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I love it, let's see the prototype and what the software can do!
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I might be interested if the price is right.
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Meh.  Maybe.
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I already have a competing product that does everything this will do.
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Author Topic: Ultimate Serial Port Tool  (Read 2721 times)

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Offline ryanminnig

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Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« on: April 19, 2017, 06:02:07 AM »
Having been a lurker for quite a while, I finally decided to grab an account and to throw out a project I've started on Kickstarter http://kck.st/2o4ZJz7.  I know there are a lot of people out there that tinker around with microcontrollers/processors both at work and at home.  When I wanted to do some real in depth troubleshooting of a UART interface to a wireless module, I did not see many options besides 2 USB/UART cables and 2 PuTTy sessions.... So ...


Why did we make the Ultimate Serial Port Tool?

Our mission is to make the software/hardware interface development easier for us all.

In the art of learning the software/hardware interface, instrumentation can mean the difference between a project meeting a deadline or pulling your hair out.  Knowing what is happening on the wires between your processor and the peripheral, whether it is a Raspberry Pi talking to a uBlox GPS, or a Microchip PIC talking to a cellular modem or an MSP430 talking to an SD card, is critical to making a robust software interface.

The days of using 2 USB-UART cables and opening 2 PuTTY windows to see UART data and trying to correlate the 2 data streams in time are over.

Especially for the embedded designer, but also for the hobbyist, being able to see the data on the wires allows one to verfiy that the software is doing what it is supposed to do.  It is not always practical, or even possible sometimes, to use an emulator or debugger to step thru communicae between a processor and a peripheral.  An operating system or scheduler, or even buggy interrupt code may cause timing issues with UART, SPI or I2C data that are not apparent.  The use of a Logic Analyzer or Oscilloscope can be a great help to track down timing issues, but they do not always have the abilty to view a lot of data on a scalable timeline, export to spreadsheet software or save to log files overnight.

What is the Ultimate Serial Port Tool?

USPT is a combination of hardware and software which connects up to 4 serial port analyzers thru a single USB cable to a PC.  One version is geared towards UART development which is still a very prevalent interace in cellular modems, GPS modules, WiFi modules, Bluetooth modules and others.  Particularly with UARTs, there is no single tool which can correlate both the Tx and Rx signals in time with respect to each other.  Another version is geared towards SPI and I2C development which would be more useful for interfacing to serial memories or interprocessor connections. 

The power behind UPST lies in the software interface which has the ablity to view data in many different scenarios such as timeline, packet sequence, byte timing ASCII, HEX, binary, and mixed modes.  Log files can be captured over a period of time and opened up at a later time with full timing information as if the capture had just occurred.  Data can be filtered by value, sequences or timing and can even be used to set up triggers which act like bookmarks so you can easily find specific data which may have been captured over a long 3 day weekend.  With the correct hardware design, data can be injected into either Tx or Rx wires right from the PC and the results can be monitored in real time.

We designed UPST as a tool that you can use to troubleshoot your projects in real time whether it is a data collection gateway, a sensor fusion chip, an SD card or a BTLE module.  You can monitor data over long periods and get a better picture of what is happening in your design.
 

Offline suicidaleggroll

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2017, 07:01:27 AM »
$100 to sniff 4 UARTs?  Why wouldn't someone just get a Saleae (eg: Logic 4 ) instead?  It seems to do everything your tool does (unless I missed something) and a whole lot more
« Last Edit: April 21, 2017, 07:04:20 AM by suicidaleggroll »
 

Offline ebclr

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Offline frozenfrogz

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2017, 09:52:59 AM »
That was exactly my first thought: Someone did not do their homework xD

Actually I am just replying because your counter looked very balanced :D @ebclr

I framed it for you!

He’s like a trained ape. Without the training.
 

Offline ebastler

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2017, 01:18:21 AM »
$100 to sniff 4 UARTs?  Why wouldn't someone just get a Saleae (eg: Logic 4 ) instead?  It seems to do everything your tool does (unless I missed something) and a whole lot more

In fairness, the "serial port tool" seems to offer significantly more input channels (4x full UART interface incl. handshake lines, and/or SPI interface, from looking at the prototype board). But I agree that a 4-channel Saleae, or an 8-channel $10 Chinese clone with Sigrok software, probably does the job in most cases.

Speaking of software, I have not seen any software mentioned for the serial port tool. Did I overlook that? I frankly don't care much what the hardware prototype looks like. Whether it's valuable (or even usable) or not depends entirely on the software!
 

Offline ryanminnig

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2017, 01:26:04 AM »
suicidaleggroll, you are correct.  If just sniffing 4 UARTs is what you want to do, the Saleae is a very good choice, low cost and has a great software interface.
 

Offline elecman14

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2017, 01:41:39 AM »

Quote from kickstarter page:
Quote
We consider the Ultimate Serial Port Tool to be low-risk. We've developed dozens of embedded projects already and used some make-shift combination of tools to accomplish nearly what the USPT does, minus the software.

Looks like they have not written the software yet  :palm:.

If it is based off a FT4232H it would be interesting to see how well the fifo on that chip works. If it has issues, writing software that can accurately reconstruct the serial traffic would fail.

Without evaluating how the fifo buffer works making the claim "We consider the Ultimate Serial Port Tool to be low-risk" seems rather bold  |O

Why kickstarter does not require a working prototype demo to start a project is beyond me. If you can not show you can make one item that works, that is concerning.
 

Offline ryanminnig

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2017, 01:51:34 AM »
ebastler, your response is the response I was hoping for from other people as well.  The USPT is based on the FT4232 chip and yes, I can buy the breakout board from FTDI for under $40.  The USPT project is not  just about the hardware, although my version does offer RS232 and RS485 electrical interfaces and Rev. B will have at least 1 opto-isolated interface and the ability to set the logic voltage levels on 2 interfaces.  There are 2 other main benefits of the USPT over the Saleae, for instance.  The USPT has the ability for bi-directional communications, so during debugging I can send data from a PC to my device and a logic analyzer does not necessarily have that capability.  The other benefit, which was lacking in my original project description, is the software.  This is the key to making this project a success and I anticipate having, at minimum, some screen shots that I can post in the next couple of days as the software is under heavy and changing development now.  Just like with a logic analyzer, the software can display the 4 ports of data in a time correlated fashion, but also can group data together in a user programmable fashion, such as HDLC encapsulated packets.  It can view data in raw (binary), ASCII or mixed HEX/ASCII or other user definable methods, based on the users preferences.  The point I really want to make is that the software is going to be the make-or-break.  I worked on a project recently that has 4 UART, 3 SPI and 1 I2C interface to a Microchip processor, and the UART always gave me the most trouble because I always seemed to go back to 2 PuTTy or Herculaes windows depending on how I wanted to view the data at the time, so this project is my "If I only had some software that would blank" project.
 

Offline ryanminnig

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2017, 02:09:55 AM »
elecman14.  Kickstarter does require a working prototype to start a project of this nature and the information you see on the opening page is sort of a snapshot of what was going on when the project was started.  Since the start of the Kickstarter campaign, there has been a lot of software development and this is really the key to the project.  Concerning the FIFO in the FT4232H chip, each port contains a 2 x 2K serial FIFO and as low as 2ms (2 USB frame) notification and so yes, there will be some baud rate at which the FIFO become a limiting factor.  However, just like the wildly popular "Openscope" http://kck.st/2jSERJm project, the hardware doesn't have to be the best at everything as long as it satisfies a need and I believe that the USPT hardware/software combination will satisfy a need for developers.
 

Offline ebastler

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #9 on: April 22, 2017, 02:36:05 AM »
ebastler, your response is the response I was hoping for from other people as well.  The USPT is based on the FT4232 chip and yes, I can buy the breakout board from FTDI for under $40. 
[...]
The point I really want to make is that the software is going to be the make-or-break.   "If I only had some software that would blank" project.

Have you considered to make this a software offering only? If FT4232 boards are already available from China for $28, why roll your own? If your project takes off, someone in China will rip you off with a compatible PCB anyway...

There may be additional margin in selling the hardware, of course; but on the other hand you could reduce your required upfront funds (and the labor of producing and distributing the serial port tool once it's ready) to almost nothing if you just offer the software. You could still resell the Chinese boards for those who want the convenience of ordering everything from the same place, and make a little margin on those.
 

Offline ryanminnig

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2017, 03:11:08 AM »
ebastler, that certainly is a valid point worth consideration, and it may end up being that the FT4232H based design is not all that special.  I also have plans for an expanded hardware design that will encompass more than the standard UART/SPI/I2C interfaces, but that is down the road and is predicated upon at least some success with the first version.  I believe that persistence pays off.  Not everyone is interested in the cheapest product if there is perceived added value in buying something that costs more.  The hobbyist market may demand low prices, but the professionals are not always interested in the lowest cost tool.
 

Offline AndersJ

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2017, 03:25:41 AM »
If RS-232 is all that is needed, check out www.fifo.se
"It should work"
R.N.Naidoo
 

Offline Jeroen3

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2017, 03:56:22 AM »
Quote from kickstarter page:
Quote
We consider the Ultimate Serial Port Tool to be low-risk. We've developed dozens of embedded projects already and used some make-shift combination of tools to accomplish nearly what the USPT does, minus the software.
Looks like they have not written the software yet  :palm:.
You will need months of software development to get it stable working multi platform. If you're going all in on those features.
Quote
timeline, packet sequence, byte timing ASCII, HEX, binary, and mixed modes.  Log files can be captured over a period of time and opened up at a later time with full timing information as if the capture had just occurred.  Data can be filtered by value, sequences or timing and can even be used to set up triggers which act like bookmarks so you can easily find specific data which may have been captured over a long 3 day weekend.
Quote
We consider the Ultimate Serial Port Tool to be low-risk
It's a very risky project. If you do not get the architecture fundamentals right first time, the project will fail.

Unless of course, if you're a senior OO developer with many years and projects experience?
« Last Edit: April 22, 2017, 04:00:32 AM by Jeroen3 »
 

Offline ebastler

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2017, 04:13:44 AM »
@jeroen3, @elecman14 --

Guys, I am not too excited about this project, and won't support the kickstarter campaign anytime soon. But I don't see the need to work ourselves into a frenzy to put this project down. And I certainly think it's bad style to provide incomplete quotes and then mis-interpret them:

Quote
We consider the Ultimate Serial Port Tool to be low-risk. We've developed dozens of embedded projects already and used some make-shift combination of tools to accomplish nearly what the USPT does, minus the software. The software for the first version is strictly a windows based application. There is a risk to development time to make the software portion platform independent at a later time.

There is a plausible risk statement regarding the sowftware, and the announcement of a staged approach for software development.

Nevertheless, I think there should at least have been some screenshots, and preferably a video showing core software functionality, right when the project went public. This would have helped gaining credibility. Maybe the OP launched his campaing prematurely.
 
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Offline ryanminnig

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #14 on: April 22, 2017, 04:21:09 AM »
If RS-232 is all that is needed, check out www.fifo.se

I had used this software for a brief time many years ago, but there are some features lacking which I wanted to see, like the time of day certain data was sent and more detailed timing of the captured channels.  For simple capture of 2 UARTS this software would be just fine.
 

Offline Jeroen3

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #15 on: April 22, 2017, 04:27:10 AM »
I think this project would have more success when a few core people are funded into developing it open source, rather than funded proprietary tools.
I know the frustration of not having a complete set of uart/rs232 debugging and analyzing tools, that's why I clicked on the topic. But I also know it's hard to make one. I tried.

An example, look at this project: https://rbei-etas.github.io/busmaster/
It's an advanced CAN bus analyzing project. Concept is easy, filter and parse, then show the frames. They're at it for >1k commits now, and I can't say it is "The Ultimate Tool" or bus-"master" yet.
 

Offline ryanminnig

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #16 on: April 22, 2017, 04:37:41 AM »
Quote
Guys, I am not too excited about this project, and won't support the kickstarter campaign anytime soon. But I don't see the need to work ourselves into a frenzy to put this project down. And I certainly think it's bad style to provide incomplete quotes and then mis-interpret them:

Quote
We consider the Ultimate Serial Port Tool to be low-risk. We've developed dozens of embedded projects already and used some make-shift combination of tools to accomplish nearly what the USPT does, minus the software. The software for the first version is strictly a windows based application. There is a risk to development time to make the software portion platform independent at a later time.

There is a plausible risk statement regarding the sowftware, and the announcement of a staged approach for software development.

Nevertheless, I think there should at least have been some screenshots, and preferably a video showing core software functionality, right when the project went public. This would have helped gaining credibility. Maybe the OP launched his campaing prematurely.

As most of you might be able to tell, this is my first Kickstarter campaign and there are bound to be some mistakes, and I will chalk those up to learning and do better the next time around.  Having looked over a number of other Kickstarter campaigns in the same category, it was not always clear when the campaign was launched vs. how much development had taken place already.  So I decided to go for it to test reaction and see what would happen.  If I were to start again, I might have gotten further down the road with the software development so there could be more content on the Kickstarter site.  I have over 20 years hardware/firmware development experience and about 15 years PC development experience and so that is why I considered the project low risk.  There is a staged rollout of features and one thing I have learned in product development is sometimes you have to shoot the engineer and get the product to market, so there is always weighing the feature/benefit analysis with the time to market.  All of the feedback so far has been very insightful and will be taken into consideration as the project progresses.
 

Offline Jeroen3

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #17 on: April 22, 2017, 04:49:55 AM »
I have over 20 years hardware/firmware development experience and about 15 years PC development experience and so that is why I considered the project low risk.
That puts things into perspective. But still a risky kickstarter without any design drawings.
 

Offline suicidaleggroll

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #18 on: April 22, 2017, 07:09:49 AM »
I do a lot of work with MCUs, UARTs, I2C, SPI, etc.  99.9% of the time the problems I run into are things that this tool would not be able to help with.  Clock dividers set incorrectly resulting in the wrong baud rate, pin mux settings set incorrectly resulting in the line coming out the wrong pin or not at all, chip select not dropping due to a direction register getting reset elsewhere in the code, etc.  From what I can tell, this tool requires you to have the DUT already working correctly before it could be used, at which point, there's very little left to debug in my experience.  I guess I'm just not seeing the utility here, I'm working with MCUs and various incarnations of serial protocols nearly every day, and I can't think of a single thing I would use this for.

Maybe you should spell out what makes this tool better than the competition.  For example, why would I use this instead of a logic analyzer, or a USB/UART plugged into a computer?  The only thing I've pulled from your page in regards to this is that you can monitor multiple serial ports simultaneously.  Ok, but what else?  For this to be considered the "Ultimate Serial Port Tool", it has to be better than the competition in more ways than this.  Does it offer any assistance in getting the port configured initially, or do you have to have complete, fully-framed packets at the correct baud rate in order for it to even register?
 

Offline ebclr

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #19 on: April 22, 2017, 08:03:17 AM »
This project isn't a hot one for sure.

If you want to put some interest on this project based on the FT4232, the only possibility that I would consider as a product is that is a mix between sigrok project and http://chilipeppr.com/.

Software must web-based,  based on Git scripts to decode or encode things ( similar to chilipeppr) , Also a sniffer between ports will be nice. The FT4222 can also have some jtag use.

In my opinion, this kickstart will fail, except if have a very powerful software years ahead of simple terminal


Some links

http://www.helicontech.co.il/?id=ftdii2c

http://www.ftdichip.com/Support/Utilities.htm
 

Offline ar__systems

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #20 on: April 23, 2017, 06:22:44 AM »
When I need to correlate something to a serial port data, I'll just use logic analyzer. There I can have as many serial ports input as I want (18 channels max). Gives exact timing info.

I think authors severely underestimate complexity of developing flexible PC application to conveniently display data for the millions of different scenarios that users face. Just to throw together a port with a bunch of I/O pins is nothing, maybe 2% of all of the work that is required here.
 

Offline ehughes

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #21 on: April 23, 2017, 06:53:13 AM »
I have considered doing some development tools but to be honest the juice is not worth the squeeze.   Some general observations over the years:

1.)    Most "hobbyists" don't understand the value of good tools.    They use duck tape and string as a debugging method.   They will also buy the cheapest crap form Ali0express and Deal Extreme while spend countless man-hours trying to make it work.  Your $100 price point for hardware will never appeal to them.     You are also offering a special software package but see #2

2.)   I think the value you are proposing is in the software, not the hardware but I don't see anything to comment on    Once again,   people from #1  don't see the value of paid tools.  The will use Linux software or just steal it.   The minute you put it out,  someone else will port it to generic USB-UART hardware and skip you all together.   You essentially have a FT4232 breakout board that can be had for much cheaper.   

3.)  The "Pro-Hobbyist"  may understand the value of good tools but also look at everything with a critical eye.       The Saleae logic 16 already does most of what  you have with mature software.     You need to present a good software package to them before they would consider it.   A "pro hobbyist" would just a soon write their own scripts, etc to solve a problem as it will be more flexible and do they job they need.   Even though the Saleae tool can't generate a signal, hacking that in is trivial to this user

4.)  The "Pro" user understands the value of good tools.  $100 is not a big deal.  However, we need a solution that is proven and works now.     A Kickstarter device will never be on the radar as there is too much risk and doesn't help.   A pro user would spend more to get a proven, reliable tool right now.

I would be interested to see your software as that is what I think provides the value.       Even if you had a great software package, it might only appeal to #3 and #4.     #1 only pirates software.
 

Offline donotdespisethesnake

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #22 on: April 24, 2017, 08:08:14 PM »
I also looked at doing a serial analyzer.

The hardware can be quite cheap, but the real effort is in making a really good software. And then making it work on all types of Windows, Linux and Mac. For the very small sales volume, the unit cost would need to be high to recoup the investment in programming time, which would limit the market further.

I also looked into using an existing software application which already handles protocol decoding and writing a plugin for it, but then you are down to selling a very expensive USB-serial converter which would be copied in seconds.

I think that echoes the thoughts of other posters.  A good analyzer can be really useful in a tricky debug situation, but people are not really willing to pay to have a good analyzer which they might use occasionally. The people with a decent budget probably do have a scope which they use a lot, and those can do serial decoding.

I concluded there was not really a business proposition in it, but maybe could be an interesting Open Source project to publish.
Bob
 

Offline ebclr

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #23 on: April 25, 2017, 05:23:54 AM »
"good analyzer can be really "

The point is, how hard is to make a good analyzer on Kickstarter, by the definition will be a starter, not a good analyzer
 

Offline matkar

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Re: Ultimate Serial Port Tool
« Reply #24 on: May 01, 2017, 04:56:24 AM »
I agree with ehughes. Pro users value tools that facilitate their work and saves time. They are prepared to pay for it. Find out how can you achieve that.
Hobby users are tough crowd. They don't see value in software and they don't value their own time. They rather pay less and loose crazy amount of time to make something work. And even if they don't succeed in making it work, they still won't pay more for a better tool.
 


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