Tiny Headers for Reliable Debug

Here we go again… Once again I’ve been given yet another board with randomly placed test points instead of a nice neat, reliable header to connect via my MiniSimplicity cable. So I’m spending an hour on my microscope soldering thin little wires to the tiny little test points to be able to flash and then debug the firmware on a new ZG23 based product. Once I’m done soldering, I’m left with a very fragile board which is unreliable at best and at worst will result in even less hair on my thinning head. My post from 2019 described using a zero cost header for a reliable connection, but it seems not everyone is reading my blog!

On the flip side, a different customer sent me their board with a Tag-Connect Edge-Connect that I had not seen before but is absolutely brilliant. The Edge-Connect uses the EDGE of your PCB for the test points. Barely 1mm wide and about 20mm long it is possible to include this debug connector on virtually any PCB. There is a locking pin to hold the cable secure while the spring loaded tabs press into the castellated notches to ensure solid contact.

Close up of the locking pin and castellated notches

There are several sizes of the Edge-Connect but the recommended one is the 10-pin EC10-IDC-050 which matches the MiniSimplicity header on the WSTK DevKit board. Note that the the 6pin cable in the photo above is NOT the one I would recommend but it was the only one in stock at the time and it worked fine for debugging but doesn’t have the UART or PTI pins.

Tag-Connect has many other types of debug headers/cables of various configurations to hold the cable to the PCB securely. The original Tag-Connect cables have plastic clips that snap into fairly large thru-holes in your PCB. While this is a reliable connection, the thru-holes eat up a lot of PCB real estate. The next evolution was to use a small retaining clip under the PCB that grips onto the metal alignment pins. The photo below shows the PCB pads are not much bigger than an 0805 footprint and only requires three small thru-holes.

Note the smallest header is about the same as an 0805 in lower left corner

The lowest cost approach is to simply add a 10-pin header footprint on your PCB that matches the pinout of the MiniSimplicity header. See section 5.1.1 of Application Node AN958 for the pinout of the 10-pin MiniSimplicity header. You don’t need to solder the header onto the PCB except when debugging. Thus the header can be under a battery or some relatively inaccessible location as when you are debugging in the lab the PCB is usually not installed in the product enclosure.

Please use ANY of these standard connectors on your next project. Without a solid connection between your computer and the chip you will find yourself chasing ghosts and losing hair.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s