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November 1999


By: John Twelker twelker@maui.net

Disclaimer: I don't know everything about anything. If you know something I don't about USB and OS/2 and would care to share it, I'd appreciate it very much!

A Brief History of the Past and Future of USB

It's only been recently that USB has become a buzzword among PC users. However, this "universal serial bus" really isn't new at all ... it's been around for the past decade or so. Intel's version of it appears to have been inspired by Apple (Apple Desktop Bus [ADB] and their other standard serial bus, FireWire); NeXT; Sun; and some others as well.

Apple excelled at high-speed video and drive communications with the IEEE-1394 FireWire (running at 200 megabits per second with future plans calling for IEEE-1934b running at 800 Mbps and later, to 1.6 Gigabits per second). Intel decided to target USB 1.0 for low cost and low speed devices (1.5-12 megabits per second). Thus, USB 1.0 was designed to compliment FireWire rather than compete with it or replace it.

Intel designed USB 1.0 to be user friendly: just plug in and use ... you can even daisy-chain devices together ... all without turning off the computer even! What could be more simple? Of course, the "new, improved, faster" USB 2.0 will change all that since users will have to buy at least one new high-speed hub and learn all about the speed of the devices and hubs they plug in to, in order to get anywhere close to the promised 480 Mbps speed.

Does it ever seem to you that progress is directly proportional to increased complexity and user "jump through the hoops" intervention?

For an excellent review on USB, go to Mac Weekly Journal at http://www.mackido.com/Hardware/USB2.html and read the report. "USB Two-Oh-My!!". It's long but very well written and very helpful.

The Chaos That Now Exists

Did I say that USB 1.0 was "user friendly"? No, I said "Intel designed USB 1.0 to be user friendly" ... provided, of course, you use a motherboard with an Intel processor and chipset. Unfortunately, for all others, the design and implementation for some reason seems faulty and thus the present situation definitely appears chaotic.

Windows 98 users are reporting a lot of challenges with many kinds of USB devices. What it boils down to is this: users with computers having motherboards with the Intel chipset seem to be in pretty good shape. Users with computers having motherboards with the ALi, VIA, Opti, SIS or CMD chipsets seem to face a number of challenges. If you have a motherboard with the ALi or VIA chipset, you can download a patch (for Win98 only ... doesn't help OS/2) to get around the chipset limitations http://www.usbworkshop.com/php/latestnews/display.php3?newsid=256 . The bottom line is that users with non-Intel chipsets must know a lot more about their hardware than they should have to know and thus, USB 1.0 is anything but "user friendly" for them.

OS/2 users with computers having Intel motherboards seem, like their Win98 counterparts, to be in pretty good shape. The Intel chipset supports UCHI and so do the IBM OS/2 USB base and device drivers which you can download from: http://service.software.ibm.com/os2ddpak/html/universa/index.htm.

At this site, click on "IBM Corporation", then any of the listed specific device driver options. Download USBBASIC.EXE first, then the specific device driver(s) you need. If you need non-IBM Device driver(s), return to "Companies" and select the specific USB Device driver(s) you need. When you finish downloading the drivers you want, doubleclick USBBASIC.EXE which unzips the basic driver file, then doubleclick USBBINST.EXE to install the basic drivers. After you've installed the basic drivers, you can unzip and install the specific USB Device driver(s) you need in the same way. After you finish, reboot. If you have questions, read the text file which accompanies the basic and device drivers.

Users with computers having motherboards with the VIA, ALi, Opti, SIS or CMD chipsets seem to face a number of very serious challenges.

Easy Solution for OS/2 Owners with non-Intel chipsets ... Not!

If your computer doesn't have an Intel motherboard and you want to run USB devices under OS/2, all you have to do is purchase an inexpensive add-on PCI USB I/O Card with an Intel chipset. IBM's UCHI USB drivers will load and work flawlessly and you'll be running all the USB Devices you want.

Unfortunately such a card DOESN'T EXIST.

Therefore, if you want to run USB devices under OS/2 on an non-Intel motherboard, you have to select one of the following three options, neither as good as the easy but nonexistent solution:

By the way, the only chipsets currently being supplied on add-on cards are VIA and Opti. To the best of my knowledge, OS/2 owners are not able to use the add-on cards with the OPTI chipset which supports only OCHI. The VIA chipset is reportedly UCHI compliant which is good news since the IBM OS/2 USB Device Drivers are also UCHI compliant ... however, the VIA chipset has a hardware bug which prevents the UHCI controller from communicating to the peripherals. Robert Lalla in Germany has modified the usbuhcd.sys driver and I'm happy to report that with the modified driver, the OS/2 USB basic and device drivers work properly. He is considering uploading the modified driver to Hobbes when testing is finished.

My Results

I bought the Jameco PCI USB I/O Card and so far, the only USB device I've gotten to run is a 3COM USR 56K EXTERNAL VOICE FAX MODEM SERIAL/USB #5605 and it immediately worked under OS/2 and USB as expected. That's good news since it frees up the single serial port on the Aptiva for the APC Back-UPS serial connection, allowing the UPS to communicate with the computer to shut it down automatically in case of extended power failure. Regretfully, I can't get the UPS to recognize the serial connection. Neither can I get PM Fax to recognize its serial connection nor my Agfa e-Photo camera to recognize the USB port. But, at least the modem works :-) . I guess I haven't learned enough "Stupid-Knowledge" yet ... that's the kind of stuff computer users shouldn't have to deal with but do because of lousy engineering design and implementation.

Which PCI USB Card To Buy

Here's a list of currently available PCI USB I/O Cards with VIA VT83C572 chipset which is Open HCI 1.0a compliant and compatible with Intel UHCI (Universal Host Controller Interface) V.1.1 register:

Remember, you'll have to get the modified USBUHCD.SYS driver for these cards to work under OS/2 and you may have challenges with other USB devices or OS/2 port-dependent software.

Which PCI USB Card Not To Buy

The following PCI USB I/O Cards have the Opti chipset supporting OCHI (and thus won't allow the OS/2 USB UCHI drivers to load). They are listed for your information only since you can not use these cards under OS/2:
Orange Micro Inc OrangeLink FireWire/USB PCI Board $159 http://www.orangemicro.com/firewireusbpci.html

ADS Technologies USBX-500 and 501 $39 http://www.adstech.com/ and click on "Products"

SIIG USB DualPort PCI JU-P20012 $69 http://www.siig.com/prodinfo/usb/USBdual.htm

Entrega Technologies Inc USB Upgrade PCI Card w 2 USB Ports #UPG-PCI-2P $35.99 http://www.entrega.com/2P_upgrade.html

IO Magic MagicBus USB PCI Video Card http://www.iomagic.com/Products/Desktop/USBProducts/MagicBus/

NewCom http://www.newcominc.com/products/usb/usbpci.html

CamTel USB-PCI Card http://www.camtel.com.tw/usbpcicard.htm

Belkin Components USB BusPort $39.95 http://usb.belkin.com/usb_catalog_pages/busport/f5u005.html

Alchemy Technology Inc. PCI-to-USB Card $35.95 http://www.allchemytech.com and click on "Products"

Again, these are the cards NOT to buy for use with OS/2!!!

If you find a card not listed on either of the above lists, be sure to find out which chipset it has before you buy it. Avoid the Opti chipset ... go for the VIA chipset ... and hope someday a card is made with the Intel chipset (not much chance of that when Intel would rather sell you an Intel processor with Intel chipset!)


If you want to use USB devices under OS/2, then make sure the computer you buy is equipped with an Intel chipset in order for the OS/2 USB basic and device drivers to load and work properly.

If you already have a computer with an non-Intel chipset, then the best way to use USB devices under OS/2 is to buy a new motherboard with an Intel processor and chipset.

If you're not into upgrading your motherboard, your only other option is to purchase a PCI USB I/O Card with a VIA VT83C572 chipset which is UHCI and OS/2 compatible ... almost ... and obtain the modified usbuhcd.sys driver to make your USB device work ... some of them anyway.

John Twelker was in business for himself as a Shaklee Products Sales Leader for over 20 years. He's now retired and living on Maui. He's Co-Developer of RaceManPro Windsurfing Race Management Program and one of the Maui Reps for Naish Sails Hawaii. After 14 years of using Microsoft Products, he happily became an OS/2 user ... "while we still have a choice!"

Naish Sails Hawaii, Maui Sales Rep
RaceManPro Windsurfing Software, Co-Developer

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