Test Your EQ (Engineering Quotient)

EQ #21

In an RS-232 interface, why is the idle or “mark” level a negative voltage?

RS-232 was developed in the days when people were connecting electromechanical teletypes to telephone lines with modems, and in fact, at that time the design of any equipment connected to a phone line was tightly controlled by the phone company.

The reason RS-232 uses a negative voltage for its idle state is the same reason the phone lines themselves use a negative voltage relative to ground for power—copper wires in long cables potentially exposed to moisture are significantly less likely to corrode if they have a negative DC bias on them.


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