7:30 AM - 7:30 PM
Monday to Saturday

RS232 Versus RS485: Which Is Better, RS232, or RS485?

What is RS232?

RS232, also known as TIA-232 or EIA-232, is a standard for serial communication that defines the electrical characteristics and timing of signals, the meaning of signals, and the physical size and pinout of connectors. It was introduced in 1960 by the Electronic Industries Association (EIA) and has been widely used for decades in various applications, including computer serial ports, industrial automation, and scientific instruments.

Key Features of RS232

  • Point-to-Point Communication: RS232 is designed for point-to-point communication between two devices, typically a Data Terminal Equipment (DTE) and a Data Communication Equipment (DCE).
  • Unbalanced Signaling: RS232 uses unbalanced signaling, where the signal is referenced to a common ground. This makes it susceptible to noise and limits the maximum cable length.
  • Voltage Levels: RS232 uses relatively high voltage levels, typically ±12V, to represent logic states. A voltage between -3V and -12V represents a logic ‘1’, while a voltage between +3V and +12V represents a logic ‘0’.
  • Low Data Rates: RS232 supports data rates up to 115,200 bits per second (bps), although higher rates are possible with some implementations.
  • Short Distance: Due to its unbalanced signaling and high voltage levels, RS232 is limited to short distances, typically up to 50 feet (15 meters) at lower data rates.

Advantages of RS232

  • Simplicity: RS232 is a simple and straightforward protocol, making it easy to implement and troubleshoot.
  • Wide Compatibility: RS232 has been widely used for decades, and most computers and devices have built-in RS232 ports or can easily interface with RS232 using USB-to-serial adapters.
  • Low Cost: RS232 components and cables are readily available and relatively inexpensive.

Disadvantages of RS232

  • Limited Distance: The maximum cable length for RS232 is limited, especially at higher data rates, due to its unbalanced signaling and high voltage levels.
  • Susceptibility to Noise: RS232’s unbalanced signaling makes it more susceptible to electromagnetic interference (EMI) and noise, which can cause data corruption.
  • Point-to-Point Only: RS232 is designed for point-to-point communication and does not support multi-drop or networked configurations.

What is RS485?

RS485, also known as TIA-485 or EIA-485, is another standard for serial communication that addresses some of the limitations of RS232. It was introduced in 1983 by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) and the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA). RS485 is designed for multi-point communication and is widely used in industrial automation, building automation, and other applications requiring long-distance communication or multiple devices on a single bus.

Key Features of RS485

  • Multi-Point Communication: RS485 supports multi-point communication, allowing multiple devices (up to 32) to be connected on a single bus.
  • Balanced Signaling: RS485 uses balanced differential signaling, where the signal is transmitted over a pair of wires (usually twisted pair). This makes it less susceptible to noise and allows for longer cable lengths.
  • Voltage Levels: RS485 uses lower voltage levels compared to RS232, typically ±1.5V to ±5V, to represent logic states. The differential voltage between the two wires determines the logic state.
  • High Data Rates: RS485 supports data rates up to 10 Mbps, although the maximum rate depends on the cable length and quality.
  • Long Distance: RS485 can support cable lengths up to 4000 feet (1200 meters) at lower data rates, making it suitable for long-distance communication.

Advantages of RS485

  • Long Distance: RS485’s balanced differential signaling allows for longer cable lengths compared to RS232, making it suitable for applications requiring communication over greater distances.
  • Noise Immunity: The balanced signaling of RS485 provides better noise immunity, reducing the impact of electromagnetic interference (EMI) and ensuring more reliable data transmission.
  • Multi-Point Communication: RS485 supports multi-point communication, allowing multiple devices to be connected on a single bus, which simplifies wiring and reduces costs.
  • High Data Rates: RS485 can achieve higher data rates compared to RS232, making it suitable for applications requiring faster data transmission.

Disadvantages of RS485

  • Complexity: RS485 is more complex than RS232, requiring additional components such as termination resistors and Biasing Resistors for proper operation.
  • Higher Cost: Due to its additional components and more sophisticated transceivers, RS485 implementations can be more expensive than RS232.
  • No Standardized Connectors: Unlike RS232, which has standardized connectors (DB9 and DB25), RS485 does not have a universally accepted connector standard, leading to various connector types being used.

RS232 vs RS485: Comparison Table

Feature RS232 RS485
Communication Type Point-to-Point Multi-Point
Signaling Unbalanced Balanced Differential
Voltage Levels ±12V ±1.5V to ±5V
Maximum Data Rate 115,200 bps 10 Mbps
Maximum Cable Length 50 feet (15 meters) 4000 feet (1200 meters)
Noise Immunity Low High
Complexity Simple More Complex
Cost Low Higher
Connector Standardization Standardized (DB9, DB25) No Standardized Connectors

Typical Use Cases

RS232 Use Cases

  • Computer Serial Ports: RS232 is commonly used for serial communication between computers and peripherals, such as modems, printers, and data acquisition devices.
  • Industrial Equipment: Many industrial devices, such as PLCs, sensors, and actuators, still use RS232 for configuration, monitoring, and control.
  • Scientific Instruments: RS232 is often used in scientific instruments, such as oscilloscopes, function generators, and data loggers, for remote control and data transfer.

RS485 Use Cases

  • Industrial Automation: RS485 is widely used in industrial automation systems, such as SCADA, DCS, and PLC networks, for communication between controllers, sensors, and actuators over long distances.
  • Building Automation: RS485 is commonly used in building automation systems, including HVAC, lighting control, and access control, for communication between devices and controllers.
  • Security Systems: RS485 is often used in security systems, such as CCTV cameras and access control panels, for long-distance communication and multi-point connectivity.
  • Transportation: RS485 is used in transportation applications, such as traffic control systems, electronic toll collection, and fleet management, for reliable communication over long distances.


1. Can RS232 and RS485 devices communicate with each other directly?

No, RS232 and RS485 devices cannot communicate with each other directly due to differences in voltage levels, signaling, and communication types. To enable communication between RS232 and RS485 devices, a converter or gateway is required to translate the signals and protocols.

2. What is the maximum number of devices that can be connected on an RS485 bus?

The RS485 standard specifies a maximum of 32 unit loads per bus. However, with the use of repeaters or high-impedance transceivers, it is possible to connect more than 32 devices on a single RS485 bus.

3. Can RS485 support full-duplex communication?

Yes, RS485 can support full-duplex communication using four wires (two twisted pairs) – one pair for transmitting data and the other pair for receiving data. This configuration is known as 4-wire RS485. In contrast, 2-wire RS485 supports half-duplex communication, where devices take turns transmitting and receiving data on the same pair of wires.

4. What is the purpose of termination resistors in RS485 networks?

Termination resistors are used in RS485 networks to minimize signal reflections and ensure proper signal integrity. They are placed at the end of the bus, typically 120 ohms across the differential signal lines. Termination resistors help to absorb the signal energy and prevent reflections that can cause data corruption.

5. Can RS232 be used for long-distance communication?

While RS232 is not designed for long-distance communication due to its unbalanced signaling and high voltage levels, it is possible to use RS232 extenders or converters to increase the maximum cable length. These devices typically convert RS232 signals to a more suitable format, such as fiber optic or Ethernet, for long-distance transmission.


In the comparison of RS232 vs RS485, it is evident that both protocols have their strengths and weaknesses. RS232 is simple, widely compatible, and low-cost, making it suitable for short-distance, point-to-point communication. On the other hand, RS485 offers longer distance communication, noise immunity, and multi-point connectivity, making it ideal for industrial automation, building automation, and other applications requiring reliable data transmission over longer distances.

When choosing between RS232 and RS485, consider factors such as the communication distance, number of devices, data rate requirements, and noise environment. For short-distance, point-to-point communication, RS232 may be sufficient. However, if your application requires longer distances, multi-point connectivity, or operation in noisy environments, RS485 is the better choice.

Ultimately, the decision between RS232 and RS485 depends on the specific requirements of your application. By understanding the characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages of each protocol, you can make an informed decision and select the best solution for your needs.