We’re all trying to make the Smart Home products smaller and less visible. Using coin cells instead of bulky cylindrical batteries significantly reduces the size of many products. The challenge with making products smaller is that the area available on the PCB for a debug header is in short supply.
With the 500 series I usually used a 0.1″ spacing 12 pin header from the ZDP03A programmer to the target board. The header was normally not installed in the final product but for debug purposes the solid thru-hole connector meant I would reliably program a device the first time and every time.
However, many customers I’ve worked with want to use less PCB real estate which means they come up with a custom set of test points. Typically a jig with spring loaded pins are used to contact to the PCB or more often wires are soldered to the PCB. The problem with this solution is that the jig is large, expensive and fragile. Soldering a cable to a board often results in a fragile connection where the cable can easily break a pin and not be immediately obvious. I’ve spent far too much time trying to figure out why I could program the part a minute ago but now I can’t only to realize the cable has a loose wire.
500 Series Header
My recommendation for the 500 series is to use a full size 12 pin 0.1″ spacing connector for programming and debug. Either SMT or thru-hole is fine but either way you have a solid, reliable, portable connection. While this worked OK with the 500 series which typically used large cylindrical batteries, the 700 series often uses coin cells which doesn’t have the real estate for a full size connector.
700 Series Debug Header
Fortunately Silicon Labs has an even better solution for the 700 series – use a 0.05″ spacing 10 pin SMT header. The Mini Simplicity Debug connector is described in AN958. If you have a little room then use the standard SMT header which is 6x6mm. If you are very tight on real estate then put down the pads for the thru-hole version of the connector but hand-solder the thru-hole header to the pads. Using just the pads results in a header only 3x6mm. You can’t tell me you can’t come up with 18sqmm to make the PCB debug reliable!
Either solution requires only a small amount of space on a single side of the PCB. Usually the header pads can be under a coin cell since during debug a power supply is used instead of the battery. This same header can be used for production programming using a jig to contact to the pads. Having a standard and reliable connection to the PCB will save you time during debug and on the production floor.
No matter how tempted you might be to come up with your own cable/connector/test points, DON’T DO IT! Use the standard Mini Simplicity connector to save you so many headaches during debug. A solid, reliable debug connection is an absolute must otherwise you risk spinning your wheels chasing ghosts that are caused by a flakey connector. Take it from me, I’ve tried to debug just way too many of these over the years and it is not fun.