Author Archives: Ian

Dirty terminal sample pack

via Dangerous Prototypes

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Crimp Terminals for Cables

Crimp terminals lock to the end of a wire and attach to an electrical connection such as a screw or terminal block. There are tons of different styles out there, but we found a handful that every Chinese cable manufacturer stocks. This is important because while reels of crimps are cheap, each crimp uses different tooling and manufacturers only buy tooling for the most common crimps.

In the previous post we covered commonly used JST and Molex compatible parts from the Shenzhen markets. These connectors come in two parts: a metal crimp that attaches to the wire, and a plastic crimp housing that holds all the crimps in place. This post looks at common crimp terminals that don’t use a plastic housing. Get the sample kit here, or build your own custom cables here.

Ring terminals

ring-set

These super common crimps attach to a bolt or screw terminal block. Four sizes are super common in the market and all fit a corresponding metric bolt size: 3.2mm (M3 bolt), 4.2mm (M4), 5.2mm (M5), 6.2mm (M6). Smaller and bigger sizes are available, but the crimps are rarely stocked so you’ll generally be on the hook for MOQ if you stray from this safe range.

Our manufacturer recommends 18AWG wire for all crimp terminals.

Spade terminals

spade-set

Spade or fork terminals attach easily to a bolt or screw terminal without fulling removing the screw from the terminal. We only found these in 3.2mm (M3) and 4.2mm (M4) in the market.

These work with common screw terminals and grounding bolts, but we found these really nifty PCB mount connectors (through-hole) with a single screw terminal. The manufacturer has a range with parts numbers from PCB-1 to PCB-14 that vary primarily in the height of the leads. PCB-2 is the most compact and lowest profile version, so we’ve been working with it.

Our manufacturer recommends 18AWG wire for all crimp terminals.

Blade terminals

blade-set

Male and female blade terminals connect cables to board mount connectors AND cables to other cables. Available in multiple sizes, but 2.8, 4.8 and 6.3 are the common.

There are multiple type of terminal blocks for connecting female blade connectors to PCBs or wiring harnesses. We found single PCB mount connectors (through-hole) for use with female blade crimps. The smallest versions (2.8) use 0.5mm thick metal, while the 4.8 and 6.3 version use thicker 0.8mm metal. The two bigger connectors have offset tabs to provide additional stability.

Our manufacturer recommends 18AWG wire for all crimp terminals.

Other crimp terminals

A lot of available crimp terminals are missing from this list: male and female bullet connectors, right angle blade connectors, etc. A reel of these crimps is not expensive, but most cable manufacturers don’t have the proper tooling work with them in their crimping machines. Crimp tools can range from $100 to $1000s, depending on the machine and if the manufacturer has to customize the tools.

If you’re looking to do low volume cheaply, the it’s always best to use what multiple manufacturers and distributors have available in the market.

Insulated covers

All three types of crimp terminals have compatible insulators in multiple colors. We’re not yet equipped to offer these in the dirty cables creator.

Maximum ratings

Please note that we’re unable to provide maximum ratings at this time. Our cable suppliers don’t have datasheets for the common “duff” stuff they’re using, so you’ll need to do the same due diligence on the final cables that you would if buying directly in China yourself.

We’ll need to find our own crimp terminal manufacturer and supply parts to the cable maker ourselves to get properly rated parts.

Touch it yourself: Dirty Terminals Sample Pack v1.0

Buy the kit. Can’t wrap your head around it without getting your hands on these parts? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. All these crimp terminals and mating connectors are available in the Dirty Terminal sample pack. Grab it in the store for $4.95.

Dirty Cables: Get your own custom cables

DirtyPCBs

Get cheap custom cables for your project, direct from Huaqiangbei. Use the Dirty Cable creator to drag and drop wires and connectors into a cable and price custom cables from quantity 100.

Taking it further

In the coming weeks we’ll cover coaxial power connectors and LED strip sockets.

Dirty Cables price increases and lead times

via Dangerous Prototypes

DirtyPCBs

Its really hard to convince Huaqiangbei market suppliers to cooperate on a project until you can prove value by making a bunch of orders. Our approach is to guestimate a price at DirtyPCBs, send through a few months of orders, and then ask if they’d like to cooperate with us. Generally this will open doors to closer integration like getting full price lists.

After a few months of running Dirty Cables we looked at our overall order history. On 75% of orders we lost anywhere from $5 to $500. This was totally expected and part of convincing suppliers to give us full pricing details.

Our current supplier makes outstanding cables, but getting a quote is still like pulling teeth and takes ages. They also seem completely uninterested in providing a full price list. We’re in the market today shopping for a new supplier, but in the meantime prices on most connectors have been doubled or more based estimates from the first few months of data. It would also be fair to say lead time is currently 10-20 days, more on large or complicated orders.

Since a lot of the loss/expense is in the low volume orders of 100 cables, we need to compensate with bigger discounts on high volume orders. Connector prices are easy to update in the back end, but volume discounts require a site update that will come towards the beginning of next week. If you’re placing a large order and think the price is too high, please contact us for a more accurate quote.

DIRTY CABLES: Cheap custom cables available now

via Dangerous Prototypes

DirtyPCBs

Dirty Cables is a drag and drop cable builder that gives you access to cheap custom cable services from China. Build a custom cable, get an instant quote, and checkout. Your custom cables should ship in 3 to 7 work days.

Huaqiangbei is full of cheap custom cable vendors with a big pile of samples on their booth. We tried to put the pile online so you can get cheap cables without making a trip to China!

cable-pile-2

We excavated the cable sample piles to see which connectors are common, cheap and readily available in the Chinese market. We bought bundles of everything and identified 17 common cable-to-cable and cable-to-board connector families to add to Dirty Cables. Read more about the different cable families here.

Cables are probably best understood by touching them yourself, so we put together a Dirty Cables Sample Kit that includes examples of each cable and connector. The kit is available in the store for $9.95.

In the coming weeks we’ll document a few more common and cheap connectors that didn’t quite fit in the first sample kit:

  • Crimp terminals: ring and spade ( M3/3.2mm, M4/4.2mm, M5/5.2mm, M6/6.2mm), two-part blades (2.8mm, 4.8mm, 6.3mm)
  • Coaxial power connectors (5.5×2.1mm, various)
  • LED strip connectors (3528/8mm, 5050/10mm, etc)

Dirty Cables is highly experimental. If pricing seems way off, if you find bugs, or if we’re missing your favorite connectors, please give us a shout in the comments or through the contact form.

DIRTY CABLES: Cheap custom cables available now

via Dangerous Prototypes

DirtyPCBs

Dirty Cables is a drag and drop cable builder that gives you access to cheap custom cable services from China. Build a custom cable, get an instant quote, and checkout. Your custom cables should ship in 3 to 7 work days.

Huaqiangbei is full of cheap custom cable vendors with a big pile of samples on their booth. We tried to put the pile online so you can get cheap cables without making a trip to China!

cable-pile-2

We excavated the cable sample piles to see which connectors are common, cheap and readily available in the Chinese market. We bought bundles of everything and identified 17 common cable-to-cable and cable-to-board connector families to add to Dirty Cables. Read more about the different cable families here.

Cables are probably best understood by touching them yourself, so we put together a Dirty Cables Sample Kit that includes examples of each cable and connector. The kit is available in the store for $9.95.

In the coming weeks we’ll document a few more common and cheap connectors that didn’t quite fit in the first sample kit:

  • Crimp terminals: ring and spade ( M3/3.2mm, M4/4.2mm, M5/5.2mm, M6/6.2mm), two-part blades (2.8mm, 4.8mm, 6.3mm)
  • Coaxial power connectors (5.5×2.1mm, various)
  • LED strip connectors (3528/8mm, 5050/10mm, etc)

Dirty Cables is highly experimental. If pricing seems way off, if you find bugs, or if we’re missing your favorite connectors, please give us a shout in the comments or through the contact form.

How Scotty made his own iPhone in China

via Dangerous Prototypes

Over the past two months we’ve been super excited to follow Scotty’s adventure recycling/refurbishing an iPhone 6S in the used cell phone market just south of Huaqiangbei, Shenzhen, China. Scotty finds all the bits and pieces from various sellers and then follows the iFixit instructions, backwards, to build his own recycled franken-phone.

Despite living in the market and running six hacker camps, it was still not clear to us exactly what goes on in the used cell phone markets. This video blows that open and exposes the brisk trade in recycled iPhone parts here in Shenzhen.

Along with This is Not Rocket Science, Scotty also took us on a three day phone recycling expedition earlier this month. Watch his channel for more videos and clips soon!

CHINA STUFF: Email that works…

via Dangerous Prototypes

mail-dp

Working from China is a constant reminder that the location of internet services is super important. North America and Europe are just a few internet hops from our servers in Hetzner’s carbon neutral, green energy data center in Germany. From China, however, we’re often routed out through Beijing to San Jose, then to New York, London, Amsterdam, and finally Frankfurt. On a good day we can do that with only 2-3% packet loss.

Back in the good old days Gmail’s imap service worked perfectly even though Google was blocked, but eventually email was blocked too. At that point we added a managed mail server at Hetzner in Germany. Despite having our own non-blocked mail server, Hetzner’s data centers are unreachable during peak periods of the day because of peering agreements, congestion, geolocation, and a million other factors not worth arguing about.

The image above is a WinMTR report, a combination of ping and traceroute that helps locate network problems. 219.* is where we exit on China Unicom’s cable in Beijing and connect at San Jose, California. Nearly 50% packet loss, average ping time of 482ms. This is better than normal because San Jose connected directly to Frankfurt when this test was taken, instead of the more typical New York-> London-> Amsterdam route.

So how bad is it exactly? 5 tries to send a simple text email without attachments. “Failed to save draft, try again?” prompts every few seconds. Ability to see mail subject headers, but not download the message text. Want to send or receive an attachment? Better schedule that for late at night or first thing in the morning.

International bandwidth from China

There are three cable landings in China: Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Each is dominated by one of the three state-owned ISPs. China Unicom (our provider) is big in the north with international traffic routing through Beijing and around 1TB/s bandwidth. China Telecom is big in the south (e.g. Shenzhen area) with around 2.5TB/s of bandwidth through Guangzhou. There are also a lot of bit players like Great Wall and TopWay that have city and regional backbones that eventually dump onto the major state-owned ISP infrastructure.

Part of our problem is using a northern ISP (Unicom) in the south. All of our traffic is routed to Beijing before leaving China. While we can see Hong Kong from the office and can walk there in about 15 minutes, connections to Hong Kong websites are routed up to Beijing and back for a 3000km+ journey. This isn’t our choice, Unicom has a monopoly in our Huaqiangbei office and nothing else is available.

This was intended to be an epic post using MTR to analyze the optimal routes and geographical locations to stash internet services with the best chance to be reachable from China. That idea bombed because nearly everything changed dramatically day to day. A test from yesterday is different than a test today, which will probably be different than a test tomorrow. Follow below for tests of several major email providers and their accessibility from China.

Rackspace Business Email is a disaster from China

rackspace

Over the past few months we tested a lot of email services. Rackspace is a well respected company with business email hosting for $2 per box per month. Signup from China triggered a review, so we had to call support to complete the order. The Rackspace rep volunteered that they have constant complaints from users in China, not something you want to hear. The MTR report shows why, routing to their imap server is a disaster (30% loss, 361ms average ping).

Microsoft Office365 email works great from China, but is itself a disaster

office365

Probably the most distressing part of daily life in China is using Microsoft’s Bing search engine. It’s a terrible search engine, but it’s always super fast within China. You might even find what you’re looking for if you skip directly to the third page of results, link number 5…

Microsoft’s Office365 imap mail service also works very well inside China, and at $4 per box per month it isn’t very expensive. The MTR report suggests Microsoft is running a server in Hong Kong that connects directly to China Unicom (219.*). The service is fast (21ms ping) and very accessible (very few lost packets).

(Un)fortunately Microsoft’s automatic email migration tool sprayed crap all over the place. Their suggestion was to hire an authorized partner for support. After a while all the subscription plans, conditions, and lack of support started to seem quite sleazy. We canceled when mail migration failed and they demanded 1 year commitments for each test account to help debug it.

ABCHK.net is our email hero

abchk

ABCHK.net is a hosting and email provider located in Hong Kong that specializes in email service for Mainland China. We were super skeptical that we could get a stable connection to Hong Kong, but they provided a test account that blew everyone away. 10 meg attachments? Uploaded and sent in seconds. It works perfectly at all times of the day, and the MTR report shows a direct, clean route to the imap server. No packets to destination lost, 31ms average ping.

For less than $7/month we get five mail boxes and 100GB of storage. Real people answered emails and handled the mail migration from our old server in Germany. After a month we are still extremely thrilled to be able to use email “normally” from inside China. Attachments upload and download super fast, and the server is always 100% reachable.

This applies to Unicom only!

Tests were done on commercial and residential China Unicom 100Mbps fiber connections. China Unicom is not the optimal ISP for Shenzhen though. It makes more sense to be on China Telecom with 2.5x more international bandwidth exiting just an hour north in Guangzhou. In the office Unicom has a monopoly, but we had a Telecom connection installed at home and will run the tests again on Telecom in a few days. Anecdotal evidence from other Telecom users doesn’t seem particularly promising though.

Admittedly this is all niche info, but it was hard won and seemed worth sharing here. At the very least someone in a similar situation might find this on Google. Or on Bing, page 3, result 5.