How to use a console cable on a MacBook Pro

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I’m a Mac user since many years, and I always used MacBook Pro notebooks only. I never had any problems to find good alternatives to each Windows software I was using before, even the less common ones. And just as a last resort, there is always a Virtual Machine (XP before, now 7) running inside VMware Fusion.

For the hardware part however, problems has always been a little bit worse. Even if I always checked Apple compatibility before buying any new piece of hardware (especially printers) there has been situations where I was not able to solve my problems. Console cables for connecting to network appliances like switches or routers has been my main problem.

Those console cables usually have an RJ45 jack towards the network appliance, and an RS232 jack towards the computer. But in the last 7 years, since I had my first Mac, I’ve never seen an Apple notebook with a serial cable. There are many Serial-to-USB adapters, but there are few drivers for OS X. Or at leat, until my last small discovery few days ago.

One of my colleagues, working primarily as a Network Administrator, uses a Ubuntu Linux notebook, and he owns this adapter:

Serial to USB Adapter

Has many adapters of its kind, they have no visible brand or information to read. My colleague told me he got this one many years ago in a electric fornitures shop. It is automatically recognized and mounted by Linux kernel, and this is enough for him. I tried to connect it to my Mac OS X but it was not recognized, as you can see:

ls -l /dev/cu.* /dev/tty.*
crw-rw-rw- 1 root wheel 33, 3 Mar 17 18:07 /dev/cu.Bluetooth-Modem
crw-rw-rw- 1 root wheel 33, 1 Mar 17 18:07 /dev/cu.Bluetooth-PDA-Sync
crw-rw-rw- 1 root wheel 33, 2 Mar 17 18:07 /dev/tty.Bluetooth-Modem
crw-rw-rw- 1 root wheel 33, 0 Mar 17 18:07 /dev/tty.Bluetooth-PDA-Sync

The only serial ports available are those created by the Bluetooth antenna, even if the adapter is correctly identified by the USB internal hub. This command

system_profiler SPUSBDataType

in fact lists all the available USB devices, and also the adapter is listed:

Composite Device:
Product ID: 0x2008
Vendor ID: 0x0557 (ATEN International Co. Ltd.)
Version: 0.01
Speed: Up to 12 Mb/sec
Location ID: 0x06200000 / 3
Current Available (mA): 500
Current Required (mA): 100

Anyway, I found this great post, and I followed it from beginning to end. Once I completed the steps, I run again the shell command:

ls -l /dev/cu.* /dev/tty.*
crw-rw-rw- 1 root wheel 18, 3 Apr 10 11:37 /dev/cu.Bluetooth-Modem
crw-rw-rw- 1 root wheel 18, 1 Apr 10 11:37 /dev/cu.Bluetooth-PDA-Sync
crw-rw-rw- 1 root wheel 18, 7 Apr 10 11:55 /dev/cu.PL2303-00002006
crw-rw-rw- 1 root wheel 18, 2 Apr 10 11:37 /dev/tty.Bluetooth-Modem
crw-rw-rw- 1 root wheel 18, 0 Apr 10 11:37 /dev/tty.Bluetooth-PDA-Sync
crw-rw-rw- 1 root wheel 18, 6 Apr 10 11:55 /dev/tty.PL2303-00002006

The last line is the Serial-to-USB adapter. You can double-check that is the adapter by plugging it out and in and repeating the ls command, you will see it appearing and disappearing. Once I identified the adapter and I loaded its driver, I downloaded ZTerm to use it. You need to configure the program in this way:

Zterm Modem Configuration

Go to Settings -> Modem Preferences… and select the adapter as the default modem. Then, go to Settings -> Connections and you will find a screen like this one:

Zterm Connection

Now you will have to change the parameters as needed, depending on the appliance you need to connect to. Hitting OK, you should see the console:

ZTermo connected!

In my example, it’s a pfSense installation in a Soekris Net4511.

So, at the end even a Network Administrator can use a modern and fashionable Mac, instead of those old and ugly Windows XP notebooks with a serial port 🙂

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