EIA-485 only specifies electrical characteristics of the driver and the receiver. It does not specify or recommend any communications protocol. EIA-485 enables the configuration of inexpensive local networks and multidrop communications links. It offers data transmission speeds of 35 Mbit/s up to 10 m and 100 kbit/s at 1200 m. Since it uses a differential balanced line over twisted pair (like EIA-422), it can span relatively large distances (up to 4,000 feet (1,200 m)). A rule of thumb is that the speed in bit/s multiplied by the length in meters should not exceed 108. Thus a 50 meter cable should not signal faster than 2 Mbit/s.

In contrast to EIA-422, which has a single driver circuit which cannot be switched off, EIA-485 drivers need to be put in transmit mode explicitly by asserting a signal to the driver. This allows EIA-485 to implement linear topologies using only two wires. The equipment located along a set of EIA-485 wires are interchangeably called nodes, stations and devices.

The recommended arrangement of the wires is as a connected series of point-to-point (multidropped) nodes, a line or bus, not a star, ring, or multiply connected network. Ideally, the two ends of the cable will have a termination resistor connected across the two wires. Without termination resistors, reflections of fast driver edges can cause multiple data edges that can cause data corruption. Termination resistors also reduce electrical noise sensitivity due to the lower impedance, and bias resistors (see below) are required. The value of each termination resistor should be equal to the cable impedance (typically, 120 ohms for twisted pairs).

Star and ring topologies are not recommended because of signal reflections or excessively low or high termination impedance. But if a star configuration is unavoidable, such as when controlling multiple pan-tilt-zoom video cameras from a central video surveillance hub, special EIA-485 star/hub repeaters are available which bidirectionally listen for data on each span and then retransmit the data onto all other spans.

Download RS232 to RS485 Schematic