Make your own “FTDI cable” for about $5.


I read on the Arduino forum about using cheap Nokia data cables as a compatible “FTDI cable”. I decided to have a look and started to shop around for a compatible cable. The best candidate seems to be the CA-42 USB2.0 Nokia Data Cable and I ordered this one: http://www.dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.45715 from Deal Extreme for $4.40 with free shipping. It comes in a box with a driver CD, so you don’t have to browse all over the internet to find drivers.

This is how it looks like:

The nice part of this cable is that the blue plastic casing is not glued, so with a knife I pried it open. Inside, I found a small PCB with a black blob and… lucky me, the pins are already labeled! It has GND (the label is covered by the blob), Rx, Dtr, Tx and Vcc.

Only GND, Rx and Tx were used, so I needed to ditch the original cable and make a new one. For this purpose I bought a 6 wire phone cable, about 2 meters long (good for 3-4 cables) for $1 and some crimp pins and 6 pin housings, $0.40 a set.

I stripped one end of the phone cable and there were 6 colored wires: white, black, red, green, yellow, blue. I need only 5 wires, so I cut off the white wire. Then I crimped 5 pins on the remaining wires and I plugged them like this (from left to right):

  • Blue    – Dtr
  • Yellow – Tx
  • Green  – Rx
  • Red     – Vcc
  • nothing
  • Black  – GND

Then I stripped the other end of the cable, cut off the white wire, then started to solder the remaining wires in order (from left to right):

  • Black  – GND
  • Yellow – Rx
  • Blue   – Dtr
  • Green – Tx
  • Red    – Vcc

The Dtr pin on the little board had a red wire jumper to a pin on the back of the board. I removed that wire before soldering the Blue wire instead. When soldering the Rx and Tx wires you need to be careful and switch them, so the Rx pin from the microcontroller will go to the Tx pin from the FTDI chip and the Tx from the microcontroller will go to the Rx pin from the FTDI chip.

This is how the cable looks now:

Then I placed the little board back in it’s plastic casing and closed it.

The only thing that is missing are the Rx-Tx LEDs, but we’ll live without them.

Before I can use the cable I need to install the driver. I put the CD in and browsed the folders to find a Windows 7 compatible driver. I didn’t, but I found a Vista driver and installed that one. After the install finished, I plugged the cable in the USB port. New hardware was detected and the driver loaded. It shows as a “Prolific USB-to-Serial Comm Port” and was allocated the COM8 port. So it is not a FTDI chip, but another chip that does the same thing.

Will Arduino IDE work with it? Let’s see. I took a µBotino board and plugged the cable in the FTDI header. The power LED came on and the already loaded Blink program started to run. So far so good. I started the Arduino IDE and loaded another Example sketch, selected the serial port COM8 and clicked the Upload button. The pin D13 (red) LED flickered for a moment and then went off. After a little bit, the “Done uploading” message came in the IDE, so I was sure the uploading was done. The Blink sketch was not there anymore, because the D13 LED wasn’t blinking. I loaded the Blink sketch and clicked on the Upload button, then, after seeing the “Done uploading” message, the D13 LED started to blink again! Success!

As you can see, this is an easy and cheap way to make your own FTDI cable and you can use it as a USB-serial cable for any project you have.

I might be selling these cables in my store for about $10 if people are interested.

Update:

You can find drivers for all operating systems from the Prolific website: http://www.prolific.com.tw/eng/downloads.asp?id=31

OK, it seems that Prolific updated it’s drivers to check for counterfeit chips and not work with them. So just use the Vista driver from the CD if you have Win7. Here is the link to the zip file of the installer: Vista_driver_installer and XP driver.

Android already supports PL2303. So, use this cable to control a µBotino from your Android tablet!

About Gabriel (Ro-Bot-X)

Robots, nature, bees, and gardening, how do they mix together? After too much indoor activities one needs to get out and breathe! Harvest natural energy and create a little paradise. And ask the robots to help, of course.
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8 Responses to Make your own “FTDI cable” for about $5.

  1. Pingback: USB-serial cable (5V) « Ro-Bot-X Designs

  2. DonRyanocero says:

    Seemed like an awesome solution for me, but my cables shipped with blank disks and the latest driver on the prolific site isn’t working. Think you could upload your older version?

  3. Bijil Baji says:

    i have an original Nokia ca-42 cable i am really frustrated after not getting to work after installing the drivers. i am using a windows 7 ultimate 64 bit OS it has been about a month i have been trying to get it to work please need immediate help..
    I couldn’t do many of my projects without it..
    please help me………

    • Gabriel (Ro-Bot-X) says:

      I have Win 7/64 too and I’m using the Vista drivers from the CD. I have updated the post above with a link to the Vista driver so you can download it and install it. If you already have the Vista drivers and the cable does not work, try to reverse the Rx and Tx wires. Make sure the GND is also connected, Vcc is not necessary needed, only if you need your project board to be powered by the USB port. For Arduino you also need to wire the Dtr pin, you can find it on the cable board between the Rx and Tx pins. Good luck!

  4. Chris says:

    Well , it is not an FTDI cable then , it is a PL2303 compatible cable ! . FTDI chipset is far better than the PROLIFIC one , thats why they sell for more than 15 usd , while prolifics sell for 3 . For example , Prolific driver supports only standard windows baud rates ( actually , you dont really need to go for FTDI if you dont need the extra features )

    • Gabriel (Ro-Bot-X) says:

      Well, that’s true. That’a why I wrote FTDI cable in quotation marks. In the Arduino world everybody knows what’s a FTDI cable, but nobody knows what’s a PL2303 cable. For most of the regular stuff this cable works good. For high baud rates, you need the real deal. So it’s up to the user what to use, I’m just showing a cheaper alternative that works.

      Cheers!

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