What were we thinking--male headers on the MSP430 LaunchPad?

What were we thinking--male headers on the MSP430 LaunchPad?

  • Comments 13

One of the most influential products TI has made that is popular in Education is the MSP430 LaunchPad. 

If you aren't familiar with the LaunchPad, take some time and go over to our resource page for LaunchPad and learn some more.

Since the LaunchPad came out two and a half years ago- over a quarter million have been bought and a large portion of those LaunchPads are in Education.  So the purpose of this post is to address the #1 Question I receive from Educators across the country. That question is as follows:

Q: What was TI thinking when we decided to put Male Headers on the MSP430 LaunchPad?

After all, it’s harder to breadboard with male headers, all of the “starter” kits that are on the market today use wires or male cables… it’s just not convenient!

Answer:


Originally when we released the LaunchPad, TI was targeting existing engineers. As such, in version 1.4 the LaunchPad shipped with no headers and required the Engineer to solder them onto the board.


MSP430 LaunchPad v1.4 (no headers)

Based on the feedback the MSP430 team received when they were deciding to revise the LaunchPad, the decision was made to take the need to solder away and to include the headers on the LaunchPad. Male headers were selected based on the feedback which included:  


1.) the only BoosterPack that was available at the time had female headers (Capacitive Touch BoosterPack) and
2.) the Engineers that provided feedback preferred being able to use regular probes (logic analyzers, scopes etc.) 


LaunchPad with standard clip test lead 


Without too many opposing opinions heard, version 1.5 of the LaunchPad was released with the male headers.
(This is why Feedback is so critical for the University space, to make sure our needs are met!) 


LaunchPad V1.5 - With Male Headers pre-soldered on

Do I think that we'll change the headers in the future?
Since the new version, V1.5 with the Male Headers, the LaunchPad has increased exponentially in popularity and over 30 new BoosterPacks have been developed to create a LaunchPad Ecosystem. The addition of the C2000 LaunchPad and the Stellaris LaunchPad… has now made the male headers on the LaunchPad… most likely here to stay. So to answer the question: 
It will be highly unlikely that we will change the gender of the LaunchPad anytime soon. 

However, we do have a few "work-arounds" that I've observed while traveling to Universities which I'll cover in the below sections.  


LaunchPad Starter Bundle with the CapTouch BoosterPack 

Work Arounds- What are some things that can be done to make prototyping and breadboarding easier? 

Since the male headers appear to be staying. It's best that we find some solutions to still be successful. I've divided this into two sections- Buy vs Make. 

  1. Buy- No Soldering

          i.       Male to Female Jumper Wires


 I find this solution ideal because it doesn't require any modifications.
However, these wires aren’t usually readily available in most labs and their non-standard issue in kits such as the SEEED Studio companion kit can be a little off-putting.
Below are some places that I have found them and use:

  1. Pack of 100 from Mouser Electronics- Schmart Board >$10.00 
  2. Sparkfun sells them in small qty’s: https://www.sparkfun.com/products/9385

   ii.      Female jumper wires These are a slight bit more common than M/F ones and come in many kits. I find you can adapt them easily to have a male terminating connector. The most important thing is to make sure to have a solid connection.

  1. Using standard breadboard wire connectors

     
  2. Using break-away header pins
      
  3. Using extended headers (0.6mm above board at least) to make male headers on the breadboard.
    Samtec has free samples of these. https://www.samtec.com/connectors/standard-board-to-board/100-inch-square-post.aspx
      

                iii.      Male jumper wires or regular AWG wire: By far this is the most common type of breadboard wire. We find these in kits, but also you can just use shielded wire 18-22AWG to breadboard.

  1. Adapt the LaunchPad Pins with female headers-

This was a trick that I watched one of our Application Engineers show me.
It does require 2 sets of the headers that can be found in the original LaunchPad box. This is an issue because we only include 1 set today. You will need to either find another LanchPad box to get the headers out of or purchase additional ones. in the box. 
The header pins that are inside of the LaunchPad (I am sure other ones will work, but these particular ones seem to work best).
With these header pins-- you can make a stacking female header that will change the male pins on the LaunchPad to breadboardable female headers!

  
It's simple to do.
Once you have your two packs of female headers you stack them back to back. 
 The pins are slightly off centre and it's because of this you can actually take the pins of the other header pin and use the extra space to pin it in. Match the pins so they are interlocking (two different sides). The headers should stay together.


 

Squeeze them together until they make one piece.
  

Now, you're done and  you have an adapter for the LaunchPad rows!
Although slightly tall and strange looking, it DOES work and doesn't require a lot of extra prep or training to do. 


  

I looked extensively on Mouser, DigiKey, Newark, Pololou, SparkFun, AdaFruit to find either gender adapters or back to back female connectors and wasn’t able to find anything. If anyone finds one, I would be VERY interested in getting a sample.

Make- Soldering Required

  1. BoosterPack Adapters: There are a few BoosterPacks that are on the http://store.43oh.com community that are “prototype” boards that require headers to be soldered onto them. This give you the ability to change gender of the board.
      
    1. Desoldering the existing pins and re-soldering new ones: In the teaching material repository there is a contribution by one of our Application Engineers that shows the best way to de-solder pins so you can re-solder female headers. This is a VERY intensive process- How to Remove Headers from your LaunchPad

       
    2. Making your own breadboard wires- this is a little bit intensive and only is cost effective if you are doing something unique. Otherwise I would suggest buying. However, this website by BasicX Robitics: http://www.basicxandrobotics.com/tutorials/jumpers/index.html tells you how to make your own Female jumper wires, male to female ones as well.

       

This is useful if you need to control things such as colour or custom lengths.
I did this for my girls in programming course where I picked only pinks, greens, whites and purples for the wires.

 


I’m positive there are a lot of other solutions, but these are just a few that I’ve seen so far.
If you have any to add, or suggestions please make sure to let us know. Also, I’ve looked through many of the Starter Kits , but have found most of them are targeted for the Arduino (which has female headers). If anyone finds or makes a starter kit that includes the option to choose different breadboard wires we would be VERY interested in hosting your product on the University Web Page!

Lastly, please give us feedback, this is how the decision to change the headers from V1.4 to V1.5 was made. Make sure you are heard! Posting your feedback on our product pages helps us review the needs/concerns as we decide to design, revise or release a product.

If you wanted to know why we chose Male Headers and what to do about it… hopefully this post was helpful for you.

Summary of ideas:

  • Hello and thanks for your video and your post,

    As a working engineering, as a TA for an embedded systems class, and as a shield designer, here are my thoughts on the matter.  

    As an Engineer: Having a choice is always optimal. For certain applications of the launchpad, we may find female or male headers significantly superior depending upon the application. The time it takes to solder a header is insignificant to the possible damages, time, and cost required to de-solder a per-existing option.

    As a TA for a university: Bread boarding has been around for ages and certainly isn't going away anytime soon. It is a cheap and effective method of prototyping. Utilization of male-to male interconnects is simply how bread boarding was designed to work. Solid core wire is an extremely cheap option in comparison to female-male jumpers. Furthermore, with student use of female-male jumpers, connectivity issues quickly develop and are far harder to troubleshoot since the connections are generally hidden by insulation. As a TA, I'd far sooner pre solder 50 female headers in on launchpads at the start of the semester than have to deal with the head-aches of using pre soldered male headers for the rest of the semester.

    As a shield designer: Price is always an issue. Female headers are expensive then male headers. Designing shields for use with male headers would encourage shield developers such as myself since we wouldn't have to expend as much in purchasing female headers when the launchpad already comes with female headers provided. Perhaps the optimal scenario would be to have a launchpad with a set of female headers and then multiple shields with male headers at least from our standpoint.

    Perpetuating this decision across multiple products in attempt to make it a normalcy I don't believe is an ideal solution. This is especially the case considering the most popular dev boards use female headers (you won't win). Likewise, refusing to change this would also be unfortunate for us users. If I had to make a guess, you will receive far more complaints with pre-soldered male headers as opposed to complaints regarding having to solder them with the option for either gender. Any consideration would be appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Nate

  • As an engineer and budget limited electronics hobbyist, I bought alaunchpad 1.4 and was poised with the dilemma of which headers to solder on my launchpad.

    As TI I chose to solder the male header on my launchpad. My first motivation was to elongate the lifetime of my launchpad; as I would probably be going to swap the extension boards that would go on top of the pad (which I later learned are called boosters), I'd rather have the more durable headers on my launchpad.

    Also the clip on probes would work much better on these male headers.

    From the booster ecosystem's point of view, female headers would make more sense, because it would not hurt booster prices as much.

    If I need to attach the launchpad to a breadboard, I user a cheap old 28 pin DIP socket which I solder wires to, I clip these on top of the male pins (same trick can be done with female headers instead). Then I hook these wires into my breadboard. If I need to break up my setup, I disconnect the headers from the DIP socket and can store my launchpad separate from my breadboard.

    Thomas

  • The female header would have been ideal, for the same reason listed for female jumper wire. Turning Female to male is simple with the included male headers from the r1.4, just pop them on to the female header when needed. Plug and Play, no soldering required, and would still work with the Capsense and all other boosterpacks. And since headers are pretty much a standard component, even if they get lost, easy to replace.

    And you forgot to mention one option, WIRE WRAPPING.

  • Just finished teaching a winter term Mechatronics course to intro students using the MSP430 launchpads.  While I also cursed the transition from 1.4 - 1.5, it turned out to be a non-issue.  I just ordered several hundred of the "20 cm dupont 0.1 MF" connectors and included 20 in each kit.  It added about $1 to the kit price. The connectors are considerably more robust then breadboard wires for novice users.  At this point, I think the male header design decision almost is a win as it forcing me to provide robust connectors helps students to mentally separate their micro-controller wires from the rest of their circuit and stay organized.  With the small sample of one class, we didn't see any substantial connectivity issues,

    BTW the launchpads performed flawlessly for the mid term projects of controlling animatronic toys.  Despite students best efforts of doing everything possible to destroy boards, we only had 3 die entirely.  Several had individual inputs go bad, but the rest of the boards maintained.  The launchpads were incredibly popular and 21/23 students elected to buy an additional one for their own projects.  Also props to the energia team as students were able to get going with it quickly and easily.  

  • Why not use stackable headers? This way you get the best of both worlds:

    - female headers on top for breadboardng with wire

    - male headers on the bottom for direct breadboarding AND easy probe grip

  • You mention this in your post: Pack of 100 from Mouser Electronics- Schmart Board >$10.00 . Perhaps the item changed since this article was written, but now this is 10 MF wires and 40 headers, NOT 100 wires. On the positive side price is now $8 not $10

  • Using male headers sounds justified and I'm quite happy with that.

    Btw, one possible source for F-M jumpers is old desktop computers. All the front panel LEDs, speaker and pushbuttons are connected to the motherboard using F connectors, just cut the wire to needed length and cover some mm of loose end with solder.

  • I think I have a really good, solid solution to this problem. I created a special purpose Gender Changer for the LaunchPad. Unlike F-F headers or combining M-F jumper wires, it is robust and is designed to keep your LaunchPad pins from bending. Please check it out and let me know what you think:

    analog10.com/.../000_switchpad.html

  • I would rather have the option of not soldering the headers on the board. I've had to remove both headers (destructively) and have installed new headers. I use a male header on the power side / bottom and a female header on the usb / top side. This lets us mount the launchpad on our existing development i/o board as well as on our existing robot platform.  I can send photos of how we are using the launchpad with existing hardware if you like.

  • I'm still a "newb", but I was sort of proud of myself on this discovery. The little pin jumpers used on the Launchpad on blocks like j3 and j5 can be used as single pin "male to female" adapters of sorts. I noticed when removing the TX/RX j3 jumpers on an MSP430G2553 to enable the hardware UART - that they make nifty adapters. In my case, I then put them sideways on P1.1 and P1.2 and had a place to insert the male-male ended wires from the breadboard. Maybe I'm doing something wrong - but they worked for me.

  • Jeffery, thank you for your suggestion! Do you have a photo of your solution?

  • I just saw the video about this because I'm considering experimenting with the Launchpad.  Why not build a booster pack that is an adapter - it has female on the bottom to attach to the Launchpad and female on the top for those who prefer it.  It should be relatively low cost to build - would be a solution to users and a product for TI.

  • Hi James thank you for your post.  Have you seen 430-Oh's prototyping boosterpack w/ built in V-Reg?  They bring out female headers

    store.43oh.com/index.php

    Also, Larissa mentions a relatively low cost method in the blog w/ adapting the male headers to be famale

    e2e.ti.com/.../what-were-we-thinking-male-headers-on-the-msp430-launchpad.aspx

    And finally, the Tiva C Launchpad has been built with dual gender headers www.ti.com/.../launchpads-tivac.html  which may be useful to your project/course.

    best regards,

    Cathy

The University Program blog is a part of the TI Blogs and talks about all things education. Check back every day for topics on the latest TI teaching tool packages, industry trends, research projects, and academic-relevant opinion pieces. Join the TI University Program in industry—university collaboration to provide a more comprehensive and robust education for your electrical engineering students.