Serial Ports Are Going Away, and USB Is Here to Stay: Are You Ready?

Remember the good old days, when you used to plug your mouse into a serial port on the back of your computer, and IT DID NOT WORK? And when you finally loaded the right driver, you were SO HAPPY that it worked? And then you got REAL techno-geekish, and purchased a PDA (Palm Pilot) and/or digital camera and you REALLY found out how difficult serial ports were, since your PDA required the same serial port used by your mouse? Well, those days are over and so is the serial port. The serial port is rapidly going the way of the rotary dial phone, and is being replaced by the USB (Universal Serial Bus) port. What is really cool is that one USB port is capable of supporting many devices simultaneously, making it perfect for the technologically advanced doctors office.


Now here is the bad news: Virtually all chiropractic electronics devices (instrumentation including Range of Motion, Muscle Testing, SEMG and Thermography) utilize the serial port, leaving you totally stranded if you opt to purchase a newer computer (especially the lower cost computers). Serial ports still exist, but they are disappearing fast, so it is time to find a techno-solution.


A little background first: There are basically three ways to connect peripheral devices (such as cameras, chiropractic instrumentation, scanners etc.) to your computer: The serial port, USB port, and Firewire (also known as IEE1394) port. Some rare nut cases actually try to use the infrared ports, but anyone who has tried has found out how difficult that can be. There is also Bluetooth (which is a wireless standard), but it is not functional enough at this point to discuss. Parallel ports are disappearing along with serial ports.


USB is broken into USB 1.1 (low speed, used with mice or printers), and USB 2.0 (high speed, as is used with external hard drives and CD burners). USB 2.0 is rapidly becoming standard on new computers. Firewire (IEEE 1394) runs at about the same speed as USB 2.0, but is used mainly in digital video cameras and some hard drives only.


With chiropractic instrumentation typically outliving computers by many years, when you go to upgrade your computer, you’ll find that you simply cannot connect your instrumentation to your computer, leaving you without the essential instrumentation and clinical data every modern office relies upon.


How do you interface that ROM device, Muscle Tester, SEMG and Thermography devices to you computer when there are no serial ports?


One solution is to purchase “off the shelf” serial to USB converters for each of your serial devices. The problem is that they are typically “general purpose” converters, and are not designed to function with your specific instruments. I have found that they work around 80% of the time, which may be acceptable for some people.


As one who is easily frustrated, I gave up, and decided to design my own serial to USB converter. Customizing it to our specific needs provides significantly greater reliability. In addition, it is backwards compatible with all of our instruments going back to approximately 1991, and is truly “Plug & Play” on most operating systems, meaning there is little or no setup required.


The advantage of this solution is so great that, prior to purchasing ANY equipment in the next year, you should make certain that it is “designed for USB”. Note that marketing people are great at twisting the facts, and will try to claim that off-the-shelf USB to serial converters are built for their devices; so buyer beware, and ask several questions prior to purchasing any instrumentation any time in the future.


Questions to ask to determine if the product you are interested in is truly USB compatible:

1.  Does the device function or have a connection which works on a serial port? If the answer is, “Yes,” then you know that the device is a serial device, and the next few questions are very important ones.

2.  Will it function on a USB port at all?  If the answer is, “No,” be aware that you may have trouble connecting it to your computer, or a computer you purchase in the future. If the answer is, “Yes,” ask the following question:

3.  Does it use a serial to USB converter? If the answer is, “Yes,” ask:

4.  Does it use an “off the shelf” converter, such as a brand name model, which can be purchased online, or from a computer store? (Some brand names include Belkin, Keyspan, and Radio Shack) If the answer is, “Yes,” you may experience more difficulty with the product.

5.  Is the product designed to be used with USB without an off-the-shelf converter? If the answer is, “Yes,” this is the product you will most likely be happiest with.


Not only will the purchase of a product designed for USB be more reliable, easier to use, and protect your investment by interfacing to computers you may upgrade to in the future, but you can also purchase a less expensive computer. To put it into perspective, Dell now sells a notebook computer for $799.00 without a serial port. The least expensive model with a serial port costs $1199.00. What they are trying to communicate is, “We are getting rid of serial ports, so listen up!”


Technology can be your best friend or worst enemy. By finding the best product and support for your needs, you will have a great partner in building your practice.

 The author, David Marcarian, MA, is founder and president of Precision Biometrics, supplier of the MyoVision SEMG and Thermoglide systems. He has worked for NASA, and was awarded a $450,000 grant from the NIH for developing the MyoVision. He lectures for Palmer College of Chiropractic and his course is endorsed by all U.S. chiropractic associations that mandate SEMG training. He has personally instructed more than 6,000 chiropractors on proper SEMG use. Mr. Marcarian can be reached at 800-969-6961, by email at [email protected], or visit his company’swebsite at

Leave a Reply