Wednesday, September 5, 2012


When communicating at high data rates, or over long distances in real world environments, single-ended methods are often inadequate. Differential data transmission (balanced differential signal) offers superior performance in most applications. Differential signals can help nullify the effects of ground shifts and induced noise signals that can appear as common mode voltages on a network.

RS422 (differential) was designed for greater distances and higher Baud rates than RS232. In its simplest form, a pair of converters from RS232 to RS422 (and back again) can be used to form an "RS232 extension cord."
Data rates of up to 100K bits / second and distances up to 4000 Ft. can be accommodated with RS422. RS422 is also specified for multi-drop (party-line) applications where only one driver is connected to, and transmits on, a "bus" of up to 10 receivers.

While a multi-drop "type" application has many desirable advantages, RS422 devices cannot be used to construct a truly multi-point network. A true multi-point network consists of multiple drivers and receivers connected on a single bus, where any node can transmit or receive data.

"Quasi" multi-drop networks (4-wire) are often constructed using RS422 devices. These networks are often used in a half-duplex mode, where a single master in a system sends a command to one of several "slave" devices on a network. Typically one device (node) is addressed by the host computer and a response is received from that device.
Systems of this type (4-wire, half-duplex) are often constructed to avoid "data collision" (bus contention) problems on a multi-drop network (more about solving this problem on a two-wire network in a moment).

RS485 meets the requirements for a truly multi-point communications network, and the standard specifies
up to 32 drivers and 32 receivers on a single (2-wire) bus. With the introduction of "automatic" repeaters and high-impedance drivers / receivers this "limitation" can be extended to hundreds (or even thousands) of nodes on a network. RS485 extends the common mode range for both drivers and receivers in the "tri-state" mode and with power off. Also, RS485 drivers are able to withstand "data collisions" (bus contention) problems and bus fault conditions.

To solve the "data collision" problem often present in multi-drop networks hardware units (converters, repeaters, micro-processor controls) can be constructed to remain in a receive mode until they are ready to transmit data. Single master systems (many other communications schemes are available) offer a straight forward and simple means of avoiding "data collisions" in a typical 2-wire, half-duplex, multi-drop system. The master initiates a communications request to a "slave node" by addressing that unit. The hardware detects the start-bit of the transmission and automatically enables (on the fly) the RS485 transmitter. Once a character is sent the hardware reverts back into a receive mode in about 1-2 microseconds (at least with R.E. Smith converters, repeaters, and remote I/O boards).

Any number of characters can be sent, and the transmitter will automatically re-trigger with each new character (or in many cases a "bit-oriented" timing scheme is used in conjunction with network biasing for fully automatic operation, including any Baud rate and/or any communications specification, eg. 9600,N,8,1). Once a "slave" unit is addressed it is able to respond immediately because of the fast transmitter turn-off time of the automatic device. It is NOT necessary to introduce long delays in a network to avoid "data collisions." Because delays are NOT required, networks can be constructed, that will utilize the data communications bandwidth with up to 100% through put. 

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