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DB-19: Resurrecting an Obsolete Connector (bigmessowires.com)
289 points by zdw on June 5, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments

This is an awesome story!

We faced a similar problem trying to locate someone that could manufacture otherwise non-existent parts: a 28-pin card edge Super Nintendo expansion port connector.

The only company we could find that would even consider it wanted $5000-8000 for the initial setup fee, and an MOQ in the thousands. It would have set us back around $15000, but our potential market is maybe 50-100 sales.

In our case, we ended up finding a wider card-edge connector from Samtec for an entirely different application, and we dremeled the connector in half, and then filled the side in with epoxy to create this: http://www.qwertymodo.com/hardware-projects/snes/snes-expans...

The down-side is, they're not very stable. Sawing them in half and then filling one end with epoxy results in connectors that have mating cycles rated in the hundreds at best before the pins stop making clean connections. It also adds substantially to the workload to hand-dremel the parts. And they're surface-mount, with the tiniest headers you've ever seen, requiring an expert to assemble these boards.

Unfortunately, a group-buy isn't really viable for us. But I'm still hopeful that at some point, we can achieve success with something like the author's attempts at hand-making things with 3D printing and such.

Could you tell us more about this connector?

What's its pitch? What's the PCB thickness? Would something like this[0] work?

Hit me up if you guys are interested in getting a small batch of this made. My email is in my profile.

[0] http://i.imgur.com/YOHHuRK.png?1

Certainly! I'd be very interested in purchasing a small batch of these, and would be eternally grateful if you could help us! :D

The part we are using now is the Samtec MEC2-(30,40,50)-01-L-DV card edge connector.

Here is the high level overview version: http://suddendocs.samtec.com/catalog_english/mec2.pdf

Here is the extreme detail version: http://suddendocs.samtec.com/prints/mec2-xx-xx-x-xxx-xx-xx-m...

If I'm reading things right, the pin pitch is 2mm, and the PCB (card) thickness is 1.6mm. But unfortunately I don't have calipers to tell you for certain. I could however get you an SNES deck for analysis ... they're very cheap.

I'll send you an e-mail as well, thanks again! I hope we can work something out!

Everyone can have a good set of calipers for around $20 from harbor freight. If you work in any kind of manufacturing hobby, it is worth buying a set.

I got your introduction email and replied immediately, but didn't hear anything from you after that. Maybe GMail spam filtered my reply to you?

Someone is still making them. At least, whenever I need some at work, our warehouse orders them and they appear, in plastic bags with recent manufactured dates on them. I realize those dates could just be BS.

Or maybe someone upstream of me in the supply chain was smart enough to do a huge buy?

This gentleman probably has the vast majority available for members of the public to buy, but I think the US military is probably still paying to have someone out there make them.

Curious, what are you using DB-19 interfaces for? And where do you order them from?

Some cards in our data acquisition systems have DB-19 interfaces.

As for where they come from, I don't know, but I could find out if I asked our parts guy this week.

Can you email the steve@bigmessowires.com folks when you find out the answer?

Nice. This guy has been struggling with that DB-19 connector problem for a year or two. Finally, he had some made. Sometimes you have to do that for obsolete parts. I had Teletype tape printer tape made in China a few years ago.

When dealing with a parts manufacturer in China, it's not uncommon to make a deal where you pay a premium for a few prototypes, and after those work, you pay for a volume shipment. Paying for the whole job up front is a big leap of faith.

I would buy one to just be a part of the whole story.

Indeed. My first impluse was wondering if this was just a repeat episode, but, it's interesting to see the perseverance at play here.

Great story.

Just to add a small data point: in my (limited) experience with Chinese manufacturers, MOQ rarely survive the first couple of emails.

They like to throw at you impressive MOQ just to see if you're serious, or maybe as a first try, or maybe because those MOQ are attached to the really low prices they have quoted elsewhere. But when you inquire further you often discover that MOQs aren't really binding.

For instance, I was recently told I would have to commit to 50000 pcs (50k!) of some fabric design... and in fact I'll be able to make less than 500 at a still very competitive price.

Also, and this may be true everywhere, once you engage with someone they become invested in your project and will work with you, even against the rules of their own organization, to make it happen. They won't sell their kids for you, but they will most certainly chat with the in-house accountant about MOQs.

Awesome story!

I want to know more about the fabrication process that turned a Photoshopped DB-25 image into a manufacturable product.

> Now you’ve done that maybe you can arrange a production run of DB23’s which the Amiga used as its video output.

I had an Amiga for a while, and after discovering they used unique connectors in order to force you to buy monitors and keyboards from Amiga, I figured it had no future and sold it.

It's not quite that nefarious. The Amiga connector and video output was specified in an age when the normal "expensive video upgrade" for a x86 machine was CGA [1] and VGA didn't exist. The reason a consumer had to buy their monitor from Commodore is that the closest thing in the market was CGA monitors, pretty much anything equivalent to Commodore's 1080 series would have been part of a proprietary workstation solution and more expensive, incompatible, and hard to obtain in a consumer channel.

The alternative to a monitor was an adapter to ordinary televisions. As for keyboards, Amigas from the Commodore era all included one in the box. It wasn't an aftermarket item.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Color_Graphics_Adapter

My recollection was at the time it was not better, just different. There was no reason for a proprietary keyboard, either. Amiga's refusal to work with commodity hardware meant that it was doomed - it wasn't big enough to force the issue.

If I recall correctly it couldn't read standard floppy disks either, but I might recall that wrong.

Microsoft did Apple a huge favor by making the Z80 Softcard for the Apple II.

> There was no reason for a proprietary keyboard, either. Amiga's refusal to work with commodity hardware meant that it was doomed

I do not believe the concept of "commodity hardware" was well established when the Amiga was introduced in 1985, so faulting them for not using what eventually became commodity hardware is a little disingenuous.

The clone business began in 1983 and was well established by 1985. The DEC Rainbow was introduced in 1982, and it failed largely because it required special floppy disks that were deliberately different from MS-DOS disks in order to force people to pay a premium for the disks. The Rainbow was literally laughed at by DEC junkies that I knew.

I was using clones at the time I bought an Amiga, using commodity hardware, and nothing would interoperate with the Amiga.

I bought the Amiga intending to invest a lot of time and effort developing compilers for it. After I discovered its compatibility problems, I knew it would never succeed and was not going to invest in it. If DEC couldn't succeed with its pointlessly incompatible Rainbow, how could Amiga?

DEC did eventually fix the Rainbow, but by then its bad reputation was irretrievably lost. The DEC aficionados who had been holding out for a DEC PC had thrown in the towel and given up on DEC.

The IBM clone business existed by 1985, but not "commodity hardware" in the modern sense.

Like someone else said, the Macintosh was released at about the same time, was both IBM-incompatible and Apple II-incompatible, and it managed to succeed. The Amiga wasn't doomed because it did not use IBM-style keyboards or IBM-formatted disks or whatever.

The Apple product line had many of the same attributes as the Amiga.

Apple predated the IBM PC revolution. And as I mentioned before, Microsoft did Apple a huge favor by making the Z80 Softcard.

The Amiga 1000 had the sidecar and the 2000 had the bridgeboard. Each had multiple ISA slots. The first time I saw Windows, it was Version 2.0 on an A2000.

To me, that seems like more hardware compatibility than a Mac or II.

Wikipedia suggests the sidecar didn't do well because it was bulky and expensive.


It was also fairly rare. Not all that surprising since Amiga 1000's were never abundant in the wild, at least for a consumer/hobbyist targeted system. Appeal depended on a mullet like "business in the front, party in the back" intersection. Such were those days.

To take the keyboard for example, there was the difference between XT and AT keyboards.

The Amiga used standard 3.5" double density floppy disks. Commodore had long since bought into that. In those days, it's not obvious what a standard keyboard would have been: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_PC_keyboard#Connection

Which reminds me that nobody knew that microchannel was not the way forward. Or at least nobody in the press. IBM had had already had hit and was still the dominate player. And there were M68000 based Mac's and Atari's along with legacy 8bit systems.

In fact, I think they adopted 3.5 inch floppies before IBM did. It was actually designed by the Microfloppy Industry Committee.

Maybe they did. I just remember the Amiga I bought could not deal with my DOS 3.5 inch floppies. When everybody else could read/write those floppies, you've got a problem.

My Amiga read them just fine, when using appropriate file system driver.

It could read standard floppies, but its floppies could be read by a PC. Same physical hardware, different controller.

You are right on the other points though. Although proprietary hardware want the primary reason, it was one of the reasons of amiga eventual death.

And when there was no such thing as multisync monitors. I think the original NEC Multisync for example was launched not long after the original Amiga was relased.

I could tell for sure if I still had my issues of PC Magazine from the early 80's, but I threw them all away.

I think many of them are on Google Books now.

This problem has been solved fairly well with internal adapter products such as the Indivision AGA MK2:


I have one on my A1200, and it gives me a cool 1280x1024 via DVI on a standard LCD monitor.

You could get adapters. I remember my family had an Amiga with a DB23-to-SCART cable connected to the TV.

Old Apple hardware isn't my jam, but preservation efforts like this are really important. Congratulations.

This is a cool story! This is a bit of a nostalgic side note, but I didn't realise there were even more obscure connectors than my DB-25 I am using today in my HTPC to AV setup.

DB-25 is what Rotel used for multi channel connectivity 20 years ago, which I guess made sense at the time but you'd never see it today. I had a Rotel RSP 980 pre-amplifier, Rotel RB-985 amplifier, and Rotel's Dolby Digital decoder - connected with 2x DB-25 cables. It was fine for my LD, but when moving forward to using a HTPC around 2005, this required real time DD encoding on the PC end, something that was not always that easy to get going. Also the Dolby Digital path didn't exactly give me stellar audio quality. High compressed, and there was something about the quality of the signal that left me wanting. Even listening to stereo music meant an enforced, compressed DD path.

In particular I wanted to access DTS HD Master + TrueHD audio, so with no other multi channel inputs, the alternative would have been to buy a completely new AV setup to support DTS etc. However the thought occurred to me that the DB-25 was just an analogue connection, and what if a converter cable existed? True enough, after much searching I managed to source a DB-25 to 6 RCA connector cable, which then let me hook up an Asus Xonar HDAV1.3 Deluxe sound card.

This switch resulted in a massive improvement of sound quality, much thanks to the excellent Asus product as well, and made using a now 20 year old hifi system completely viable.

Isn't DB25 the old standard printer port? Its quite common.

And has been used as a connector for multichannel audio by several manufacturers (mostly in recording gear), but with several different pin out arrangements.

Yeah, definitely remember wiring up DB-25 breakout cables a few years ago when I was helping a fledging recording studio wire up their new console into their Pro Tools system.

Yep - it's pretty common in the pro audio industry to use DB-25 cables for 8 channels of balanced audio (+, -, gnd per channel). They'll break out to 8x XLR or 8x TRS (1/4" headphone plug) connectors. It's used way more in the studio world than the live production world, since DB-25 is far from rugged enough to go on the road.

I recall that my challenge at the time was getting one with the correct configuration. The first one I got in 2007 was a dud for my setup; it was an 8 channel RCA one which was the only I could find at that time, adapters were involved (sound card at that time had minijacks) and I hoped I'd just be able to leave the other two channels unused. That turned out to not be the case.

I tried again in 2008 and scored with a (hopefully) proper 6 channel one from TheCableCo. It cost me a staggering US$168 shipped to Australia, so my joy was near endless when it just plugged straight in and worked. After that I upgraded to the Xonar sound card which took straight RCA inputs.

Yeah, true! I had forgotten those. Helps explain their choice.

You never see DB-25 in consumer stuff, but I've got a ton of aircraft instrumentation hardware that still uses it. As well as DB-19 connectors.

For the moment at least, I have nearly the entire world’s supply of DB-19 connectors, stacked in my living room.

I'm almost willing to bet that there are many more still attached to equipment buried in rubbish dumps...

Amiga community have a similar problem with the video connector. If I remember correctly is a db-21 and they take a db-29 and cut it to convert it to db-21.

DB-25 cut to DB-23

if it goes the same as a friend: and now that manufacturer will post the same product on alibaba and sell it for 1/10 of the price you have to charge and you will probably keep the 10k units in your living room forever.

I wonder if the market is that large.

Whoa, he just photoshoped technical drawings of a DB-25? Surely if you're doing a group buy worth that much money

a) somebody in the group buy has the technical skills to do a proper drawing, or b) you can spend a tiny amount of money to get proper drawings made.

I mean, it worked out in the end. But it seems like a giant case of Dunning-Kruger to think "Well I don't know how to make technical drawings, therefore photoshopping an existing drawing shouldn't present any problems".

I work for a company that manufactures things, its very common to edit paper drawings (with pen) or photoshop a digital one for which the source file has been lost, its not that hard to get it right.

Just remembered, back in the late 90's went to a board house for some reason and one of their techs was in the middle of recreating gerbers for a PCB off a xerox of the top and bottom side of the PCB.

...and most rules for how to get a mech. drawing right are from the times when computer design didn't exist anyway.

I'm wondering what the difference is between photoshopping versus using a CAD tool? As long as the dimensions are correct, I would think that the end-result would be identical from the perspective of the manufacturer. Heck, there was a time in which these things were generated with pen/pencil/ruler, and the manufacturer was able to work fine off those drawings.

Whatever tool you are competent with, is probably the correct one to use in these types of situations.

One issue is that the manufacturer often has to convert the part drawing to a set of drawings for the tooling. That means they need to adapt the dimensions to their particular processes. In the case of a DB-19 the company likely has a cad drawing of a similar part they can adjust.

I would guess that none of the people involved had experience with CAD work, which makes it tricky to spot your own mistakes. If you work from someone else's template, you can be somewhat more confident that you're doing it right.

Do keep in mind this was a DB19, and presumably the manufacturer already made other connectors in the same family; hence they had a fair idea how all of the detail not obvious from the supplied drawing would be.

Fair guess - they took a DB9 drawing and inserted additional pins using whatever CAD system they were using, then entered production.

I haven't soldered anything but DB9s in later years, but I am pretty confident both pitch and edge shape is identical on DB9, DB15 and DB19. (I have a vague recollection DB25 is slightly closer pitched, but may well be mistaken.)

That being said, one can never supply too much information to a supplier - if nothing else to be able to shrug and say 'not to spec' when some seemingly irrelevant (to them) shortcut bungles your project...

Technical correction: the proper designations are "DE-9" and either "DE-15" (if you're referring to the high-density three-row connector used for VGA) or "DA-15" (if you're referring to the original lower-density two-row 15-pin connector). The second letter referred to the shell size, so a DE-9 and DE-15 had different numbers of pins arranged in the same-sided shell. Wikipedia has a good section on this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D-subminiature#Description.2C_....

The so-called "DB-19", on the other hand, had a nonstandard shell size, so it doesn't really have a proper name under the original system. Maybe "Dx-19".

Easy to talk about how you'd do it, but I don't see any boxes of connectors in your living room.

The factory is probably going to recreate the drawing in their own tools anyway, even if you send them a STEP file. They can use a sketch on a napkin for that purpose, as long as the critical dimensions and tolerances are stated.

It goes to show you that with enough effort nearly anything is manufacturable now.

I wonder if there exists a current/former Apple employee who would have knowledge of the mechanical drawings that were originally used and/or what manufacturers made them.

It's a DB-19 connector. There's nothing secret about its dimensions

Old manufacturer probably trashed the tooling already (maybe it's even out of business by now)

> maybe it's even out of business by now

Maybe not. It has been acquired in 1999 http://www.nytimes.com/1999/04/06/business/tyco-completes-ac... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TE_Connectivity is still there. http://www.te.com/usa-en/products/families/amp.html they have 35 135 products under the AMP brand.

My only source for it being AMP: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/vintage-macs/iWdF6fB...

Even if the author got it wrong and it was Amphenol and not AMP that's still fine, Amphenol exists too :)

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