Who Needs Pin Headers?

[Martin] sent this query, along with the lead photo, into the tip line, and he makes a good point. Most development and evaluation boards have multiple rows of pin headers, often arriving loose in the package — soldering is left to the user. In an abundance of caution, we usually design our prototype boards with many pin headers for debugging and testing. But as [Martin] reminds us, there are other alternatives to solder.

  • Yours truly once worked with a prolific designer of PIC microprocessor boards. Long before the advent of solutions like the Tag Connect family, [Ralph] would program his boards by just inserting a pin header into the PCB and applying gentle pressure with his thumb until the code finished flashing.
  • You may have seen the staggered offset PCB patterns that hold your pin header securely while you solder. You could tweak this a little bit to put more pressure on the pins, making a solder-less connection that is sufficient for temporary testing.
  • Taking the opposite approach, you can get solderless connectors with press-fit pins, a method we tested a few years ago on a Raspberry Pi Zero. Anyone who has worked on Eurocard-based systems like VME can appreciate the time-savings and improved reliability of 96-pin DIN-41612 press-fit connectors.
  • Or, as [Martin] proposes, you could use one of these inexpensive pogo-pin clamps. These are available for less than $10 from your favorite Asian electronics distributor. They are about the size of a large clothespin, and are available in several different pin configurations.

These techniques won’t help you if you need to plug your board into another card, such as a hat onto a Raspberry Pi. But when you just want to grab a few signals for a serial port or probing some digital I/O signals, having a few of these clips in your tool box can save you the time and headache of soldering down a header. Do you have any tips for making soldering pin headers easier, or even avoiding them altogether? Let us know in the comments below.

Silicon Jumpers Make This Wire-Free Breadboard Programmable

There’s no doubting the utility of the trusty solderless breadboard, but you have to admit they’re less than perfect. They’re not ideal for certain types of circuits, of course, but that’s less of a problem than those jumper wires. The careless will end up with their components hopeless tangled in a rat’s nest of jumpers, while the fastidious will spend far more time making the jumpers neat and tidy than actually prototyping the circuit itself. What to do?

One way to crack this nut is to make the solderless breadboard jumperless, too. That’s the idea behind “breadWare” a work-in-progress undertaken by [Kevin Santo Cappuccio]. The idea is to adapt a standard breadboard so that connections between arbitrary pairs of common contact strips — plus the power rails — can be made in software. The trick behind this is a matrix of analog CMOS switch chips, specifically the MT8816AP. Each chip’s 128 crosspoint switches can handle up ± 12 volts, so there are plenty of circuits that can use these programmable silicon jumpers.

[Kevin] is currently on version 0.2, which is sized to fit under a solderless breadboard and make a compact package. He shared details on how he’s connecting to the breadboard contacts, and it looks like a painful process: pull out the contact, cut a small tab at the gutter-end, and bend it down so it forms a lead for a through-hole in the PCB. It seems like a lot of work, and there must be a better way; [Kevin] is clearly open to suggestions.

While we’ve seen crosspoint switching used to augment solderless breadboarding before, we find this project pleasing in its simplicity. The thought of tossing out all those jumpers is certainly tempting.

[Ben Eater]’s Breadboarding Tips

A solderless breadboard is a place where ideas go to become real for the first time. Usually, this is a somewhat messy affair, with random jumpers flying all about the place, connecting components that can be quickly swapped to zero in on the right values, or to quickly change the circuit topology. Breadboards aren’t the place to make circuit artwork.

That is, however, not always the case, and we’ve seen more than a few examples from [Ben Eater] on breadboarding that approaches the circuit sculpture level of craftsmanship. And like any good craftsman, [Ben] has shared some of his breadboarding tips and tricks in a new video. Starting with a simple 555 blinkenlight project that’s wired up in the traditional anything-goes fashion, [Ben] walks us through his process for making a more presentation-worthy version.

His tools are high-quality but simple, with the wire strippers being the most crucial to good results. Surprisingly, [Ben] relies most heavily on the simple “scissors-style” strippers for their versatility, rather than the complicated semi-automatic tools. We found that to be the biggest take-home from the video, as well as the results of practice. [Ben] has done tons of this type of breadboarding before, which means when he “eyeballs” stripping 0.3 inches of insulation, he can do it down to a ten-thousandth precision.

Granted, there’s not much new here, but watching this video is a little like watching [Bob Ross] paint — relaxing and strangely compelling at the same time. You can get more of the same with pretty much any of his videos that we’ve covered, like this 6502 breadboard computer build. We’ve also seen [Eater]-inspired builds that are pretty impressive, like this full-8-bit breadboard computer.

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Fail Of The Week: Z-Tape Is No Substitute For Solder

Here at Hackaday, we see all kinds of mechanical construction methods. Some are impressively solid and permanent, while others are obviously temporary in nature. The latter group is dominated by adhesives – sticky stuff like cyanoacrylate glue, Kapton tape, and the ever-popular hot glue. They’ve all got their uses in assembling enclosures or fixing components together mechanically, but surely they have no place in making solid electrical connections, right?

Maybe, maybe not. As [Tom Verbeure] relates, so-called Z-tape just might be an adhesive that can stand in for solder under certain circumstances. Trouble is, he couldn’t find the right conditions to make the tape work. Z-tape, more properly called “Electrically Conductive Adhesive Transfer Tape 9703”,  derives its nickname from the fact that it’s electrically conductive, but only in the Z-axis. [Tom] learned about Z-tape in [Joe FitzPatrick]’s malicious hardware prototyping workshop at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference, and decided to put it to the test.

A card from a Cisco router served as a testbed thanks to an unpopulated chip footprint. The 0.5-mm pin spacing on the TSOP-48 chip was within spec for the Z-tape, but the area of each pin was 30 times smaller than the recommended minimum bonding area. While the chip was held down mechanically by the Z-tape, only five of the 48 pins were electrically connected to the pads. Emboldened by the partial success, [Tom] tried a 28-pin SOIC chip next. The larger pins and pads were still six times smaller than the minimum, and while more of the pins ended up connected by the tape, he was unable to make all 28 connections.

Reading the datasheet for the adhesive revealed that constant pressure from a clamp or clip might be necessary for reliable connections, which suggests that gluing down SMD chips is probably not the best application for the stuff. Still, we appreciate the effort, and the fine photomicrographs [Tom] made showing the particles within the Z-tape that make it work – at least in some applications.

Arcade1up Cabinet Mod Raspberry Pi 3

Arcade1up Cabinet Solderless Upgrade With A Side Of Raspberry Pi

Upon announcement of the Arcade1up replica arcade cabinets earlier this year, many laid in waiting for the day they could see a teardown. A four foot tall cab with an LCD outputting the proper 4:3 aspect ratio and the simple construction of IKEA furniture certainly seemed appealing. In theory, it wouldn’t take long to customize such a piece of hardware provided the internals lent themselves to that sort of thing. Now that the cabinets are on store shelves, [ETA Prime] made a tutorial video on his method for upgrading the Arcade1up cabinet with a Raspberry Pi calling the shots.

The entirety of the mod is solder-free and uses plenty of readily available parts from your favorite online reseller. The brains of the operation is a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ running Emulation Station. The Arcade1up Street Fighter 2 cabinet’s less than stellar audio receives an upgrade in a 2x20W car audio amp, while the middling joysticks are swapped out for some more robust Sanwa-clone ball tops.

Since there is no “select/coin” button natively, [ETA Prime] added some and in the process replaced them all with beefier LED-lit 30mm buttons. The replacement joysticks and buttons were all part of a kit, so they plug-in conveniently to a plug and play USB encoder. To adapt the 17″ LCD’s output over LVDS, [ETA Prime] elected to go with an LCD controller board that outputs DVI, VGA, or HDMI. Luckily the Arcade1up cabinet’s 12V power supply could be reused to power the LCD controller board and in the process bring down the overall cost of the upgrade.

While this Arcade1up cabinet mod won’t solve the whole “bats versus ball tops” argument, it does provide a template to build on. The tutorial video is below and the list of parts used can be found in the YouTube description.

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Review: Hammer-Installed Solderless Raspberry Pi Pin Headers

A few days ago we reported on a new product for owners of the Raspberry Pi Zero, a set of solderless header pins that had a novel installation method involving a hammer. We were skeptical that they would provide a good contact, and preferred to stick with the tried-and-trusted soldered pins. It seems a lot of you agreed, and the comments section of the post became a little boisterous. Pimoroni, the originator of the product, came in for a lot of flak, with which to give them their due they engaged with good humor.

It’s obvious this was a controversial product, and maybe the Hackaday verdict had been a little summary based on the hammer aspect of the story. So to get further into what all the fuss had been about I ordered a Pi Zero and the solderless pin kit to try for ourselves.

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Heathkit’s Triumphant Return?

Heathkit, the storied purveyor of high-quality DIY electronics kits that inspired a generation of enthusiasts and launched the careers of many engineers, has returned from the dead. We think. At least it seems that way from this build log by [Spritle], an early adopter of the rebooted company’s first offering. But if [Spritle]’s experience is any indication, Heathkit has a long way to go to recreating its glory days. Continue reading “Heathkit’s Triumphant Return?”