Today, it’s almost impossible to imagine a world without USB. The technology is so ubiquitous that power outlets in new homes often feature USB ports in addition to traditional AC sockets. Twenty years ago, however, the idea that a simple “computer port” would become a major part of our daily lives would have been unthinkable. Back then, computers had too many ports for any individual port to become universal. No longer. USB has left legacy ports in the dust.

Despite USB’s dominance over the technology landscape, from the factory floor to the emergency room, legacy ports and connectors still have an important role to play in today’s world. 

What Are Legacy Ports?

Before diving into the history of the Universal Serial Bus, or USB, we must first answer the questions: what are legacy ports, and what was life like before USB? 

In a way, these are actually the same question. That’s because the word “legacy,” in “legacy ports” means “of, relating to…a previous or outdated computer system.” The term “legacy ports,” therefore, refers to those computer ports that were in common usage before USB took the world by storm and supplanted them.

As computer hardware became increasingly advanced in the latter half of the twentieth century, the need to quickly and efficiently transfer data between computers and between computers and peripheral devices was always at the forefront of hardware developers’ minds. Among the oldest legacy ports is the nine-pin serial port, developed in 1969. Since then, the world has seen the development of the parallel port, the Mini-DN port, VGA ports, Firewire, and the list goes on. 

By the late 1990s, when USB was first introduced, each peripheral, from mice, monitors, to printers, had different connectors. Accordingly, computers often came with a wide array of ports pre-installed. However, such setups led to cross-compatibility issues with different hardware and represented a high learning curve for average consumers. 

Additionally, at the time, not only was technology getting more powerful, but it was also getting smaller. Legacy ports, due to their physical size, presented a strong design limitation for tech companies that wanted to make increasingly smaller computers that connected to increasingly small devices.

The Rise of USB

In 1995, seven companies, Compaq, DEC, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NEC, and Nortel, came together to begin the development of the USB, which was intended to simplify the way computers and peripherals interface with and send data to each other. The original USB, USB1.x, could only transfer data at a rate of 12 Mbps, and did not catch on right away. However, keyboard and mouse manufacturers switched over to USB in the early 2000s, and the makers of other accessories soon followed. 

However, after the release of USB 2.0, which was capable of transferring data at speeds of up to 480Mbps, the adoption of USB skyrocketed. Its small size and relative ease of use made it a hit with consumers as well. This was followed by the release of USB 3.0 in 2008, which could reach data transfer speeds of 5Gbps. At the same time, improvements in solid-state data storage allowed the USB thumb drive to replace floppy disks and CDs. 

By the end of the 2000s decade, USB had all but supplanted nearly every other connector that came before it, and those introduced since have yet to cut into USB’s market share.

Legacy Ports in a USB World

With most consumer electronics running on USB for a decade now, why would anyone be concerned about legacy ports? Why can’t everything be on USB? The thing is, unlike other aspects of the development of computer technology, computer ports are subject to a great deal of development inertia. Once an industry settled on a connector, it stuck with it, to provide consistency and backward compatibility to consumers.

Although we often think of computer peripherals in terms of consumer products like cellphones, monitors, keyboards, and printers, a wide array of both industrial and medical equipment needs to interface with computers to function. And while cutting-edge technology is often a selling point in both fields, in the real world, the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” often rules the day.

If your factory uses a twenty-year-old $200,000 machine that still works just fine, why would you want to replace the machine just so it can interface with your new USB-only computer system? Why would a rural clinic upgrade a perfectly functional X-Ray machine when dealing with budget cuts? Questions like these drive organizations to seek out industrial PCs and medical-grade computers that can be customized with older legacy ports, rather than consumer models that come with the latest USB 4 ports. 

Legacy Ports Keep Industry Humming

It may seem counterintuitive that a manufacturing company would stick with outdated technology in the face of newer “better” alternatives. After all, why would you turn down the digital efficiency and speed USB 3.0 or 4 offer? Well, when it means upending your entire operation just to upgrade a few ports, it’s easy to see why some manufacturers are hesitant to upgrade. Often it’s cheaper and easier to stick with what you have.

Yet computer hardware doesn’t last forever, and even if a factory’s router is functioning fine, that doesn’t mean the computer attached to it is. Yet with consumer-grade computer companies abandoning legacy ports, businesses in these situations are often left scrambling to keep their operations running. Thankfully, fanless mini-rugged PCs which come equipped with multiple RS-232 ports can bridge the gap between older equipment and modern technology and keep factory floors up and running.

Legacy Ports Save Lives at Underserved Clinics

Rural clinics often have to make do with far fewer resources than their urban counterparts. Often upgrading equipment just is not possible given the limited budgets many clinics face. On top of that, altering components on old machines so they can interface with newer computer hardware can lead to regulatory issues, since such changes require approval from the FDA. As a result, rural clinics will hold on to old equipment like X-Ray machines for a very long time.

Medical Computers with legacy ports are instrumental in helping underserved clinics transition into the digital age. By allowing older equipment to communicate with new hardware, customizable medical panel PCs allow clinics to upgrade their computing power without the bureaucratic headache or massive expense that would come with switching out perfectly functional medical equipment.  

Final Thoughts

Cybernet’s medical computers and industrial PCs are customizable, meaning they can be outfitted with any legacy ports your operation may need. To find out more, contact the experts at Cybernet Manufacturing today!