How to Connect Ribbon Cable

By Contributing Writer

Ribbon cables are used in many consumer devices and are commonplace in the personal computer field. While ribbon cables vary in length, width and thickness, most of them have keyed connectors that will only allow the cable to be connected in one orientation. Many of the smallest ribbon cables are not equipped with connectors and are connected by inserting them into a connector, usually mounted on the printed circuit board that they are meant to connect to.

Things You'll Need

  • Magnifying glass (for smaller cables)
  • Flashlight (optional)

Step 1

Closely examine both the cable and the connector that the cable is going to be connected to. In many cases the ribbon cable's connector will be keyed, either with one or more holes being blocked off in the female connector (with a corresponding removal of pins from the mating male connector) or by an additional "bump out" being added to one side of the connector and a corresponding slot cut out from its mate.Some ribbon cables will have a twist in one or more wires and this is a clear indication that this cable must be installed paying specific attention to which end connects to which connector of the device. In all cases, thoroughly checking for any makings on the cable itself or the connector is recommended. In many cases, pin one is marked with a distinctive stripe on the edge of the ribbon cable where pin one is located.

Step 2

Line up the male and female connector squarely. Once you have clearly ascertained which end of the connector is designed to go where and you have located where pin one is oriented, lining up the male and female connector squarely is imperative. Ribbon connectors must be inserted directly into the receiving connector and any deviation from this may cause the connector to crack which can result in pins being bent.Usually, very little force is required to insert the cable's connector into the mating connector, and if you sense resistance to the connector sliding into its mate, it is recommended that you remove the cable from the connector and reexamine both sides of the connection to see if there are issues.

Step 3

Note that some ribbon cables, specifically the high density 80 pin IDE cables found in may computers, not only require that careful attention be paid to which connector is connected to which plug, but also which device is connected to which connector. In cases such as this, the connectors are usually clearly marked.

Step 4

If, for whatever reason, the male connector's pins become bent, using a pair of needlenose pliers will allow you to straighten the pins. Be careful, these pins are usually hollow and squeezing the pins too hard will crush them and make it impossible for you to connect the cable.

Step 5

One type of ribbon cable, found commonly in laptop computers, have no connectors mounted to the cable themselves. In these assemblies, the cable is usually made from a Mylar film (or something similar) with the conducting paths embedded into the cable's base material. These cables can be particularly tricky and require both patience and finesse. To insert these cables into their mating receptacle, line up the ribbon squarely with its mating connector. Now gently slide the ribbon into the connector making sure that it doesn't go into the connector at an angle. Please note, a sharp bend might degrade or destroy the cable's conductivity.