PC Cases Are Still Stuck In The Dark Ages, But We Can Fix This

In the dawning of the IBM PC era, the computer case was a heavy, stout thing. These were industrial machines, built with beefy paddle power switches, and weighing as much as a ton of bricks. Painted in only the ugliest beige, they set the tone for PC design for the next couple of decades.

At the turn of the millennium, the winds of change swept through. The Apple iMac redefined the computer as a hip, cool device, and other manufacturers began to reconsider their product aesthetics. Around the same time, the casemodding scene took off in earnest, with adherents building ever wilder battle stations for internet clout and glory.

With all the development that has gone in the last 40 years of the PC platform, we’ve seen great change and improvement in almost every area. But in building a new rig this past month, this writer discovered there’s one element of the modern PC that’s still trapped in the past.

Ugly Little Headers

This photo was taken in 2019, and shows the PC platform still condones utter nonsense. It doesn’t have to be like this!

It’s the cases, yes. Sure, the modern PC builder has a wider selection to choose from than ever. Whether your predilection is for built-in acrylic windows or dazzling fans festooned with RGB LEDs, you can have your fill in the modern market. Connectivity options are better than ever too, with front panels overflowing with USB ports, audio sockets and even fancy drive caddies if you so desire.

Despite this, the one thing that hasn’t changed is the ugly little headers used to connect the very basics of a computer case to the motherboard inside. Power and reset buttons, the internal case speaker, and status LEDs are all hooked up with fiddly little individual pin headers. With all the sophistication of a set of breadboard jumper wires, they’re a pain to install and an absolute joke on a platform that is otherwise at the cutting edge of computing technology.

A Gigabyte X570 Gaming X motherboard, with the front panel header pictured. Next to it is a standard USB 3.0 front panel connector, indicating there’s no reason we should suffer this way. Look at those messy wires going every which way! Ugh.

What’s worse is that there is absolutely no reason it should be this way. As it stands, motherboard manufacturers are free to lay out their connections for these features any way they like, often simply lumping a double-row pin header on to the board and putting a pinout in the manual. However, some manufacturers have gone to a higher level, using a moulded and keyed connector on the board. Despite this, they’re still intended for use with the aforementioned individual pin connectors, just making them harder and more fiddly to install. What is maddening is that these often sit right next to other connectors on the motherboard, like front-panel USB-3 connectors, or HD audio headers. In both of these cases, motherboard manufacturers were able to agree a common standard such that a single connector carrying all necessary signals could be used to hook the case ports up to the motherboard. They still use cheap, 0.1″ pitch header-style connectors, but they bundle all the wires into one compact, keyed package, making install a one-step process.

The Day Case Connector, coming to a PC near you in 2021.

Why this hasn’t been done yet for power buttons and status LEDs absolutely escapes me. Thus, I propose a solution. A simple keyed header-style connector that carries all the basics for a PC case, that can be implemented on all PC motherboards going forward, and of course, all PC cases. This covers the Power LED and button, the reset button, the hard drive activity LED, the speaker, and a chassis intrusion switch.

The proposed solution, the Day Case Connector, if you will, is based loosely off a design already used by some motherboard manufacturers. If I’m honest, the diagram is largely cribbed from an existing motherboard manual with some extraneous “features” removed, because we’re trying to get this shipped, after all. Audio and USB connections are best left to the already-existing front panel connectors which work fine, and would only complicate things here. This is simply a basic standard for the barebones components in a PC case. Obviously, some cases do not implement reset buttons or speakers, but this is not an issue — they can be left unpopulated without interfering with the proper operation of the connector. Alternatively, mandate that every case have these features, and rule with an iron fist.

Obviously, a scathing op-ed isn’t going to be enough to make this happen overnight. You’ll need to help, by petitioning your local Congressman, Senator, or Girl Scout Troop, to get behind the cause. Only the people can affect real change at the end of the day, after all. Some may deride us, pointing out that for the average user who builds one PC every few years, it shouldn’t be an issue. They may point out that the time spent writing this article is longer than it took to install the headers anyway. These are mere distractions, and they must not stray us from our goal.

So please, next time you build a PC, do not throw your hands up in despair. Instead, let yourself be moved to action. We shall right this wrong before the decade is out — you have my word. Godspeed!

188 thoughts on “PC Cases Are Still Stuck In The Dark Ages, But We Can Fix This

      1. but every motherboard is different, cases haven’t changed front IO in decades forcing case makers to have individual pin headers, hell the last build I did had a brand new mobo for a 9th gen intel …and it had the oldschool WIDE power led connector WHY?

    1. Better yet:

      “PC motherboards are still using open standards that make it easy to modify and improve your own hardware”

      I’d really rather motherboards and cases stuck to using hardware I can easily work on in my own workshop using components I can get for pennies from Fry’s or my own scrap pile, rather than some more modern proprietary connector that’s too small and injection-molded to work on manually and I have to order new ones off AliExpress.

      I’ve built my own fan controllers, I’ve replaced my power button with a key switch, I’ve replaced the activity LEDs with meters, and I’ve connected custom peripherals directly to the COM, USB, and audio headers. People seeking to get rid of the last bastion of hobbyist electronics on high-end consumer hardware have no business being on Hack-a-Day.

      Buy an iMac instead. Less powerful, more expensive, no clunky headers, and no custom cases.

      1. “People seeking to get rid of the last bastion of hobbyist electronics on high-end consumer hardware have no business being on Hack-a-Day.”

        Absolutely!

        Surely they could have waited until April 1 before posting this article on Hackaday of all places.

      2. I really don’t know what you’re complaining about, if you want to put something else at the other end of the piece of copper this proposal isn’t going to stop you, it’s just going to make it easier for you to plug it in once you’re done.

      3. All it needs to do is be like the standardized USB and audio headers, as he pointed out. With that, you could still use exactly the same connectors as you do now, but it would also allow the use of a standard molded plug to remove the guesswork. If you want to hack on that, you still have the opportunity to plug in your own wires. This is a no-brainer and doesn’t remove your ability to use a key switch, or even make it any harder to do so.

        The pins this article references aren’t standardized now, open or otherwise. They’re all roughly similar, but that lack of standardization doesn’t help the end user.

      4. You need a better example. My 2014 iMac has a quad I7 at 4GHz, 16G RAM, SSD, and a 27″ Retina display. It is the sweetest most robust computing gizmo among dozens of newer AMD and Intel based systems and servers. And it is running rock solid UNIX (OS-X).

        But no 0.1″ headers to be found among all the high bandwidth and very small interconnects. By the way, if you want to see inside an iMac just pull on the screen. It is held on with magnets.

      5. It would be cool to see a billion dollars mega effort to switch everything that uses 0.1 headers to some awesome new individual pin connector in 2mm with 10000 mating cycles, not so tall, etc.

        But if they want to use some $8 fancy almost proprietary connector they can heck off.

        But I think it’s totally possible that this could be done completely right. TFTs are ridiculously cheap compared to any kind of computer equipment worth bothering to make IBM sized.

        Get rid of power switches and button on individual wires all together, and create an open standard for a modular panel mountable display, with a joystick, rotary encoders, dedicated power and reset of course, a beeper, and a few function keys under the screen.

        There are BAZILLIONS of industrial gear pieces that need such a thing. Tons of simple arduino projects that could use one(assume it takes serial commands and has onboard sprite logic).

        Economies of scale would make them cheap, and we could have cool little screensavers on every PC case, which seem way cooler than some RGB LEDs in jewel tones only, like we currently decorate with.

        The same universal standard interface thing could be a USB peripheral for extra functions in games.

        It could manage kiosk mode software to lock things down in a way you can’t get out, without the front panel HMI.

        When you put an LCD on something, people find cool things to do with it. Make it standard and easy and have a low power sleep mode, and it will be awesome.

        Additionally, it could contain an RTC in itself, and act a digital clock even with the monitor off, or any number of cool case modder features you might want to add to stand out, while following the standard.

        On top of all that, the connector could be just a standard JST,-PH that has everything but high power. 5v, 12v, Serial IO, I2C, unregulated DC in(For extreme low power computers that can take power from the case on one pin, unused the rest of the time).

        Now you have a universal arduino-like simple add on connector, that only needs basic GPIO so it can connect just about anything, even things that don’t need the cool new HMI.

        1. Dude. Cable management isn’t that hard. You don’t need to go making an industry standard because what will happen is on extreme board, where real estate is prime, there will be wasted space because of the conformity.

      6. true. I built a “sleeper” PC, and those individual headers were what enabled me to get the lights & buttons working again on a 20-year-old Gateway case with modern parts in it.

        1. I’ve built many of what I call “Theft Proof” PCs using up to date motherboards (whatever was up to date at the time) inside old cases for crappy when new computers. Who is going to steal an old Dell Inspiron with a Celeron sticker?

          An early one of these was a hot 486 I put into an old WANG 286 case. The left half had all the standard PC-AT mounting points. The right half was formerly occupied by the extended WANG motherboard with I/O and the power supply, which was easily replaced by a standard one. With a quickie panel to block off the hole left by the missing original I/O panel and some wire swapping on the indicator LEDs etc it was good to go and nobody would ever have given a thought to walking off with the big old box.

          These days the I/O hole could perhaps be repurposed for the ATX I/O.

          1. you’re totally right about the PC-AT compatibility. the Gateway was a MiniATX but I was shocked that my brand new motherboard would have the same mounting points as a case from 1999/2000 with no modification. I did have to Dremel out the panel where individual holes were cut for each I/O port. did my best to keep it somewhat clean.

            anyway, love your story. Theft Proof / Sleepers for life!

      7. Exactly this.
        Why create a new header “standard” full of features people won’t need anyway? Spkr? Chassis intrusion?
        It’s exactly like that XKCD comic.
        In most of my PCs I only connect power, LEDs annoy me and I have a bad habit of always getting cases with too-convenient reset switches.

      1. sleepers are the best. I got a six core AMD & an Nvidia GTX 1660 inside a beige, 20 year old Gateway shitbox with a Model M-looking gray mechanical keyboard. looks downright classy and/or museum worthy in my office

    1. On a more serious note, the amortized time to wire up motherboards is quite low for most people.

      On the other hand a better user experience could be had for about $1 by adding a i2c io-expander in the front panel of the case connected to an smbus connector on the board instead of all the miscellaneous wires.

      SMbus is already present in the PCI-E connections used by most expansion cards and some boards already provide a 4 pin connector for it. And the BIOS on most systems already supports remote start ( e.g. PXE boot ), so polling a few buttons and updating a couple LEDS and a speaker should be no big deal.

      1. This is the best idea on this topic I’ve seen so far. It would also invite case makers who insist on mounting front panel jacks & buttons literally on the front panel (forever awkwardly tied to the case carcass by an umbilical of wires) to make the connections through just a few pogo pins. Clean, reliable, and pretty inexpensive to make robust. Whaddayaknow? Maybe folks might even clean their filters more than once per decade…

      2. id love broken out i2c busses on the mobo, just a 4 pin header. front panel audio could also be i2s rather than analog. and might as well throw some gpio on there as well. one can only dream.

      3. I2C should be everywhere. Individual wires just suck. If you need to move power and data, run power and a digital pair, not a million separate wires for everything.

        It especially sucks on site when people actually pull wires through walls, and every time you want to change something you have to change the wiring. No way all that electrician time was cheaper than some PoE equipment….

        1. I2C sucks any time it goes through a connector, though. The protocol and electrical signaling wasn’t really intended for use outside of a circuit board. Running it alongside power wires in particular creates a wealth of potential EMI problems. It can be made to work, but getting to 99.99999% reliable is a pain without high quality wire harnessing and connectors. Presumably, power and reset signals are aggressively low pass filtered or debounced. Since they are discrete signals, the necessary bandwidth is closer to 10hz than 10khz, making it a much easier problem.

        2. An interesting thing I learned a couple years ago: At Formula One race tracks, media companies run new cables for their equipment every single event, rather than reuse old cable runs. Apparently that’s more economical than suffering downtime due to latent wiring faults. That’s a lot of really nice cat6 and coax getting pulled and used once!

        3. Simple scenario – you are troubleshooting your PC. It lays basically ‘motherboard only’ on old magazine. How to check that it starts? Press screwdriver or tweezers (which you already have in hand) to power switch contacts on motherboard. One damn less thing to check if something does not start.

          PS. And I am all for i2c/smbus broken out on motherboard, just not as a replacement for power/reset buttons.

      4. Sadly this would be easier to sell ~25 years ago when each case had a PCB with 7-segment LEDs showing clock speed. Last time I built a PC it was a bunch of components (buttons, LEDs, connectors etc.) pushed or screwed into front panel.

        1. It really doesn’t. The problem here is there is *no* standard, just a vague agreemeent that somewhere on the motherboard, we’ll use a bunch of 0.1″ pitch headers in no particular orientation.

  1. It’s obvious that you only work with universal motherboards because all universal motherboards ship with these headers style connectors. They have to because the motherboard manufacturer does not know which case you are installing into. And there’s a world of cabling differences between cases.

    Move from the universal motherboard to OEM product and you’ll see that most if not all true OEM use a flat cable and header. It’s one plug and you are done. The exception would be integrators that call themselves OEMs. They are buying the motherboards you are buying.

    1. Yup….
      The actual problem is both one of aesthetics and laziness.
      Some People want their computers to look like a pinball machine on the inside all brightly colored neat right angle wires. spinny things and multi-colored blinkie lights.
      Who are you trying to impress with your Debit Card???
      DON’T get me wrong I like my PCs to be clean on the inside in terms of wiring and other things like shields to direct air, and those water lines and such should be orderly but not at the expense of performance.

      In 2005 I stuffed a full size ATX board in a mini-ATX sized case with water cooling, a few pieces of custom sheet metal, painted and finished, along with wiring harnesses, power supply leads shortened to Fit with only the service loop one needs. This was a fun project down to the epoxy painted hardware I put in the case.
      Could have won an award for this :)

      If you want a nice looking PC you are Never going to get it with off the shelf parts, not without a bid of modding and some creativity.
      This almost Ten Year old quad core workhorse is due to be out out to pasture, when it is I will be building a new custom PC with modified off the shelf parts, because anything that looks appealing is overpriced.

      1. > Who are you trying to impress with your Debit Card???

        Well, nobody. These days most high-end PC hardware has lights and cable management built in. Getting versions without those things will usually end up costing more. My RAM is RGB, and the unlit version with $50 more.

      2. Lies. Almost all nice looking PC’s are made with off the shelf parts. Who are they impressing? Should everyone drive a 05 Corolla or can they have something that looks better to them? It’s asthetics, just like your house decor and clothes. Its not expensive to make a nice looking pc with some flair.

    2. Don’t know which case? All cases use the same pin out and OEMs can follow suit. There is no need for OEMs to use a proprietary connector. It can easily be a standard connector that suits 99%. The 1% will always have their own issues.

  2. Don’t make a fuzz like a noob that values ecstatics over function claiming “messy cable” BS. It is not like you’ll need to do this more like a handful of times over the lifetime of a motherboard. There are clean ways of doing things. Learn to organize your cable.

    It is easy to extract the individual wire+pins and push them into a blank connector housing. Or if you are lazy, use one of those dual row female header with long pins intended for stacking just like Gigabyte or other motherboard vendors.

      1. Indeed.

        But as I sure you already know. There are still people complaining about USB connectors which won’t fit either way round, only now it’s USB-C…

        This is simply more of the same.

    1. Problem “I” run into isn’t pinout so much as it is, small print and hard to manipulate, especially in the depths of a computer. I shouldn’t need a borescope to read what’s on the board. I shouldn’t need a surgeons hands to slide everything correctly onto the pins. Maybe that’s why we let our kids put it together. Sharp eyes and nimble fingers, and all that.

      1. fortunately 0.1″ housings are cheap and you can build up a single connection before you assemble the case. a little heat shrink can turn that ratsnest into a monolithic umbilical. the more ambitions can re-run the lines to the right length and install their own crimps, either way its a pretty nifty solution.

  3. I think I’d rather keep each item separate. It makes them easier to repurpose. For example, if a case only one LED do I want to plug it in as a power indicator or a hard drive activity indicator. That’s up to me this way!

    They could be standardized better though. For example most speaker connectors are 4 pin with the middle two unconnected while some are 2 pin. Why use 4? I don’t know. I would have designed it with two but picking one and sticking with it, either would be fine.

  4. Do we even need these connections still? PC Speaker? Reset button? Chassis intrusion? Power switch is about the only one really required for many people, maybe the hard drive LED (but with modern SSDs, what does this actually tell us?) Dare I say it that Macs have made do with just the power button for some time now and I don’t see anyone complaining about that!

    1. Strange view for someone on a hacking/DIY site.

      Reset button is useful, when your PC hangs, and that is more likely to happen when you build a PC yourself, due to faulty hardware, or driver issues.

      Power button is useful for the same reason, you want to use it for hibernation/powering on.

      LED for disk is good to know why a computer is busy, does it access the mass storage, or is it just the CPU that is busy. It tells you about how to manage resources, gives you a quick idea what to do/fix.

      Actually, I would like the same for a WiFi interface, to see it’s activity.

      Macs are consumer devices, and not creator devices. They are not a reference for good design at all, but rather lifestyle products.

          1. Back in the days when digital publishing was getting started, there was a standard in the newspaper business, and for many books and other printing.

            72 dots per inch.

            For a long time Apple fixed their Macintosh monitors to a display resolution of 72 dots per inch, even if that meant leaving a large and empty border around the edge of the CRT. Mac monitors did one and only one resolution on each monitor size. If you wanted more pixels you bought a bigger monitor.

            The concept was the person using the Mac would see their work on screen at exactly the same size it would be on paper, just like it would be on a pasetup board making layouts for a process camera.

            This convenience soon turned into a limitation as people wanted to work on bigger projects digitally *and* be able to see more of their work at once. So we got bigger and *heavier* CRT monitors.

            Eventually people got the idea that they didn’t have to see their work on the screen at full print size all the time. They could zoom out for an overview then switch to actual size, and they could *zoom in* to do precision work they couldn’t do at a fixed size.

            Decoupling desktop publishing completely from the pasteup board mindset was as big a revolution as DTP was itself.

            Meanwhile, in PC-land, the concept of one monitor supporting more than one resolution had been with the platform almost from its beginning due to using different resolutions for plain text and graphics modes, once the PC first received a video card capable of doing graphics.

            For a while there were monitors that supported all the TTL digital PC video modes *and* VGA analog, with some going up to 1024×768. I used to have (might still have it) one of the first model of NEC Multisync monitors. It’s so early it doesn’t even have a model number, it’s just NEC Multisync, with a cooling fan. Its CRT phosphors or electron guns faded to the point where with brightness all the way up and the flyback transformer cranked up the image was still dim in a totally dark room.

        1. Because people working in anything other than ITC seem to not want to be computer technicians as well, so they want to use a computer that’s more like an appliance: plug it in, turn it on and use it.
          Apple has created this “cult of Mac” where people are blind to everything outside of that ecosystem, by playing on this desire for an “appliance like” computer, where the outside is fashionably designed and if the internals break, there is always Apple Centre to fix it for them.

    2. It’s wonderfully easy to spot people with no professional experience.

      1. Not every motherboard has an on-board speaker, and it’s not always convenient to hook up external speakers when all you need are the occasional diagnostic beep.

      2. The reset button is very useful for diagnostic purposes, or more interesting applications. I once wired a microcontroller to the reset button of a PC and had a script putting out data over the COM port periodically. If it failed to send a message after a specific amount of time, the PIC would pull the reset line low to force a reboot. It’s a hacky fix for a symptom, but sometimes you can’t address the root cause.

      3. The HDD LED is excellent for headless servers, especially when there’s a closet full of them. My media server’s HDD LEDs (there are several) make it clear when someone’s streaming and I shouldn’t do anything that might interfere. Alternatively, if my Docker box’s HDD LED starts lighting up more than the occasional blink, I know something’s up and I need to check what’s causing the activity, which has previously been a broken script rapidly flooding the HDD with error logs.

      4. I’d complain about my Mac not having these things, but first I’d complain about having the CPU and RAM soldered to the motherboard, not being allowed to run Linux, and paying 500% more than my workstation cost for a computer that’s 50% less powerful.

      1. You know nothing about me, so please don’t be so condescending.

        “I once wired a microcontroller to the reset button of a PC and had a script putting out data over the COM port periodically”.

        Sweet Jesus. I’m talking about 2020, not 1990. PCs don’t even have COM ports any more. I once overclocked my 486 by replacing the crystal oscillator, yet somehow we’ve moved on past that.

        Computers are just so much more reliable these days, I couldn’t tell you the last time I needed to hard-reset a computer of any brand. Is it really something you use that often?

        1. Bah. Decent computers still have a COM port on the back and most of the crappy ones at least have an internal header. Just because you don’t know what to do with it in 2020 doesn’t mean it isn’t there or that it’s useless.

          COM ports are awesome./dev/ttyS0 this time was dev/ttyS0 last time and will still be /dev/ttyS0 every time you boot up. It doesn’t matter what order you plugged in your devices there is no randomness and you don’t even have to write any udev rules to make this so.

          Just throw a MAX202 on your Arduino and you can make your own peripheral that your scripts can talk to without any special effort determining what port the OS decided to assign it to this time.

          I guess most laptops might not have COM ports these days but that’s ok. They build them so thin a stiff breeze could probably crack one into two pieces. They aren’t really meant to be used, just flashed about as status symbols.

        2. Your lack of experience continues to show.

          > PCs don’t even have COM ports any more

          This was around 2010, but most PCs do still have COM ports. The MSI gaming motherboard I got for my i9-9900K does.

          > Computers are just so much more reliable these days

          Your mileage may vary.

          > I couldn’t tell you the last time I needed to hard-reset a computer of any brand. Is it really something you use that often?

          My Linux servers end up freezing at least once a week because I’m stuck using a bit of software that likes to cause problems but I’m not in a position to fix it myself.

      2. Huh. My Mac runs Ubuntu and Windows just fine, though the native UNIX is better than either. If your workstation is 5 times less than my iMac, you must be buying stolen goods. And 6 years old with quad i7 at 4GHz and 27″ 5K display is 1/2 the performance of what? You need a graphics card that costs more than my whole machine. I don’t get the Apple hate. Great apps and never crashing and a UNIX console is to me a good thing.

        Anyway, cases without the drive cages and MoBo’s to fit are what I want. And better locations for connectors – locking connectors for USB, etc. would be great so they don’t pull out. These days I use PCIe M.2 SSD for their speed and convenience and no cables needed. Plus you can RAID them on a single card.

        1. > Huh. My Mac runs Ubuntu and Windows just fine, though the native UNIX is better than either.

          I’ve never been a Mac user but when I had an iPod the Genius Bar guys told me it’s illegal to run Linux on a Mac. I’ve seen it done, of course, but why pay Apple prices for Apple quality if you know enough to use Linux instead?

          > If your workstation is 5 times less than my iMac, you must be buying stolen goods.

          My PC’s hardware us worth about $2k, and outperforms a $10k Mac Pro. Better yet, I can run any OS I like and upgrade as needed because the CPU, RAM, and SSD aren’t soldered down.

          > You need a graphics card that costs more than my whole machine.

          My GPU was $800. I can even overclock it. I’ve never seen a $20,000 GPU on the consumer market.

          > Great apps and never crashing and a UNIX console is to me a good thing.

          Ah yes, endless supplies of fart sound apps, never crashing as in my students always needed help because their Mac would crash just opening the browser, and of course the UNIX console is exclusive to $10,000 systems running MacOS, definitely not available on a Unix system. /s

          > Anyway, cases without the drive cages and MoBo’s to fit are what I want

          Of course. People content with RAM and NAND Flash soldered to the motherboard aren’t going to want to upgrade. You just throw it out and buy a new one when it comes out.

          > These days I use PCIe M.2 SSD

          You’ll be shocked to learn, so do I despite running Linux and Windows! However I got to choose the one I wanted, a 1TB SSD for $80, rather than paying double for one chosen by Apple.

    3. On Linux, you can re-task the LEDs to show different things (depending on how much the motherboard supports it) – https://www.kernel.org/doc/html/latest/leds/leds-class.html

      So having extra blinkenlights on your case can still be useful, instead of HDD activity indicator you can have a system load indicator :)

      They’re controllable and very simple output pins available from a very low level.. You could hook the reset pins up to a raspberry pi gpio for poor man’s emergency over the network reboot. You could hook up the PC speaker to some kind of gigantic awful foghorn klaxon thing to remind yourself not to hit backspace too many times in terminals.

    4. Macs are fine if you are willing to live with Tim Cook wants you to do it.
      He thinks most people are too stupid to use a phone with a slide out keyboard.
      Not to mention he doesn’t want anybody to repair their apple gear.
      That says a lot for the lack of sustainability built into apple products.
      While PCs are not that much better at least the degree of customization both in physical look and in the US look and feel are more flexible on PCs.

      Each to their own…….

  5. “Day Case Connector” (DCC),
    but what if I need to make connections at night?

    Personally, the idea of cutting holes in the side of a metal case to show off neon lights inside the case, seems to show a callous disregard for RFI. Nor, am I interested is watching RGB light shows on my RAM.
    (OTOH, if such lights were diagnostic in nature and well documented…)

    1. RFI grrrrrr
      At least my gear is quiet from below the broadcast band to well into UHF.
      My neighbors on the other hand…..
      75 meters is so nice from midnight to six AM then all the PCs, TVs and all that other crap come on.
      Oh and Solar, Don’t Get Me Started…..
      grrrrrrr…..

  6. I don’t see the issue. It’s a few little pins that have to be connected once. Then forgotten about. If you are capable of bolting a dozen components together, install an OS, and then chase down drivers, connecting 8 leads to a main board should be jock work.

        1. You’re correct – please tell OEM workstation computer manufacturers this!! Those tiny Dell Optiplex workstations are such a time sink when it comes to adding extra RAM or swapping out drives, everything hidden behind plastic shrouds and using bizarre plastic connectors instead of screws, with cables managed so tightly you have to unplug everything just to get at one component. Give me a nice standard ATX case any day!

          1. Ah, see there’s the problem. An OEM can already use whatever connectors they want, since they control the case and the motherboard.

            These universal connectors are designed for people who build their own PCs, so it’s handy to have cases and motherboards using an accepted standard so you can mix and match.

  7. This is a new low for HaD… There is a REASON for the standard 0.1″ pitch connector. It works. Always. For any case. For any motherboard. You can change the MB, or the case, and things will work. You get a proprietary connector and then you are locked. This is simply said stupid. How often do you need to open the case and mess with these cables? Who cares how the PC looks on the inside. It needs to work reliably and do it at the lowest cost and with the maximum flexibility. Which it does today.

    1. I laughed at that since I spent over a decade lugging around an IFR FM-AM 1200S service monitor.
      Maybe the author should tote my HP-8569 spectrum analyzer around for a while…
      My last three PCs didn’t weigh that much combined.

  8. Why on earth would you want to continue the 0.1 nightmare? Why not add a second connector, probably serial something (I2C, SPI, whatever). The old legacy connectors can be left on the board for use with non-compliant cases, at least for awhile. But a new connector with a dedicated design could be added for new boards and cases to communicate with each other. It would open up the path for significant extension and much better communication with the case for yet unknown features.

    1. Just put a couple of internal USB-C ports on the MB and use those for everything from front panel ports to LCDs in your drive bay. I don’t think we need to remove the original headers right away, but I want to see an integrated USB front panel.

      1. Just an observation;
        Here on a site full of technically orientated folk, some of career electronics techs, others hobbyists. (/Sue gives a fair amount of slack to the hobbyists)
        It seems few here have given much thought to the value of a PC speaker, Power, and HD activity LEDs, and those .1″ spaced pins on motherboards when it comes to troubleshooting.

        I can put pins on the end of those wires that go on those .1″ spaced posts, anybody here able to replace a USB-C connector by hand?? ;)

      1. I own a few Suns, but don’t have much experience with SGI, HP or IBM machines, but I believe you.
        It makes me sad when I build PC’s today and the PSU harness is 1m long. And those front panel connectors (as noted in the artice). What is even worse is all the RGB LEDs. Ughh…

  9. My new ASUS motherboard came a Q-connector, which is just a little connector that you plug all those little plus into., turning it to something that can be plugged right in the motherboard as one piece. Much easier.

        1. I understand you’re trying to be funny and/or cynical, but there’s actually a point to the Q-connector. The issue is that the front-panel connector is often in a difficult-to-see and difficult-to-reach corner of the case. It’s also easy to get the individual connections on the wrong pins, since there is no polarization on the individual connectors. However, the entire set is polarized.

          The Q-connector allows you to plug the individual wires into the Q-connector in a place where you can see and reach them all easily. In addition, since the overall connector is polarized, you’re much less likely to plug it in wrong as you fit it to the motherboard.

          Finally, if you need to temporarily unplug the wires, you can unplug and re-plug just a single connector rather than several.

  10. The current “standard” of using .1″ headers is far better than the likely alternative where each motherboard manufacturer uses a different proprietary connector. I think we should be praising them for making it so easy to work with any case you like. I guess you can’t please everyone.

  11. I think it would be nice to have not only the case wires like they are, but every other connector turned into 1 wire – 1 connector. Like wiring up a breadboard. Then you’d have the 40s’ 50s’ look (and challenge) with individual wires running all over the place (and neatly bundled once working) for a ‘real’ computer look :) . Am I missing something here? Probably don’t need to go as far as wire wrapping… but …

    That said, I’ve never really seen the article’s rant as a problem. As long as you have a schematic, and wires are labeled, not a problem. I’ve never had any ‘not work’.

  12. Do we really need an HD activity LED?
    Back in the Dark Ages you might need those HD LED connectors separate from the rest of the puzzle to plug into that faster IDE/PATA/RLL/SCSI/SATA 6/etc. controller board, but rarely today unless your MB doesn’t support RAID.

    1. Yes, you do. Why do you have process monitors, that tell you how much of the CPU, disk, RAM, Network is used? To know what program takes how many resources, when and why.

      When your PC gets slow, hangs or is busy. It helps a lot for troublshooting as well.

      1. I can’t plug in the LED for hdd/ssd anymore, it drives me bonkers because it sits there accessing continuously when it should be idle. We need more transparency on what is doing what. And why. And control to make it stop

        1. If you think that’s bad take a look round the back at the LEDs on the Ethernet port! Those bad boys flicker away 24/7, whether I’m sending an email or not. Sometimes, even if you turn off the PC! What’s that all about!!!??!

    2. Current system, don’t plug it in if it annoys you that much, proposed system all or nothing.

      Myself, I’ve pinged virii 3 times by suspicious HDD LED activity (Accesses when no software reporting accesses in task manager etc) 2 of those occasions it was before virus definitions for leading AV packages were available for that virus.

    3. I miss the days when the hard drives themselves had activity led connectors and cases had rows of LEDs that one could hook up to “whatever”. I used to connect each hard drive to it’s own LED. If nothing else it’s was just another indicator of just how much Windows throws crap on C:\ even when you tell it to install on D:\. That was one of the larger reasons I switched to Linux.

  13. You’re forgetting a great benefit: when I’m testing PC components outside a case, I can short the header pins with a screwdriver.

    Also, when I’m building a case, I can use any method I want to connect any random switches or LEDs to these header pins without having to look online. I can solder, I can clip, whatever.

    1. You’d still be able to do this with the Day Case Connector! It’s still 0.1″ pitch, it’s just standardising the layout so a keyed single connector can be used by case manufacturers who wish to ship better product.

  14. Asus’ workstation P5Q motherboards actually had something similar, along with a bundled adapter for “legacy” cases to hook up to.

    Turns out it was only relevant at assembly time, so nobody gave a shit about it, especially when you could slap “gamer” slang and military jargon in the model name, and RGB’s every fucking where and it’ll sell like hotcakes outside of a weightwatchers convention. .

    So you should rather demand the return for no-nonsense workstation/enthusiast motherboards without any fripperies

  15. Yep. Nothing would frustrate a builder more than if special connectors are needed from board to board, case to case. At least now there is a ‘standard’ everyone seems to conform to.

    1. I guess most people don’t have the standard header layout memorised (why would you?), but I spent a couple of years at a PC manufacturer and that layout is seared into my brain. If only different motherboard manufacturers would put it in the same orientation every time…

  16. The philips screwdriver I jab at open headers near the front of the board has worked on every motherboard I’ve used. I don’t even need to know the pinout.

    Very helpful on those annoying proprietary Dell/HP Oem boards too.

  17. I wish this was about parametric custom PC case designing tools.

    There is a gap between ‘barely fits thin-ITX/Mini-ITX, with no GPU card support’ and ‘not smaller than mATX case, despite only having room for flex-ATX/Mini-ITX board’

    1. I note this too. It’s hart to find compact cases for flex/micro, most of it only 1~2″ smaller of my PC with E-ATX board. Flex micro with 4 slots may need only few liters more room over ITX, without external bays, only 2×3,5 drives…

  18. a hackaday article requesting custom injection mold (proprietary?) connectors and a useless protocol instead of pin headers and some pcb labeling… i think the beloved blog actually hit bottom with this one.

    Four words, one acronym: RTFM

  19. Most larger name brand computers have a single block connector or at least a pinout diagram on the inside of the removable part of the case. This is because network maintenance engineers don’t like to waste time fidgeting with discrete connectors and businesses don’t like paying for wasted time.

    On the other hand, generic cases need to compensate for the different variations of pinout. These variations are inevitable as features get added over time.

    If you’re a hacker then you can buy a block connector (or find one in the junk box) and take the individual connectors from the generic case and put them into the block, then glue a piece of plastic in the key position.

    Or, you can use an IDC connector and ribbon cable and resolder to the switches, LEDs etc.

    1. Ya bring the physical keyboard lock with case lock back too, and add a mouse lock. Also miss the fake speed displays that would switch with the turbo button. Hours of fun watching twit pushing it thinking it actually did anything when it wasnt even hooked to MB.

  20. https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2018/06/27/how-to-build-a-pc-2018-how-to-connect-case-cables-system-panel-connector/

    Look at the 4th image.

    For mainboards that don’t come with this, there are a few things you can do.
    The jankiest is to glue the connectors from the case together, perhaps fill in gaps with hot glue. You’ll want a spare board to board connector to use as a jig so you aren’t gluing the connector to the mainboard.

    A much better idea is to order a 2xwhatever Dupont 2.54 connector housing and transplant the pins from the case’s connections into that. Get some of the inserts to block out key pins, or just use glue to block a hole to form a key. If the header doesn’t have a missing pin but has an unused one, then cut it to make a key pin (this is HaD after all).
    This is the approach I’ve taken on numerous occasions.

    But perhaps this is an opportunity to show off some 3D printing skills and design something that can hold all the connectors together in a coherent block and maybe use some physical features of the board as a key if there are no blank pins to act as a key.

    1. Key pins are for n00bs, pry all the key plugs out, carve them off connectors, lever off the shell with the funky key moulding and leave raw IDC pins you can plug what you damn well like into. Splay the pins out if they’re the wrong pitch and force the connector on there. Also re carve your ATX 12V to fit into GPU power, stick bits of wire in 3.5″ floppy plugs to hook up extra fans. Whatever floats your goat, I am a hacker not a conformist.

  21. of all the things they could complain about it had to be the headers. my usual solution for header hell, is to grab the appropriate size housing from my kit, and transfer all the wires to a monolithic header. possible with an application of heat shrink. just don’t forget you did this when you eventually re-use the case. and frankly i like the 0.1″ pitch headers, they are quite durable.

    if you want to complain about something make it the elephant in the room, namely the gargantuan case. i think it is a mortal sin to have a case the size of the apollo guidance computer in 2020. surely we have made some strides towards miniaturization in the last 50 years. i see plenty of kids with huge cases and they might have a full atx mobo with just a video card in it and a single drive and lots of fans pushing fresh air uselessly through mostly empty space. after building such a machine in the core2 era i quickly realized that i was doing something horribly wrong, after than i figured that sff cases were the future. most home users and gamers dont need a full pcie backplane or a drive cage that can house 4 full size hard drives.

    the sff case designs that are worth considering are all expensive low yield kickstarter affairs. sandwhich cases show promise, but im waiting for the budget edition as all the ones available last i looked were $200+. i dont really need machined aircraft grade aluminum or tempered glass. sheet steel is ok for me. but they are likely the only options for 12 liter bracket. there are smaller but you usually have to start compromising performance with those.

    cube cases have been around for a while and are not well optimized. first was an old no name micro atx cube, which is huge by todays standards. my elite 110 has a couple liters of dead space above the graphics card, and thats a zotac 2070 super mini that barely fits as it is, i had to bend metal and take off the bracket to get it in there (i was able to finagle the bracket back on in situ). they could have shaved an inch or two off the top had it been designed natively for sfx supplies (i had to buy a 3rd party bracket). i dont really think the cube is a good idea though, its always awkward on my desk. i mostly chose it because it fit into a cubby on my old desk which i have since replaced.

    itx height towers (sub-mini?) are probably the most likely candidate to receive actual standards. they dont have to enforce any restrictive cooler height limits (cube cases are especially bad at this due to their psu placement). moving the sfx psu to the front of the case solves a lot of the optimization problems but requires an internal extension cable. like the nf200 is almost a good candidate though 18l its hardly an sff case. if it got rid of the cable management compartment which you dont need if you run m.2 drives and don’t want blinkenlights. it could also do without the vanity gpu slot. but i guess that doesnt hurt you if you dont use it, its not like you cant use that space it for a honkin’ air cooler or clear space at the bottom for a rad. but i think it could be optimized down to 15l.

    1. Pfff! I still have a full-size tower case that can hold 8 5″ drives AND NO MOTHERBOARD, into which you plug into your tower PC sitting next door. Add it’s got a locking front door so you can have a tape drive or two in there and keep the tapes nice and secure. It keeps the office warm, too.

  22. Good luck to anyone here who can get motherboard makers and case makers to all settle on one standard to govern building a single, composite cabling system that works for every motherboard and every case. Having built a lot of PCs for myself, family, and friends, the cabling issue is not that big of deal to connect the “ugly little headers” to the sometimes obscure little case connectors. Don’t worry about it, we all thrive on challenges anyway!

  23. Pointless article. It takes a mere couple of minutes extra to plug in these connectors. The only issue I have are with case makers who clearly never heard of using proper color wires for polarized connections.

  24. If such a Day Case Connector would become reality, it would be smart to design it with some protection to force the connection in the right orientation. I don’t see that in the drawing of the connector.

    If it’s so easy to connect, make sure that the right pins are connected with the right pins on the motherboard. Otherwise you could have a recipe for disaster :-)

  25. Could we atleast get rid of unflexible cables and ribbon cables first.
    I have latetly been watching computer builds on YouTube (It might be time for me to build one for home work) and the worst part of them all is routing cables that doesn’t want to bend, making the backpanels bulge or be hard to get back on.
    I admire those who make their own cables, to the exact length, after routing them nicely where they need to go, with nice cables in correct colours to blend in.
    And the RTX double connector adaptor should be taken outside and burned, if they atleast made it long enough to go behind the motherboard so you didn’t have to see the extra connector just by the graphicscard

      1. Implying that my request is ridiculous? In many other places I’ve asked for this simple to implement feature (using other than off-the-shelf port hardware) it has been met with enthusiastic support from people who use their PC in low light environments, like gamers for instance.

    1. Maybe because the HDD LED also works with SSD? And because it’s an indication that your PC is not just on (Power LED) but actually living because it’s processing your SSD?

      Do you want to get rid of the Power LED too? Because it’s so 1980s… ;-)

  26. PCs are full of design flaws and outdated solutions. Just look at fans – each with pair of cables wich are plugged to hub which has another milion of cables. At least we still have innovators like Lian Li and their Uni Fan. It will take a lot of time before this becomes standard though.

  27. Lewin, you have opened a can of worms…
    Our human nature is to complain about everything and most people are reluctant to change even when they know is for the better. Perhaps there is hope in future generations that have grown used to and welcome change. I’m sure if this was written (on paper) decades ago you will see the same results… 9 and 25 pin COM ports… VGA… Centronics… math co-processors, etc.. I will love to see the day we use one port that handles anything you throw at… but no pins!!! ;)

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