- Original / Generic tool comparison
- Why to not solder terminals
- FCI/Berg/DuPont Mini-PV
- JST PH
- JST XH
- Molex Picoblade
- Molex KK 254 / KK .100
- Molex KK 396 / KK .156
- Molex Mini-Fit Sr
- Molex Mini-Fit Jr
- Molex Micro-Fit
- Molex Milligrid
- Molex Disk Drive Power Connection System
- AMP E.I.
As someone who builds a lot of electrical things, one of the perhaps most unexciting yet fundamental subject areas is connectors. The range of connectors available and in-use today is trully astonishing. Big sellers like Digi-key/Farnell/Mouser literally have tens of thousands of product lines in their connectors category!
With so many different types of connectors available, it’s often difficult to know what to buy, especially when you’re buying for general use or “personal stock”. On this page I’ll cover some of the most common connectors in use today, and detail crimping/tooling considerations.
Every connector system ever conceived has its own official crimp tool, in most cases the cost of these is over and above what any hobbyist could and would want to pay for a crimp tool.
I personally own many of the official tools but for cost reasons don’t necessarily recommend them. Throughout this page I’ll demonstrate the use of two inexpensive generic crimping tools: the Engineer PA-09 and PA-21, and compare them against the genuine parts.
What differences can I expect using original tools versus generic tools?
These are four main differences:
- Single action: All original tools allow insertion of the contact and crimping in one go. Generic tools will often require the insulation and wire crimp to be performed as separate actions
- Correct crimping force: When using generic tools, it can often be difficult to get sufficient crimping force, especially when crimping thin / small gauge wire into terminals. It is also equally easy to over crimp terminals, damaging the wire in the process.
- Locator: All original tools have a ‘locator’ which holds the terminal in place during crimping, this means that your crimps are perfect every time. Using generic tools, it can be frustrating trying to line the terminal up correctly.
- Cost: Original tools are all extremely expensive. Unless like me you’re happy to prowl eBay looking for deals on second hand original tools, expect to be paying hundreds to over a thousand dollars (USD) / £ (GBP) for an original tool, only to have it work on a single connector family!
What’s wrong with just soldering terminals?
Before I even get started, let’s cover this one briefly with a simple diagram:
When crimped properly, the strands remain individual even upon entering the insulation crimp, making the chances of strands breaking low.
When soldering, there is a very high chance that the solder will wick up the wire, beyond the insulation crimp, making it very vulnerable to mechanical damage. In this situation, it only takes a small amount of movement to start snapping the strands at the invisible weak point.
Soldering doesn’t have any disadvantage in electrical terms, only mechanical. That make this method non-viable for production use; except under very controlled conditions with connectors that are designed for soldering.
Gold plated vs Tin plated terminals
Back when I first started using crimp terminals, almost everything I built made use of cheap (often off-brand) Tin plated terminals. Why waste money on gold plated terminals when Tin plated terminals work just fine?
Fast forward a few years, and I find that some of that equipment I built 3-5 years ago begins to malfunction. This turns out to be those knock-off Tin terminals I used, which have gradually corroded over the years. It doesn’t seem to be an issue so much for connectors carrying power, but I have had failure after failure in signal carrying connectors, and every damn time, it’s minuscule amounts corrosion on the mating surface.
Attempts to save a few quid back then have now resulted in hours of profanities as all of those connectors have had to be re-crimped with gold terminals, because as I now know, when it comes to own-built gizmos which are a part of your day-to-day life, those crappy eBay connectors you bought 4 years ago are going to fail at the most inconvenient time.
If you are not on a tight budget, and building something that has to be reliable, and last – go straight for manufacturer original gold plated terminals. If buying Molex: 0.38µm “Selective” plated terminals are good enough (unless your creation is a life support system, or going to the moon).
Mini-PV – (Amphenol – formerly FCI, formerly Berg, formerly DuPont Connector Systems)
These are often referred to as “DuPont” connectors. This is not an ideal name for two reasons: DuPont Connector Systems made many families of connectors, and the ones we commonly refer to as such aren’t quite the same as DuPont’s original “Mini-PV” design.
So what should we call these connectors then? Quite frankly – I have no idea.
The top three housings are clones, and the larger is an original. Can you spot the difference? Stuffed if I could have at first!
The headers Mini-PV mate with are sold under the trademark “Bergstik”. Top left and bottom right are original Amphenol parts, not that it really matters for headers, as they’re both of identical 2.54mm spacing.
Original Mini-PV connectors and terminals are rarely seen, perhaps not surprisingly (not least due to cost considerations), despite looking almost identical to common clones, Mini-PV terminals/housings and clone terminals/housings are surprisingly not interchangeable.
From left to right: Original Mini-PV terminal, Clone female terminal, Clone male terminal.
Original terminals (left) are ever so slightly slimmer, equally, there is that much less room in the housing, meaning that you can’t jam cheaper clone terminals into Mini-PV housings. This is somewhat of a bummer when you consider that the range of original housings is more extensive, better quality and more reliably obtainable than clones.
In terms of Amphenol’s tools – I’m aware of three official parts:
- HT-95 (HT-0095): The current Mini-PV crimp tool. This is a large, expensive, clumsy tool, which despite being heavy as all heck and not particularly easy to use, does do the best job of crimping.
- HT-100 (HT-0100): This tool is apparently identical to the HT-95. Another one to watch out for on eBay if you are wanting to buy original.
Amphenol recently generously dropped the leading ‘1’ from the retail price of this tool – reducing it from £1,800 to an affordable £800 (not!)
My one is an old DuPont branded tool, identical to the current one, which I paid one hell of a lot less for second hand.
I also removed the ratchet mechanism (and added a piece of string to hold it shut) as it has no manual release, meaning if you get a contact stuck in the wrong way during crimping, the inevitable result is a busted crimp jaw, which does not cost under £100 to fix.
There are two other tools for this series:
- HT-208: Historic tool for crimping 22-26AWG wire
- HT-213: Historic tool for crimping 28-32AWG wire
If setup properly, They’re much nicer to use than HT-95, but fairly rare. Can only be had second hand these days.
All three tools crimp both original and clone terminals just fine.
Crimping with unofficial tools
From left to right: Generic terminal crimped with PA-09, Generic terminal crimped with HT-95, Original terminal crimped with HT-95
Mini-PV is the one and only light terminal family I’ve encountered which generic tools such as PA-09 suck at crimping. As can be clearly seen above, the insulation crimp is a mess, often these won’t even fit into the housing.
The problem is apparent when we examine the upper half of the crimp jaw. The original tool is clearly cylindrical, whereas the generic is split, with the intention of curling each side around and back down into the wire again, which is most certainly not what we want for this type of terminal.
I have never seen a generic tool with a jaw like this. If you find one, tell me about it! I find myself wondering if it may be possible to attack a cheap tool with a Dremel to fix this.
This is a shame because these are the terminals most likely to be used by hobbyists on a budget, who don’t want to fork out a months pay to buy a better tool.
While similar families like Molex SL have male connectors, Mini-PV is a strictly wire-to-board connector family, so no official male terminal or housing has been produced, But as always, if there’s a market, there’ll be a product.
I stand corrected, there apparently is an official male terminal. See comments on this post.
Above is a couple of types of eBay purchased male terminals. The DuPont designed tools do not take male terminals, so either they have to be modified or generic tools must be used.
I’ve modified my HT-2xx tools to crimp these, by adding a 1×1 housing to the locator mechanism:
PH – (JST – Japan Solderless Terminal)
This 2.0mm pitch connector is very commonly seen in consumer electronics. They’re dirt cheap, reasonably compact but not so great in terms of robustness.
The official tool is WC-240.
The WC-240 is nice to use, but there’s not a lot to set it apart from generic tools for occasional use. I personally crimp a large amount of PH, hence the investment in the official tool.
Left: Terminal crimped with PA-09. Right: Terminal crimped with Original tool (WC-240).
XH – (JST – Japan Solderless Terminal)
This is a slightly larger edition of the PH connector, except with 2.5mm pitch, and slightly larger terminals. Once again, mostly found in low cost consumer electronics.
I almost never use these, but on the rare occasion I do, the Engineer PA-09 does the job
Very small (1.25mm) pitch connectors commonly found on laptop and VGA card fans.
KK 254 / KK .100 (Molex)
This type of connector is produced by a very large number of manufacturers. For the most part, headers and housings mate and latch fairly well across brands.
- KK 6471 – Housings
- KK 6410 – Headers
- KK 7395 – Headers (Right angle)
- 08-50-0113 – Terminal (Tin plated)
- 08-50-0114 – Terminal (Tin plated, Pack of 100)
The application most people have likely seen it in is as the connector for PC 2, 3, and 4 wire fans.
For the most part I don’t buy original Molex parts, with the exception of the oddball 47054-1000 housing and 47053-1000 header – both have the specially tweaked polarisation for 4-wire fans (pictured below).
- 63811-8200: Official crimp tool
Left: Terminal crimped with PA-09, Right: Terminal crimped with Original molex tool.
I don’t think the result of the PA-09 is unacceptable, but it requires a lot of force to get sufficient crimp on the wire part, subsequently leaving you prone to then over crimping the insulation part, in many cases severing the wire off completely, and having to start again!
The official tool is a lot easier and faster to use! it also does not end up piercing the insulation after crimping. If you crimp a lot of these like I do, I suggest waiting around on eBay for one to come up cheap, it’s worth it.
Unofficial male connectors
Unfortunately there is no standard male connector in the KK 100 family, but this hasn’t stopped a slew of unofficial connectors from being produced.
Above is a variety of Chinese manufactured connectors I’ve purchased off eBay and Alibaba which are designed to mate with KK 100 female connectors. They are only found in 2, 3 and 4 positions, because, these are the variants used for PC fans.
The quality of these is not comparable to that of the mating connectors, but perhaps this is not so surprising, given the intended market of these connectors.
KK 396 / KK .156 (Molex)
Effectively a jumbo version of the KK .100 connector, this is another very common wire-to-board connector of which compatible connectors are made by a large number of manufacturers. Pitch spacing is 0.156″ (3.96mm). The most likely place you will encounter them is inside of switching power supplies, almost certainly on the primary side, and possibly on the secondary side too.
There are two varieties of terminal: basic and “trifurcon” – a special variant which contacts the pin on three surfaces for increased current carrying capability.
- 63811-7500: Official crimp tool
- Left: Crimped by Molex 63811-7500
- Centre: Crimped by Generic tool (HT-225D)
- Right: Crimped by Engineer PA-21
As expected, the original tool is effortless to use and gets absolutely perfect results.
Due to their larger size and awkward shape, they do not crimp easily with the Engineer tools (although it is definitely possible). I have a cheap tool (Model # HT-225D) which does a pretty good job of these, albeit not quite applying enough force to the wire crimp.
While the HT-225D does yield fairly good results, the downside of it is that it is a pain to line the terminal up correctly for crimping, making crimping large numbers of KK .156 terminals a frustrating business.
Mini-Fit Jr (Molex)
Used for 20 and 24-pin ATX power supply connectors, and for the 4, 6 and 8 pin +12V connections found in modern PCs.
There are two official crimp tools for this family:
Crimping with unofficial tools
Left is a terminal crimped with the Engineer PA-21. Pretty good really, about the same result as the budget Molex tool would produce, albeit with less ability to apply the minimum recommended crimping force.
On the right is a terminal crimped with the original tool, the big difference is that the insulation crimp is cleanly wrapped around the wire, whereas on the budget tool, and on generic tools, the insulation crimp has ended up piercing the insulation, which is technically a less robust result.
Mini-Fit Sr (Molex)
A commonly used heavy (50 amp) power connector. It has no frequent consumer uses, but is often used industrially for battery connectors, chargers, large motor controllers, DC power supplies etc.
Despite the similarity of the name to Mini-Fit Jr, that’s about where it ends – these connectors are big. They would make a very a reliable replacement for cigar plugs in marine/automotive applications.
There are three official crimp tools for this family:
Given the amount of force required to crimp these, I’m doubtful there is much in the way of good unofficial crimp tools. Even with 63811-1600 – large enough to bludgeon someone to death with, crimping requires significant elbow grease.
Half measures aren’t generally a good idea when you’re dealing with something that carries the kind of power these are designed for. If you don’t have the tool, I would suggest carefully soldering terminals – unless you’re looking to start a fire. Mini-Fit Sr terminals are near impossible to reliably manually crimp with pliers.
These look identical to Mini-Fit Jr, but quite a bit smaller. Not often seen in consumer products but has occasional use in small ‘DC’ / ITX / Automotive PC power supply applications. I’ve also seen them in other unusual applications such as the connector on the DC end of the plug pack for HP Printers and Cisco routers.
- 63819-0000: Official crimp tool
Microfit 3.0 terminals crimp fairly well with generic tools:
As always when using generic tools, results are usable but not entirely ideal. The insulation crimp has clearly pierced the insulation, meaning it would be at risk of tearing under mechanical stress. Another issue I noticed is that the contact ends up bent vertically a little too, due to the awkward un-crimped shape of the terminal. This means that you’ll have to bend each terminal straight again before insertion into the housing.
Due to their small size and high current capacity, these have become one of my favourite connectors.
2.0mm pitch. Was used by parallel ATA laptop hard disks. Has a few current uses i.e. USB 3.0 internal headers. Compatible connectors are manufactured by many other companies.
Disk Drive Power Connection System (Molex)
Referred to as “Molex” connectors by the layman, this is a largely obsolete family. Notable however, as it was used for 5.25″ PC floppy drives, CD-ROM drives and 3.5″ parallel ATA hard disk drives, plus a veritable arseload of other PC related applications.
The official crimp tool for this family is 63811-7000. I have never seen one, and I doubt that I ever will.
Key part numbers
Crimping with unofficial tools
Realistically you can crimp these with almost anything. If you own the genuine tool, I tip my hat to you. I bet you didn’t pay for it!
Below is a tool known as HT-225D I got for a few quid off eBay a while back:
Does a superb job of crimping Molex DDPCS. It also does a swell job of crimping KK 156 terminals (see above).
Often mistakenly referred to as “Molex” connectors – Molex did not ever produce any connector compatible with this family.
Like the above, also obsolete, but historically notable. Used for 3.5″ PC floppy drives. These connectors came with up to 9 positions. I have only ever seen the 4 position variety, and I suspect this will remain the case.
Like the above, these can be crimped with pretty much anything you can fit the contact into.