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Everyone Hates Pin Headers, So Why Are They So Common?

Yes, we all hate 0.1″ and 0.156″ pin headers. They’re easy to plug in backwards, or off by one (as owners of a Wells-Gardner K6100 know well); plugging them in and removing them stresses the connection to the PCB and causes intermittent connections over time; and no one seems to be able to agree which end is pin 1.

So why are they so common?

Well, how can we (electrically) connect one PCB to another? There are a bewildering variety of options.

A meaningful percentage of my design time is spent:

  • Figuring out which connectors were used on something I have to connect to, if they still exist and are available, and which of the dozens of similar-looking options are actually compatible. (Crimp pins for multi-pin connectors are a particular offender here.)
  • Figuring out which connectors are appropriate for the intended usage, reasonably priced, and easily available.

Just go here and start drilling through all the categories…and don’t forget about TE Connectivity, and Amphenol (page 1 of 50).

Or, I can give up and just slap on some pin headers. They’re usually the cheapest option, they’re easily available…and they avoid spending hours of time trying to figure out what might work better.

And that’s why you see so many pin headers.

(Especially in the days before the Internet, when choosing parts involved thumbing through stacks of paper catalogs and squinting at tiny drawings printed on the cheapest possible newsprint, it was easiest to go with what you already had and knew.)


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