@#&$%! front panel connectors

The PC has thrived largely thanks to standards. In addition to allowing us to confuse the masses with acronyms like AGP, ATX, IDE, and PCI, those standards have facilitated broad interoperability between various PC components. That interoperability is what enables system builders to assemble systems with a seemingly limitless number of configurations, and it’s what fuels an enthusiast’s ability to roll their own rig.

Motherboards are probably the best place to see standards in action. Not only are the boards themselves governed by form factor specs, they’re also populated with all sorts of ports, slots, and connectors that subscribe to one standard or another. Despite this cornucopia of regulated connectors, motherboards are still one standard short.

Every motherboard has a series of front panel connector pins to power a chassis’ internal speaker, power and hard drive activity lights, and power and reset buttons. There are 12 pins in total—just three more than the number of pins used for internal USB and Firewire connectors, but a whopping 27 pins less than a standard IDE connector. Unlike internal USB, Firewire, or IDE connectors, though, front panel pins aren’t arranged according to a common standard. That means that instead of being able to connect all 12 pins with a single cable and jumper block, separate wires and connectors must be used for each function. With one speaker, two lights, and two buttons, that makes five functions, and five annoying little wires to hook up.

Are you kidding me?


Front panel connector patterns from Asus (top), MSI (middle), and Nvidia (bottom)

Now this clearly isn’t the most pressing problem facing the modern PC. Still, it seems ridiculous that motherboard and chassis vendors haven’t agreed on a standard pin pattern for front panel connectors that would allow five annoying little connectors to be replaced with a single cable and jumper block.

And it’s not like one pin pattern is going to be superior to another, either. We’re talking about simple wiring for a couple of buttons and LEDs—a far cry from sensitive, high-speed signaling for I/O.

I’m not entirely sure whether blame for the lack of front panel connector standardization should be shouldered by motherboard or chassis makers, but there’s plenty to go around. Asus does deserve some credit for trying to make the situation a little better, though. The company’s more recent motherboards include a handy front panel jumper extension that can be used to consolidate a chassis front panel wiring into a single block. You still have to make five individual connections, but it’s much easier to do that on a jumper block rather than the motherboard itself.

Although it’s more of an effort than what we’ve seen from others, Asus’ jumper block is at best a timid toe over the line rather than a real step in the right direction. That there isn’t a standard for front panel connections may not hold the PC back, but it’s still annoying, and frankly, a little embarrassing.

Comments closed
    • odizzido
    • 13 years ago

    I only plug in my power and reset buttons…flashing little lights are annoying…..hell, I dont even like them when they dont flash. I would tear out the LED cables if it came in one block. Or maybe cut the pins off the mobo if I couldn’t remove the wires.

    • p_sid
    • 13 years ago

    Hi, does anybody know what connectors or plugs you use to fit onto the front panel pins? I’ve changed my motherboard recently but the current Power LED, HD LED and Power Switch wires all currently go into a small block which although fits perfectly onto the current motherboard (consisting of about 7 pins), does not fit onto the new motherboard (who’s connectors look just like the ASUS one above but with 20 pins).

    I think I know which wires go where but am looking for a neater way to connect them rather than cut the current block off and solder the wires on!

    Any help appreciated. Thanks.

    • BKA
    • 13 years ago

    It looks like I’m in the minority here but I actually prefer the way it is now. That way I can connect what I like and disconnect what I don’t like. Its not that much of a big deal. At least to me.

    I used to have a fan controller/LCD display that hooked up to the HD Activity front panel connector on the MB, so it could be displayed on the LCD. How would such things be possible if it was only a single block connector from chassis to MB? It wouldn’t, without rewiring at least.

    This is a solution that the OEMs use though. I remember I had an old DELL and the case was cracked all to heck, which is why it was a steal. So I decided to remove everything from DELL case and put it in standard ATX case. Everything went well until connecting the front panel. Tried every combination possible. Couldn’t even get it to power on. So I had to remove the cable and power button from the old DELL case rig it so I could power it on.

    • continuum
    • 13 years ago

    Is it sad that I recgonized all three of those jumper blocks instaneously? o_0

    • A_Pickle
    • 13 years ago

    ยง[<https://techreport.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=32699&highlight=ms6541<]ยง There's my story. >:( Coalition for the Unity of Case/Mobo Pins? :D

    • Retiky
    • 13 years ago

    If everything is standardized and made easy…our knowledge will count for nothing. I vote to further complicate not only front panel connections, but sata, usb, firewire, and all power connections. Lets make our job more in-disposable.

    • DragonFli
    • 13 years ago

    OMG i concur, I have an antec p160 and a MSI K8N Neo mobo and I never did hook up the front audio and firewire just USB power and lights….

    • FroBozz_Inc
    • 13 years ago

    I feel your pain brother.
    I deal with this all the time as well.
    The FP Audio connections are the WORST of the WORST though.

    • Rainwater
    • 13 years ago

    The problem, as I see it, is that there is no money to made by this; no one making the little jumper connectors, or any of the case manufacturers stand to gain by standardization (though you’d think it would improve their output on assembly lines).

    How much would any of us pay extra for an aftermarket solution? (My guess is not much…)

    Do Apples suffer from the same issue?

      • Ubik
      • 13 years ago

      If standardization of front-panel connectors improves production yields or efficiency, though, that basically IS money to be made. Probably not much, but more than zero.

      As for an aftermarket solution, I would definitely pay money for some kind of bracket/connection consolidator akin to the ASUS solution up there. Even if it’s not an adaptor exactly like that (and ASUS probably has seven trillion patents on it, so it probably wouldn’t be), I can see buying a small plastic block that holds front-panel pins in a given configuration so you can place them in whatever configuration the motherboard needs more easily, and then plug/unplug the plastic block with relative ease. I don’t see something like that being terribly difficult, and I’m sure lots of people would pay for something to make that part of assembling a PC easier.

    • JJCDAD
    • 13 years ago

    I agree that this is the biggest pain when building a new rig. Front panel, audio, and USB/1394 are a total mess. Mobo maker calls it one thing, case maker labels the wires something else.

    Maybe it’s a conspiracy by Dell, HP, and the like. If [anyone] could assemble a pc, they’d be out of business right? lol

    • Snake
    • 13 years ago

    Oh yeah, guys? You wanna try building a *[

    • MixedPower
    • 13 years ago

    I usually just plug and pray when connecting FP connectors. As long as I get the power switch right I’m good. All the rest are just bonus points except for the speaker, which I intentionally leave unplugged.

      • Smurfer2
      • 13 years ago

      Hmmm… Why did I not think of that….. Oh well, tip for the future.

      Though of all the parts of building a computer, front pannel connectors are normally the only annoying part! Gah I hate those things…

      • Madman
      • 13 years ago

      OMG ROFLMAO. Plug and pray, that describes EVERYTHING!

    • Convert
    • 13 years ago

    All enthusiasts must think of this at some point but it’s weird that I was just going over this not two days ago.

    What I came up with is a connector similar to a SATA data cable, with a more robust connector though of course. Throw a couple extra pins on for future usage and you are set. If the case (the slk1650 for example) uses more device LED’s then you can always revert back to using headers solely for them, or just make the standard connector able to handle a large amount of connections.

    As far as the case makers go they can do whatever they want on their end of the cable, split it off to solder points or jumper blocks of their own or whatever the case requires but at least have the one end standardized.

    Just think, a nice slender cable that plugs and locks (again similar to the sata cable) into place.

    • Ubik
    • 13 years ago

    I’ve actually seen one-block front panel connectors on some proprietary (i.e. Dell) machines, and I have to say they were a hundred times easier to deal with than futzing around with the front panel pinouts on most motherboards.

    Come on, guys – why is this so hard? I’m tired of having to use jeweler’s tweezers and a flashlight just to hook up a computer. At the very least, case manufacturers could make their USB hookups one block instead of individual pins – those ARE standardized, and they’re STILL taking the bastard’s way out!

      • d2brothe
      • 13 years ago

      Yea, my HP case has that. It was all well and good with the HP mobo…but when I decided to use the case for my new build…was such a pain rewiring the connector block…I’m fairly lucky it was simlar enough that it at least fit, so I didn’t have to redo the whole thing….the front panel audio is totally screwed tho…I’m not even sure if the X-Fi XMusic has output headers…

    • Hunter Viking
    • 13 years ago

    Just seeing that ASUS pin block……The stuff of nightmares.

    And as was mentioned already, the horrors of the Audio Connectors to add insult to injury.

    • d2brothe
    • 13 years ago

    Haha…OMG…at least you have labels. I had a SOYO board at one point….no labels on the board whatsoever regarding what the pins do. So, I went online and downloaded the manual. All it had was an arrow indicating that quote “the fron panel connectors go here”…no pinout, nothing. Had to figure the damn thing out all on my own with a little luck I eventually got all the pinouts. At one point my speaker was blasting static in synch with hardrive accesses, that was funny…but I wasn’t laughing after two hours of trial an error. I second the request for a standard. But man, what a manual that was, it was poorly translated garbage…totaly useless…

    Don’t even get me started about front panel audio connectors.

    • blitzy
    • 13 years ago

    fully agree, on my e4300 install which i put together recently i probably wasted 10mins on my knees fiddling to get the case connectors onto the right pins, and any time i take out the mobo it’ll probably take me another 5mins just for the pins (mainly because they sit at the bottom corner of my case and theres no light and its difficult to reach)

    • Flying Fox
    • 13 years ago

    Stop the swearing, this is a family site! =D

    And yes, it’s almost the only thing left for me to look in the motherboard manual each time I mess with the wires. Not that I don’t enjoy matching pins to wires, but it definitely can be better.

    • FireGryphon
    • 13 years ago

    I’m from the old school of computer builders who didn’t have any markings at all in the beginning, so in some small way, the archaic method of connecting front panel wires is a nod to those bygone times. I do, however, acknowledge that the system is archaic. From thumbscrews to BIOS reset switches, almost everything is very convenient and doesn’t require more than one quick simple step — but not the front panel wires! It’s such a glaring omission, it’s almost purposeful.

    • indeego
    • 13 years ago

    1998 called. They want their complaints back. g{<:)<}g

    • astrotech66
    • 13 years ago

    I find attaching the front panel connectors to be the most annoying part of putting together a new computer. I just got a new motherboard and the connector for the power LED is two pins. The power LED plug for my case is for three pins. So I had to cut out the middle part of the plug and attach each wire separately. That’s the kind of thing that drives me nuts.

    • willyolio
    • 13 years ago

    yeah, i still find it extremely annoying that i actually have to open the motherboard user’s manual when i assemble a PC.

    half the time the case’s wiring and the mobo pins don’t even match. i have 8 wires to stick into 6 pins. or a 3-pin block to stick onto a 2 pins on the motherboard. why are the pins arranged +/-/ground on the board and +/gound/-/random/hello/pwr from the wires? how am i supposed to connect that?

    • gratuitous
    • 13 years ago
      • Flying Fox
      • 13 years ago

      q[

      • Jigar
      • 13 years ago
        • Flying Fox
        • 13 years ago

        Don’t do the same thing as that guy, please?

        Good thing I saved the text. ๐Ÿ™‚

          • Convert
          • 13 years ago

          Can someone tell me why I am confused.

            • Flying Fox
            • 13 years ago

            Because the “g man” always posts stuff, then either through regret or whatever reason, completely edits his posts out. His forum posts are like that too.

            • soccergenius
            • 13 years ago

            I just checked out of curiosity, and he’s edited out every single one of his posts. Eliminating the e-paper trail?

            • Flying Fox
            • 13 years ago

            Caching usually owns in that department. In another post Inkling actually saved the whole thing (or it was actually still in the DB just hidden from us).

            • Smurfer2
            • 13 years ago

            Thanks for sorting that out Flying Fox. ๐Ÿ™‚ I was confused as well…

            • CampinCarl
            • 13 years ago

            Inkling should just write a script that permanently caches anything gratuitous posts. I’m sure it’d provide plenty of comedy. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Krogoth
    • 13 years ago

    I never had any problems with front panel connectors. Just find where is pin-1 and you are good to go.

    You darn kids and your color-coded, label pins connections, jumpless boards.

    In the old days, it was a lot more fun to config a motherboard. You have to setup the jumpers for the right CPU multiplier, memory type, FSB speed, VRAM, VCore etc. You had to angle FPM/EDO SIMMs right in order to fit into their slots.

      • indeego
      • 13 years ago

      Wait so you like looking up really small manuals from your MB maker, case maker, plus you have really small hands, you can orient the small pin ambidextrously, orient it in the slot, and can see the writing on the pin with ease? All with the MB screwed in and all your other cables shoved out of the way?

      Godlikeg{<.<}g

        • Krogoth
        • 13 years ago

        I have average-size hands, but I they are fairly dextrious.

        Organzing and routing internal cabling isn’t that difficult. It requires a lot of forethought and planning.

      • fishmahn
      • 13 years ago

      EDO SIMMS? go back another generation or 2 – and manually insert 32 64kb 150ns DRAM chips into sockets for ram… And enter the date & time on every bootup. Then came the clock batteries on an I/O board…

      Mike.

        • Zyphos
        • 13 years ago

        SIPPS! AHHH! AHHH! (sob) My 386 had those horrible horrible things.

    • n00b1e
    • 13 years ago

    Don’t forget the audio connectors as well, which can be a REAL pain in the ass.

    • Snake
    • 13 years ago

    Hey, at least nowadays they are color coded and marked!

    Nothing like a 386 (or even a 286! :p) motherboard with no markings whatsoever…

    • Dodger
    • 13 years ago

    I don’t suppose either of the newest form factor standards address this? BTX? DTX? It doesn’t seem like it would take more than a couple of motherboard manufacturers and chassis manufacturers to get together and pick something. I think everyone else would get on board just to keep up.

    • Hance
    • 13 years ago

    I hate those along with front usb connectors that come in a bunch of 7 ( I think) seperate connectors

    • flip-mode
    • 13 years ago

    It’s perplexing to me. To add insult to injury many of the wires are single pin connections. To make the power LED work I have to plug in two teeny wires. Right now neither my hard drive light nor my power on light are functional. They’re plugging in – just reversed I guess. It really sticks in my craw.

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