standard since it was announced. As a software developer, I very often debug OS kernel-level problems (device drivers and such) using a serial cable to connect my dev box to my test box.

In fact, looking around my office right now, I see two serial cables strewn across the floor (yep, I currently have 2 serial kernel debuggers running). Serial is a good way to do this because performing serial R/W operations is trivial and that’s important.

Notice from these responses that there’s a LOT of stuff hooked up to serial ports that won’t go away soon. Between PS2 and Serial, there’s more intensity about Serial.

There are also concerns about DOS:

DOS Issues

Ship the mobo with a universal USB to PS2/Serial adapter set just in case one is needed. If you have a USB problem, you then are unable to use a PS2 mouse to navigate your OS, and you must resort to archaic keyboard navigation, which is doable but often highly annoying.

When I go into the Safe Mode of Win98, the USB mouse does not work. I have to use a PS2 mouse there.

What if DOS applications don’t like USB keyboards or mice? What then? I use Partition Magic, Drive Copy and Drive Image software that loads on bootup from floppy.

For those “on the line”, I think Michael summed it up very well:

Conditional For Elimination

I will be comfortable abandoning the PS/2 port once three things are met:

  1. Games display the same responsiveness with USB as they do with PS/2;
  2. BIOS options allow use of USB keyboard with other than the advanced Windows OS versions;
  3. I can adapt my KVM switch and Longview to control a USB only computer.

As long as it works well, I am happy to dump the legacy ports.

These sentiments were echoed by many others. A lot of you felt that one or the other could go:

One or the Other

As for me, I still need the PS2 keyboard, and damn the serial ports full speed ahead.

For the few of us who use mass amounts of PS2 KVM switches, this poses a problem. I wouldn’t mind seeing serial ports go away, but PS/2 ports haven’t outlived their life cycle yet.

Many devices that use the RS232 serial protocol such as UPSs, (older) mice, specialty hardware, PDA links, digitizers, and all sorts of other assorted stuff.

COM ports are a standard to communicate with several types of devices that I doubt will ever have USB ports in them (I have a bunch of them here at lab – multimeters, functions generators, oscilloscopes, etc).

There are also some USB issues that are worth mentioning:

USB Issues

I saw an Intel big wig on Canadian TV admit that USB 2.0
would use up to 40 percent of your CPU resources to get the
high transfer rate. He added with a kind of who cares, “Future
Intel products will be able to take care of this problem.”

Did Abit state that eliminating these ports will free up an IRQ or two? 5 seconds on boot time versus finding a way to download pics off your old polaroid digital camera that uses a serial port, or swamping your USB ports to the point of having to buy a hub? Let’s see here, what do I have on my puter right now:

A USB keyboard, USB mouse, sidewinder 2 USB joystick, sidewinder USB game pad, USB camera connector, and a USB printer, causing me to have to purchase a USB hub. Hmmmm… seems to me like they better be including 2 USB cables for the front USB ports on my case plus 4 USB ports in back – OH, make that 5 for my USB router….

So yes, it matters. Only reason I have a USB keyboard and mouse is that it came with the puter. If they want to do this, then they better include some kind of mini-processor on the motherboard to deal with all the USB inputs. Call it a “USB Director”. Yes, I can’t type fast enough to choke my USB up, but combine a camera download, scanner input, printer shooting a photo out, and a video input and you can choke it pretty well.

Plus, many of us have kids and we are constantly giving them our old castoffs. My kids have (in descending order) a T-Bird 900 @ 1200 on an Asus A7V, a pIII 600 from STEP @ 800 on an Asus p3v4x, and an SMD k6-3/450 on a Tyan 1598c2. All have PS2 kybd and mouse, plus all have USB sidewinders, USB gamepads, and USB cameras, USB printers.

So here I am looking down the road a year or two, if this is going industry wide, at buying (since I have 5 kids, a wife and a mother in law living here) 7 USB keyboards and mice, plus 7 USB hubs?

Think about a small business that upgrades, only to realize that now their keyboards/mice don’t work? ewww….

I mean yes, it is cheap to get a new kybd and mouse. But unless they do a redesign of the ATX case to allow more USB ports, or include daisy chain cables or a hub, what can you do?

How many IRQ’s do you have available on your machine? I certainly don’t have any, and some are shared 2-4 times over. If they gave me 28 IRQ’s I would be happy, but with dual fifo/USB/system resources gobbling up IRQ’s, the system slows down to crap sometimes. Try burning a CD while playing an online game sometime, or just even surfing…aaaacccckkkk.

So unless they can show 2 IRQ’s freed up, an increase in bandwidth, and cables in the mobo box to use the rest of the onboard USB ports, the answer is a resounding NO!

Thanks for listening to the IRQ rant of the century.

When you replace the communication port with USB, you introduce a lot more
complexity. Even the simplest USB transfer mode, “bulk” mode, involves
a level overhead (re: support code) that just isn’t necessary with legacy
serial ports.

Also port analysers…useful tools to have when your target box isn’t responding and you want to make sure it’s actually receiving commands…serial port analysers are cheap; USB port analysers are not cheap.

I think these are issues that can only resolve over time. One area I think deserves mentioning is the “Joe Six-Pack” crowd. Let’s face it – we are not the “average” PC user. For the “DELL et al” crowd, there are benefits worth mentioning:

Idiot Proofing

I do see one area where this would be a benefit:

If you build or service machines, you will encounter people who do not have the slightest idea what a PS2 or USB is. They are simply PC users and have no desire to ever look at the back of a machine. These people could benefit from an all USB port board. One day, they decide to rearrange the office which includes moving a PC or two.

When everything is put back together, there is a 50-50 chance the keyboard and mouse are reversed. Of course, they have no idea that is the problem, all they know is they have a problem and need it fixed. I try to tell them “the keyboard goes outboard” but by the time it happens again they have forgotten. With USB devices this would not happen.

What it all boils down to is making things idiot-proof. Maybe idiot-proof is a little harsh – perhaps user friendly is a more appropriate term. I’m guilty of the mix up myself. In a dark room at 2:00 a.m., it is not hard to do.

For me, the less connectors on the back of computer, the less confused my wife will be.

Yao hit the nail on the head! Some of you went even further about the whole issue of legacy devices:

Wishful Thinking, But Why Not?

It sure would be nice if we could wipe the slate clean and start from
scratch though. From OS to hardware right to the core of the CPUs. We’re
carrying way too much baggage.

Yes I`m ready, I hope that the next to go is the FDD.

I’d certainly like to see a lot of the additional legacy baggage removed
from the BIOS and from Windows as well. When’s the last time you had to
enable “video BIOS shadowing”, or the “memory hole at 15-16MB” or support
for OS/2’s quirky memory requirements?

I wonder how many megabytes could be left out of Windows installations if
legacy drivers weren’t installed. Who needs support for the “ISAPNP Read
Data Port” or “PCI-to-ISA bridge” if you don’t have any ISA
ports? couldn’t we just leave the ISA bus out of the design altogether,
keeping the drivers for such devices out of our Windows/WinNT/System
directories? Would be nice.

Finally, however, Josh pegged it:

The Real Issue

I don’t know if it’s so much a matter as to whether or not we care as to whether peripheral manufactures will realize it’s time to change also.

And that pretty much is where I come down on this issue. Right now, with my KVM and my ancient IBM keyboard, I’m not ready to change horses. However, I have to confess, I felt the same way about the ISA slot disappearing.

I was very comfortable with ISA sound cards and modems, had a bunch of them, and when I tried PCI sound cards and modems when they first came out, I had problems – just did not work right. Eventually, of course, things resolved, peripheral manufacturers got it right and PCI only boards are the rule.

I suspect the same will happen here, although I really like the idea about redoing everything from scratch.

Thanks again to all who took the time to respond – an interesting issue that will be around for a while.

Email Joe


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