Raspberry Pi Serial Console With MAX3232CPE

In addition to the audio, video, network and USB connectors, the Raspberry Pi also has 26 GPIO pins. These pins also include an UART serial console, which can be used to log in to the Pi, and many other things. However, normal UART device communicate with -12V (logical “1”) and +12V (logical “0”), which may just fry something in the 3.3V Pi. Even “TTL level” serial at 5V runs the same risk.

So in this short tutorial, I’ll show you how to use a MAX3232CPE transceiver to safely convert the normal UART voltage levels to 3.3V accepted by Raspberry Pi, and connect to the Pi using Putty. This is what you’ll need:

  • Raspberry Pi unit
  • Serial port in your PC or USB to serial -adapter
  • MAX3232CPE or similar RS-232 to 3.3V logic level transceiver
  • 5 x 0.1 uF capacitors (I used plastic ones)
  • Jumper wires and breadboard
  • Some type of female-female adapter

The last item is needed to connect male-male jumper wires to RaspPi GPIO pins. I had a short 2×6 pin extension cable available and used that, but an IDE cable and other types ribbon cable work fine as well. Just make sure it doesn’t internally short any of the connections – use a multimeter if in doubt!

The connections on Pi side are rather straightforward. We’ll use the 3.3V pin for power – the draw should not exceed 50 mA, but this should not be an issue, since MAX3232CPE draws less than 1 mA and the capacitors are rather small. GND is also needed, and the two UART pins, TXD and RXD.
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Raspberry Pi arrived today!

A rather long wait ended today, when DHL dropped this little package off at work in the morning. I had placed my Raspberry Pi order in the first 24 hours when they started taking orders (or actually, registrations of interest) from RS Components, but it took about two months for me to receive the invitation to order, and three more weeks for the order to arrive.

Opening up the box, I was greeted with a very small computer, and two small leaflets, a quick start guide and a regulatory and safety pamphlet. The board is really quite small, just a few millimeters larger than a credit card. Two USB slots, HDMI, coaxial and stereo audio plugs and micro-USB for power, plus an ethernet jack.

I ran a quick test to see if everything worked. Initially, there was flicker on my projector (the only device with native HDMI input I currently have), but that turned out to be incompatibility with the HDMI switch I had – without it it worked just fine. I used the premade Debian image on a SD card and it worked perfectly.
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