Universal asynchronous receiver/transmitter
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A universal asynchronous receiver/transmitter, abbreviated UART //, is a computer hardware device that translates data between parallel and serial forms. UARTs are commonly used in conjunction with communication standards such as TIA (formerly EIA) RS-232, RS-422 or RS-485. The universal designation indicates that the data format and transmission speeds are configurable. The electric signaling levels and methods (such as differential signaling etc.) are handled by a driver circuit external to the UART.
A UART is usually an individual (or part of an) integrated circuit (IC) used for serial communications over a computer or peripheral device serial port. UARTs are now commonly included in microcontrollers. A dual UART, or DUART, combines two UARTs into a single chip. An octal UART or OCTART combines eight UARTs into one package, such as the Exar XR16L788 or the NXP SCC2698. A related device, the Universal Synchronous/Asynchronous Receiver/Transmitter (USART) also supports synchronous operation.
- 1 Transmitting and receiving serial data
- 2 History
- 3 Structure
- 4 Special receiver conditions
- 5 UART models
- 6 UART in modems
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
Transmitting and receiving serial data
The universal asynchronous receiver/transmitter (UART) takes bytes of data and transmits the individual bits in a sequential fashion. At the destination, a second UART re-assembles the bits into complete bytes. Each UART contains a shift register, which is the fundamental method of conversion between serial and parallel forms. Serial transmission of digital information (bits) through a single wire or other medium is less costly than parallel transmission through multiple wires.
The UART usually does not directly generate or receive the external signals used between different items of equipment. Separate interface devices are used to convert the logic level signals of the UART to and from the external signalling levels. External signals may be of many different forms. Examples of standards for voltage signaling are RS-232, RS-422 and RS-485 from the EIA. Historically, current (in current loops) was used in telegraph circuits. Some signaling schemes do not use electrical wires. Examples of such are optical fiber, IrDA (infrared), and (wireless) Bluetooth in its Serial Port Profile (SPP). Some signaling schemes use modulation of a carrier signal (with or without wires). Examples are modulation of audio signals with phone line modems, RF modulation with data radios, and the DC-LIN for power line communication.
Communication may be simplex (in one direction only, with no provision for the receiving device to send information back to the transmitting device), full duplex (both devices send and receive at the same time) or half duplex (devices take turns transmitting and receiving).
|Start bit||5–8 data bits||Stop bit(s)|
|Start||Data 0||Data 1||Data 2||Data 3||Data 4||Data 5||Data 6||Data 7||Stop|
The idle, no data state is high-voltage, or powered. This is a historic legacy from telegraphy, in which the line is held high to show that the line and transmitter are not damaged. Each character is sent as a logic low start bit, a configurable number of data bits (usually 8, but users can choose 5 to 8 or 9 bits depending on which UART is in use), an optional parity bit if the number of bits per character chosen is not 9 bits, and one or more logic high stop bits. In most applications the least significant data bit (the one on the left in this diagram) is transmitted first, but there are exceptions (such as the IBM 2741 printing terminal).
The start bit signals the receiver that a new character is coming. The next five to nine bits, depending on the code set employed, represent the character. If a parity bit is used, it would be placed after all of the data bits. The next one or two bits are always in the mark (logic high, i.e., '1') condition and called the stop bit(s). They signal the receiver that the character is completed. Since the start bit is logic low (0) and the stop bit is logic high (1) there are always at least two guaranteed signal changes between characters.
If the line is held in the logic low condition for longer than a character time, this is a break condition that can be detected by the UART.
All operations of the UART hardware are controlled by a clock signal which runs at a multiple of the data rate, typically 8 times the bit rate. The receiver tests the state of the incoming signal on each clock pulse, looking for the beginning of the start bit. If the apparent start bit lasts at least one-half of the bit time, it is valid and signals the start of a new character. If not, it is considered a spurious pulse and is ignored. After waiting a further bit time, the state of the line is again sampled and the resulting level clocked into a shift register. After the required number of bit periods for the character length (5 to 8 bits, typically) have elapsed, the contents of the shift register are made available (in parallel fashion) to the receiving system. The UART will set a flag indicating new data is available, and may also generate a processor interrupt to request that the host processor transfers the received data.
Communicating UARTs usually have no shared timing system apart from the communication signal. Typically, UARTs resynchronize their internal clocks on each change of the data line that is not considered a spurious pulse. Obtaining timing information in this manner, they reliably receive when the transmitter is sending at a slightly different speed than it should. Simplistic UARTs do not do this, instead they resynchronize on the falling edge of the start bit only, and then read the center of each expected data bit, and this system works if the broadcast data rate is accurate enough to allow the stop bits to be sampled reliably.
It is a standard feature for a UART to store the most recent character while receiving the next. This "double buffering" gives a receiving computer an entire character transmission time to fetch a received character. Many UARTs have a small first-in, first-out FIFO buffer memory between the receiver shift register and the host system interface. This allows the host processor even more time to handle an interrupt from the UART and prevents loss of received data at high rates.
Transmission operation is simpler as the timing does not have to be determined from the line state, nor is it bound to any fixed timing intervals. As soon as the sending system deposits a character in the shift register (after completion of the previous character), the UART generates a start bit, shifts the required number of data bits out to the line, generates and sends the parity bit (if used), and sends the stop bits. Since transmission of a single character may take a long time relative to CPU speeds, the UART maintains a flag showing busy status so that the host system does not deposit a new character for transmission until the previous one has been completed; "ready for next character" may also be signaled with an interrupt. Since full-duplex operation requires characters to be sent and received at the same time, UARTs use two different shift registers for transmitted and received characters.
Transmitting and receiving UARTs must be set for the same bit speed, character length, parity, and stop bits for proper operation. The receiving UART may detect some mismatched settings and set a "framing error" flag bit for the host system; in exceptional cases the receiving UART will produce an erratic stream of mutilated characters and transfer them to the host system.
Typical serial ports used with personal computers connected to modems use eight data bits, no parity, and one stop bit; for this configuration the number of ASCII characters per second equals the bit rate divided by 10.
Some very low-cost home computers or embedded systems dispense with a UART and use the CPU to sample the state of an input port or directly manipulate an output port for data transmission. While very CPU-intensive (since the CPU timing is critical), the UART chip can thus be omitted, saving money and space. The technique is known as bit-banging.
Some early telegraph schemes used variable-length pulses (as in Morse code) and rotating clockwork mechanisms to transmit alphabetic characters. The first serial communication devices (with fixed-length pulses) were rotating mechanical switches (commutators). Various character codes using 5, 6, 7, or 8 data bits became common in teleprinters and later as computer peripherals. The teletypewriter made an excellent general-purpose I/O device for a small computer.
Gordon Bell of DEC designed the first UART, occupying an entire circuit board called a line unit, for the PDP series of computers beginning with the PDP-1. According to Bell, the main innovation of the UART was its use of sampling to convert the signal into the digital domain, allowing more reliable timing than previous circuits that used analog timing devices with manually adjusted potentiometers. To reduce the cost of wiring, backplane and other components, these computers also pioneered flow control using XON and XOFF characters rather than hardware wires.
DEC condensed the line unit design into an early single-chip UART for their own use. Western Digital developed this into the first widely available single-chip UART, the WD1402A, around 1971. This was an early example of a medium scale integrated circuit. Another popular chip was the SCN2651 from the Signetics 2650 family.
An example of an early 1980s UART was the National Semiconductor 8250. In the 1990s, newer UARTs were developed with on-chip buffers. This allowed higher transmission speed without data loss and without requiring such frequent attention from the computer. For example, the popular National Semiconductor 16550 has a 16 byte FIFO, and spawned many variants, including the 16C550, 16C650, 16C750, and 16C850.
Depending on the manufacturer, different terms are used to identify devices that perform the UART functions. Intel called their 8251 device a "Programmable Communication Interface". MOS Technology 6551 was known under the name "Asynchronous Communications Interface Adapter" (ACIA). The term "Serial Communications Interface" (SCI) was first used at Motorola around 1975 to refer to their start-stop asynchronous serial interface device, which others were calling a UART. Zilog manufactured a number of Serial Communication Controllers or SCCs.
After the RS-232 COM port was removed from most IBM PC compatible computers in the 2000s, an external USB-to-UART serial adapter cable was used to compensate for the loss. A major supplier of these chips is FTDI.
A UART usually contains the following components:
- a clock generator, usually a multiple of the bit rate to allow sampling in the middle of a bit period.
- input and output shift registers
- transmit/receive control
- read/write control logic
- transmit/receive buffers (optional)
- parallel data bus buffer (optional)
- First-in, first-out (FIFO) buffer memory (optional)
Special receiver conditions
An "overrun error" occurs when the receiver cannot process the character that just came in before the next one arrives. Various devices have different amounts of buffer space to hold received characters. The CPU must service the UART in order to remove characters from the input buffer. If the CPU does not service the UART quickly enough and the buffer becomes full, an Overrun Error will occur, and incoming characters will be lost.
An "underrun error" occurs when the UART transmitter has completed sending a character and the transmit buffer is empty. In asynchronous modes this is treated as an indication that no data remains to be transmitted, rather than an error, since additional stop bits can be appended. This error indication is commonly found in USARTs, since an underrun is more serious in synchronous systems.
A "framing error" occurs when the designated "start" and "stop" bits are not found. As the "start" bit is used to identify the beginning of an incoming character, it acts as a reference for the remaining bits. If the data line is not in the expected state (hi/lo) when the "stop" bit is expected, a Framing Error will occur.
A Parity Error occurs when the parity of the number of 1 bits disagrees with that specified by the parity bit. Use of a parity bit is optional, so this error will only occur if parity-checking has been enabled.
A "break condition" occurs when the receiver input is at the "space" (logic low, i.e., '0') level for longer than some duration of time, typically, for more than a character time. This is not necessarily an error, but appears to the receiver as a character of all zero bits with a framing error. The term "break" derives from current loop signaling, which was the traditional signaling used for teletypewriters. The "spacing" condition of a current loop line is indicated by no current flowing, and a very long period of no current flowing is often caused by a break or other fault in the line.
Some equipment will deliberately transmit the "space" level for longer than a character as an attention signal. When signaling rates are mismatched, no meaningful characters can be sent, but a long "break" signal can be a useful way to get the attention of a mismatched receiver to do something (such as resetting itself). Unix-like systems can use the long "break" level as a request to change the signaling rate, to support dial-in access at multiple signaling rates.
|WD1402A||The first single-chip UART on general sale. Introduced about 1971. Compatible chips included the Fairchild TR1402A and the General Instruments AY-5-1013.|
|CDP 1854 (RCA, now Intersil)|
|Zilog Z8440||2000 kbit/s. Async, Bisync, SDLC, HDLC, X.25. CRC. 4-byte RX buffer. 2-byte TX buffer. DMA.|
|8250||Obsolete with 1-byte buffers. These UARTs' maximum standard serial port speed is 9600 bits per second if the operating system has a 1 millisecond interrupt latency. 8250 UARTs were used in the IBM PC 5150 and IBM PC/XT, while the 16450 UART were used in IBM PC/AT-series computers.|
|82510||This UART allows asynchronous operation up to 288 kbit/s, with two independent four-byte FIFOs. It was produced by Intel at least from 1993 to 1996, and Innovastic Semiconductor has a 2011 Data Sheet for IA82510.|
|16550||This UART's FIFO is broken, so it cannot safely run any faster than the 16450 UART. The 16550A and later versions fix this bug.|
|16550A||This UART has 16-byte FIFO buffers. Its receive interrupt trigger levels can be set to 1, 4, 8, or 14 characters. Its maximum standard serial port speed if the operating system has a 1 millisecond interrupt latency is 115.2 kbit/s. Operating systems with lower interrupt latencies could handle higher baud rates like 230.4 kbit/s or 460.8 kbit/s. This chip can provide signals that are needed to allow a third party DMA controller to perform DMA transfers to and from the UART if the DMA mode this UART introduces is enabled. It was introduced by National Semiconductor, which has been sold to Texas Instruments. National Semiconductor claimed that this UART could physically run at up to 1.5 Mbit/s.|
|16650||This UART was introduced by Startech Semiconductor which is now owned by Exar Corporation and is not related to Startech.com. Early versions have a broken FIFO buffer and therefore cannot safely run any faster than the 16450 UART. Versions of this UART that were not broken have 32-character FIFO buffers and could function at standard serial port speeds up to 230.4 kbit/s if the operating system has a 1 millisecond interrupt latency. Current versions of this UART by Exar claim to be able to physically handle up to 1.5 Mbit/s. This UART introduces the Auto-RTS and Auto-CTS features in which the RTS# signal is controlled by the UART to signal the external device to stop transmitting when the UART's buffer is full to or beyond a user-set trigger point and to stop transmitting to the device when the device drives the CTS# signal high (logic 0).|
|16750||64-byte buffers. This UART can handle a maximum standard serial port speed of 460.8 kbit/s if the maximum interrupt latency is 1 millisecond. This UART was introduced by Texas Instruments. TI claims that early models can run up to 1 Mbit/s physically, and later models can run up to 5 Mbit/s physically.|
|16850||128-byte buffers. This UART can handle a maximum standard serial port speed of 921.6 kbit/s if the maximum interrupt latency is 1 millisecond. This UART was introduced by Exar Corporation. Exar claims that early models can run up to 1.5 Mbit/s physically, and later models can run up to 6.25 Mbit/s physically.|
|16950||128-byte buffers. This UART can handle a maximum standard serial port speed of 921.6 kbit/s if the maximum interrupt latency is 1 millisecond and if the UART is not connected to an enabled DMA engine. This UART supports 9-bit characters in addition to the 5-8 bit characters other UARTs support. This was introduced by Oxford Semiconductor, which is now owned by PLX Technology. Oxford/PLX claims that this UART can run up to 15 Mbit/s physically. PCI Express variants by Oxford/PLX can safely run much faster than other variants because they are integrated with a first party bus mastering PCIe DMA engine. This DMA engine is controlled by the UART's DMA mode signals that were defined for the 16550. The DMA engine will prevent buffer overruns by moving data in the receive buffer to the host computer's memory via PCIe, and can speed up transmission by moving data to be sent in the host computer's memory to the UART's transmit buffer if it is not full. Both of these operations do require some setup by the CPU, but are automated by the UART and the DMA engine after setup is complete.|
|16954||Quad port version of the 16950/16C950. 128-byte buffers per port. This UART can handle a maximum standard serial port speed of 921.6 kbit/s if the maximum interrupt latency is 1 millisecond and if the UART is not connected to an enabled DMA engine. This UART supports 9-bit characters in addition to the 5-8 bit characters other UARTs support. This was introduced by Oxford Semiconductor, which is now owned by PLX Technology. Oxford/PLX claims that this UART can run up to 15 Mbit/s physically. PCI Express variants by Oxford/PLX can safely run much faster than other variants because they are integrated with a first party bus mastering PCIe DMA engine. This DMA engine is controlled by the UART's DMA mode signals that were defined for the 16550. The DMA engine will prevent buffer overruns by moving data in the receive buffer to the host computer's memory via PCIe, and can speed up transmission by moving data to be sent in the host computer's memory to the UART's transmit buffer if it is not full. Both of these operations do require some setup by the CPU, but are automated by the UART and the DMA engine after setup is complete.|
|16C1550/16C1551||UART with 16-byte FIFO buffers. Up to 1.5 Mbit/s. The ST16C155X is not compatible with the industry standard 16550 and will not work with the standard serial port driver in Microsoft Windows.|
|16C2450||Dual UART with 1-byte FIFO buffers.|
|16C2550||Dual UART with 16-byte FIFO buffers. Pin-to-pin and functional compatible to 16C2450. Software compatible with INS8250 and NS16C550.|
|SCC2691||Currently produced by NXP, the 2691 is a single channel UART that also includes a programmable counter/timer. The 2691 has a single byte transmitter holding register and a 4-byte receive FIFO. Maximum standard speed of the 2692 is 115.2 kbit/s. Non-standard speeds are supported.|
|SCC2692||Currently produced by NXP, these dual UARTs (DUART) are essentially a pair of SCC2691 UARTs in a single package, but with a common counter/timer. Each channel is independently programmable and supports independent transmit and receive data rates. Like the 2691, the 2692 has a single byte transmitter holding register and a 4-byte receive FIFO per channel. Maximum standard speed of both of the 2692's channels is 115.2 kbit/s.
The 26C92 is an upwardly compatible version of the dual channel 2692, with 8-byte transmit and receive FIFOs for improved performance during continuous bi-directional asynchronous transmission (CBAT) on both channels at the maximum standard speed of 230.4 kbit/s.
Both the 2692 and 26C92 may also be operated in RS-422 and RS-485 modes, and can also be programmed to support non-standard data rates. The devices are produced in PDIP-40, PLCC-44 and 44 pin QFP packages, and are readily adaptable to both Motorola and Intel buses. They have also been successfully adapted to the 65C02 and 65C816 buses.
|SCC2698B||Currently produced by NXP, the 2698 octal UART (OCTART) is essentially four SCC2692 DUARTs in a single package. Specifications are the same as the SCC2692 (not the SCC26C92). The device is produced in PDIP-64 and PLCC-84 packages, and is readily adaptable to both Motorola and Intel buses. The 2698 has also been successfully adapted to the 65C02 and 65C816 buses.|
|SCC28C94||Currently produced by NXP, the 28C94 quadruple UART (QUART) is functionally similar to a pair of SCC26C92 DUARTs mounted in a common package. Some additional signals are present for interrupt management and the auxiliary input/output pins are arranged differently than those of the 26C92. Otherwise, the programming model for the 28C94 is very similar to that of the 26C92, requiring only minor code changes. The 28C94 supports a maximum standard speed of 230.4 kbit/s, is available in a PLCC-52 package, and is readily adaptable to both Motorola and Intel buses.|
|SCC28L198||Currently produced by NXP, the 28L198 octal UART (OCTART) is essentially an upscaled enhancement of the SCC28C94 QUART (described above), with eight independent communications channels, as well as an arbitrated interrupt system for efficient processing during periods of intense channel activity. The 28L198 supports a maximum standard speed of 460.8 kbit/s, is available in PLCC-84 and LQFP-100 packages, and is readily adaptable to both Motorola and Intel buses. The 28L198 will operate on 3.3 or 5 volts.|
|Z85230||Synchronous/Asynchronous modes, 2 ports, DMA. 4-byte buffer to send, 8-byte buffer to receive per channel. SDLC/HDLC modes. 5 Mbit/s in synchronous mode.|
|Hayes ESP||1 kB buffers, 921.6 kbit/s, 8-ports.|
|Exar XR17V352, XR17V354 and XR17V358||Dual, Quad and Octal PCI Express UARTs with 16550 compatible register Set, 256-byte TX and RX FIFOs, Programmable TX and RX Trigger Levels, TX/RX FIFO Level Counters, Fractional baud rate generator, Automatic RTS/CTS or DTR/DSR hardware flow control with programmable hysteresis, Automatic Xon/Xoff software flow control, RS-485 half duplex direction control output with programmable turn-around delay, Multi-drop with Auto Address Detection, Infrared (IrDA 1.1) data encoder/decoder. They are specified up to 25 Mbit/s. DataSheets are dated from 2012.|
|Exar XR17D152, XR17D154 and XR17D158||Dual, Quad and Octal PCI bus UARTs with 16C550 Compatible 5G Register Set, 64-byte Transmit and Receive FIFOs, Transmit and Receive FIFO Level Counters, Programmable TX and RX FIFO Trigger Level, Automatic RTS/CTS or DTR/DSR Flow Control, Automatic Xon/Xoff Software Flow Control, RS485 HDX Control Output with Selectable Turn-around Delay, Infrared (IrDA 1.0) Data Encoder/Decoder, Programmable Data Rate with Prescaler, Up to 6.25 Mbit/s Serial Data Rate. DataSheets are dated from 2004 and 2005.|
|Exar XR17C152, XR17C154 and XR17C158||Dual, Quad and Octal 5V PCI bus UARTs with 16C550 Compatible Registers, 64-byte Transmit and Receive FIFOs, Transmit and Receive FIFO Level Counters, Automatic RTS/CTS or DTR/DSR Flow Control, Automatic Xon/Xoff Software Flow Control, RS485 Half-duplex Control with Selectable Delay, Infrared (IrDA 1.0) Data Encoder/Decoder, Programmable Data Rate with Prescaler, Up to 6.25 Mbit/s Serial Data Rate. DataSheets are dated from 2004 and 2005.|
|Exar XR17V252, XR17V254 and XR17V258||Dual, Quad and Octal 66 MHz PCI bus UARTs with Power Management Support, 16C550 compatible register set, 64-byte TX and RX FIFOs with level counters and programmable trigger levels, Fractional baud rate generator, Automatic RTS/CTS or DTR/DSR hardware flow control with programmable hysteresis, Automatic Xon/Xoff software flow control, RS-485 half duplex direction control output with selectable turn-around delay, Infrared (IrDA 1.0) data encoder/decoder, Programmable data rate with prescaler. DataSheets are dated from 2008 and 2010.|
UART in modems
Modems for personal computers that plug into a motherboard slot must also include the UART function on the card. The original 8250 UART chip shipped with the IBM personal computer had a one character buffer for the receiver and the transmitter each, which meant that communications software performed poorly at speeds above 9600 bits/second, especially if operating under a multitasking system or if handling interrupts from disk controllers. High-speed modems used UARTs that were compatible with the original chip but which included additional FIFO buffers, giving software additional time to respond to incoming data.
A look at the performance requirements at high bit rates shows why the 16, 32, 64 or 128 byte FIFO is a necessity. The Microsoft specification for a DOS system requires that interrupts not be disabled for more than 1 millisecond at a time. Some hard disk drives and video controllers violate this specification. 9600 bit/s will deliver a character approximately every millisecond, so a 1 byte FIFO should be sufficient at this rate on a DOS system which meets the maximum interrupt disable timing. Rates above this may receive a new character before the old one has been fetched, and thus the old character will be lost. This is referred to as an overrun error and results in one or more lost characters.
A 16 byte FIFO allows up to 16 characters to be received before the computer has to service the interrupt. This increases the maximum bit rate the computer can process reliably from 9600 to 153,000 bit/s if it has a 1 millisecond interrupt dead time. A 32 byte FIFO increases the maximum rate to over 300,000 bit/s. A second benefit to having a FIFO is that the computer only has to service about 8 to 12% as many interrupts, allowing more CPU time for updating the screen, or doing other chores. Thus the computer's responses will improve as well.
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- A tutorial on the RS-232 standard, describing the definition of mark, space and their relationship with negative and positive voltages
- FreeBSD Serial and UART Tutorial, includes standard signal definitions, history of UART ICs, and pinout for commonly used DB25 connector.
- UART Tutorial for Robotics, contains many practical examples.
- UART transceiver over powerline, allows multiplex UART networking over the powerline.
- UART Protocol, a tutorial on the UART protocol explaining flow control, transmission speed, radiation hardening, powerline transceivers and reviewing terminal programs.