When will front-panel pins become standardized? | Ask an expert

This problem seems easily fixed with a cheap accessory at the very least.
  • Alaina Yee (PC World (US online))
  • 19 May, 2021 20:30

Q: Who do I have to buy lunch for so that somebody standardizes front-panel pins?

A: Heh, this one’s a perennial annoyance, isn’t it? The front-panel pin layout on a motherboard varies a lot. Most DIY builders have become resigned to squinting at a motherboard, then the pins, then at the manual, then back at the motherboard, and repeating ad nauseum until everything’s plugged in. But it shouldn’t have to be this way.

(If you’re reading this but not as familiar with PC building, front-panel pins are what you plug front-panel connectors into. The combination of the two links the USB ports, audio jacks, and power button at the front of a case to the motherboard and makes them active. Not plugging in the connectors properly—or not plugging them in, period—probably ranks among the top five reasons for why a DIY PC fails to boot on the first try.)

We as DIY builders work around the problem, picking up additional tools like magnifying glasses, flashlights, and plastic tweezers to better see and handle those itty-bitty pins. Or we buy higher-end motherboards that include a plastic bracket that you can populate with the connectors in the correct layout, then plug them into the motherboard all at once with no fuss.

Either way, you’re shelling out cash that you could otherwise spend elsewhere on the build. (Well, except for the flashlight—that one’s an essential part of a PC building toolkit.)

No relief is on the horizon, either. Convincing all motherboard manufacturers to standardize seems a remote possibility. We at PCWorld would settle for mobo makers charging an extra few bucks to include those plastic brackets with all motherboards, even the budget ones. Or someone else selling a universal variant of a bracket. They’re incredibly simple to use and likely would be very popular.

For now, we’re stuck with muddling through while uttering quiet oaths during installation. Or employing a desperate use of electrical tape to lash those pins together. Heaven forbid you ever need to pull one out individually, though.

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