Your sitting at a table at a trending internet cafe, the fellow next to you is pecking away at the small screen of a PDA. After his letter is complete he walks over to a desktop and transfers it over via Bluetooth or IR connections. You are sitting there enjoying a conversation with a buddy, while at the same time clicking away on a vintage 1993 Tandy Word Processor WP2. The guy with the PDA comes over to you and starts a conversation about the fossil under your fingers.
You politely answer his questions, smile then press send. Instantly your document is transferred to a PC next to the one he used. The only difference is that your letter took only a moment to type. Why, because you used both ands and all 10 digits God gave you. He laboured away using a pointer on a virtual keyboard.
But, that’s not the fascinating thing here. What sounds almost fiction is that a vintage PC like the Tandy WP2 has an IR port. Well we all know that it only has two ports, a printer and a RS-232C serial port. With some new technology you
can add an IR port to any device using an RS-232C. It’s referred to as a Serial to Infrared Converter.
There are many different versions of these devices which range from $30.00 to 150.00. But not all will work with older computers. For the most part some are dumb and others smart. It is the smart versions that will work on your trusty TRS-80.
Smart Infrared Converters do not require a Windows XP driver to configure in order to work with their hosts. A smart Serial to IR Converter has built-in protocols that can be programmed using control codes and terminal software.
We will look at two such devices. The first is the Ready RS232 External Intelligent SIR Adapter, ACT-IR100SL from
ACTiSYS Corporation, 48511 Warm Springs Blvd., # 206, Fremont, CA 94539, Phone: 510-490-8024 and the
second unit is the CSA Cordless Serial Adapter with Bluetooth® Wireless Technology, CS0400-479, of Socket
Communications Inc., 37400 Central Court Newark, CA 94560, Phone: 510-744-2700
To say that I was thrilled to find such a toy is an understatement. This is the only feature that the new PC based
portable word processors like the QuickPAD and AlphaSmart 2000 have over my favorites like the vintage Brother
Powernotes, Citizen of Tandy Word Processors or even the TRS-80 Models 100 and 102. Even the NEC 8201 and
8300 can benefit by these new gizmos.
Both the CSA (Cordless Serial Adaptor) and the SIR (Serial Infrared Adaptor) have the special features of being able
to connect with the older computers. Both units run in the neighbourhood of $160.00 dollars. Our research today is
compiled from the manufacturers promotional materials and their websites, and all capabilities are based on
Ready RS232 External Intelligent SIR Adapter, ACT-IR100SL
Not to be confused with it’s inferior counterpart the ACT-IR100S, the SL version has
embedded RS232 IrDA adapter (built-in protocol) for modem, serial printer and
embedded host devices. The built-in protocols will allow this unit to operate with an
RS-232 device without the dependency of a Windows or Linux environment. When
looking for a IR converter to be used with older PC’s this is the one feature that you
cannot skimp on.
ACTiSYS reports that their SIR Adapter:
- Connects to and turns your RS232 port instantly into IrDA ready, no SW change!
- Works with any RS232 port of modem, printer, instrument, meter, data terminal.
- Fully compatible with IrDA Physical and Protocol spec: IrLAP, IrLMP, IrCOMM.
- IR speeds at 9.6K, 19.2K, 38.4K, 57.6K, 115.2K bps.
- Active power: 100mA, standby: 10mA, auto-sleep/IR wake-up feature.
- Uses AC adapter or external DC power connected to pin 1 or 9 of DB9F
The SIR is not cheap, running at a suggested retail price of 165.00 it takes it out of range for many. However, since
it is portable in nature and can be used on many different serial devices the cost can sometimes be justified. The
cheaper version of this unit the ACT-IR100S is only $49.00 and is missing the built-in protocols preventing the unit to
be used on vintage PC’s such as the Tandy WP2.
CSA Cordless Serial Adapter – CS0400-479
This little unit is sweet. Small about the size of a standard null modem, the CSA
from Socket Communications Inc. is the real deal. Published information advises
that the CSA has been designed for use with industrial serial equipment. Because of
power requirements, custom drivers and custom serial communication protocols, the
Cordless Serial Adapter is not intended for use with typical consumer serial devices,
including but not limited to: 56K modems, cellular phone data cables, digital camera
data cables, joysticks, keyboards, mice, Pocket PC cradles, and scanners. The
power requirements of the CSA would require that when using this on a Tandy WP2
or small notebook with limited battery power the AC adaptor be used. The CSA has
the ability to draw it’s power from PIN 9 of the computers RS-232C, but when a PC
runs only on 4 AA batteries like the Tandy WP2 or the TRS-80 Model 100 the
external power is required. If this is the only limitation of the CSA then it’s full steam
Configuration is easy, the CSA comes with a set-up utility for Windows XP. Its a simple case of installing the
software on your Windows PC, connect the adapter, run the setup utility, set your preferences, and select “write to
adaptor”. This saves your settings. After the utility has saved your setting, remove the CSA from your Windows PC
and reconnect it to your Tandy WP2, or other unit with the included Null Modem and your set. You have wireless
Blue Tooth capabilities on your vintage TRS-80.
Like the SIR, the CSA supports all baud rates, and is based on the 9 PIN RS-232C. The CSA can be used on any
serial device including printers and host systems. But unlike the SIR, the CSA is claimed to support Bluetooth
technology. Prices for the CSA are running anywhere from $150.00 to $180.00. Both the SIR and CSA are
configurable via the telecommunication terminal mode using control codes.
These Gadgets are worth a closer look!
Both of these Serial to Converters appear to be up for the job. It’s a great example of new technology meeting the
old. With the high cost of the new writing tools like the Dreamwriter, QuickPAD and AlphaSmart running up to as
much as $300.00, you can save money by picking up a Tandy WP3 / WP3 or Citizen CBM-10WP for 49.00 and
add either the SIR or CSA for 165.00 and save over $100.00 making your vintage PC meet all the features of the new retro word processors. This combination also affords you the ability of transferring your IR port to another device,
which the internal IR ports of the new machines cannot do. If these gizmo gadgets do want they purport to, I think
this combination is a no brainier!