One of the more useful tools for reverse engineering hardware is a Bus Pirate.
However, it does not come with any sort of cable or connector. You can use DuPont connectors, if your device has headers soldered to it. However, some people find it easier to get a Bus Pirate Cable, which has several advantages:
- The wires are color-coded, making it easier to keep track of the wires.
- Bus Pirate connectors have a plug that fits the Bus Pirate exactly. This makes mistakes less likely.
- Some cables have labels on the wires.
- Some cables have test probes attached to the wires, allowing you to connect to devices that don’t have headers.
- If you have more than one cable, you can switch between devices under test easily and quickly.
- Bus Pirate connectors are compatible with other devices, such as the JTagulator – which can support 3 Bus Pirate cables at once. So the cables are multi-purpose.
However, there are some things you should know before you select a cable. They are not all the same.
- First of all, most cables are for the Bus Pirate Version 3 – which is a 2×5 connector. The Version 4 Bus Pirate has a 2×6 connector. The cables are not compatible.
- The color coding of the wires is not standardized.
- Sometimes the test probes attached to the cable are not the ones you want to use. Some clips are too big to grab the leg of an IC.
- Some cables have labeled wires.
I found four different Bus Pirate cables from major vendors:
- Seeed Studio (3 types. V3 & V4, with and without test probes)
- Adafruit (Similar to the first Seeed v3 type)
- SparkFun (Different color code, w/test probes)
- Dangerous Prototypes (labeled, male connectors)
There are other sources, but I listed the well-known sites above. Let me describe them.
There is a second version for the v3 Bus Pirate – without test probes.
The first v3 version has 8 large hook-style clips, and 2 thin grabber-style hooks, sometimes called SMD clips because the two thin prongs can grab both sides of the leg of an IC.
The color code for the Seeed cable is
This color code matches the colors shown in response to the “v” command for the BusPirate
The second V3 set has female DuPont connectors instead of test probes, The same color code is used.
The V4 has 10 large hook-style clips.
The Adafruit cable is very similar to the cable w/test probes from Seeed Studio
The SparkFun Bus Pirate cable does not have any test clips. Instead, they have female DuPont connectors – allowing you to attach them to headers or your own test probes.
The color coding is different from the Seeed Studio/Adafruit code. The colors are reversed.
Dangerous Prototypes is Ian Lesnet’s web site. Ian created the Bus Pirate. He has a new store on DirtPCB’s.
The Dangerous Prototypes cable does not have any test probes. Instead, they have a male pin, suitable for plugging into a breadboard. On the plus side – the wires are labeled.
This is Ian’s preferred cable:
In addition, you can buy the labels separately – for only $1. I bought 3 sets of labels, and it cost me a total of $4 ($1 shipping). Trust me. It’s a bargain.
My initial recommendation
I prefer labeled cables with female DuPont connectors for several reasons:
- You can plug them onto headers directly.
- You can connect to breadboards by adding a header.
- You can remove a wire from a header (or use a single-pin header) and insert it, converting the connector to a male plug.
- You can add your own test probes, such as the E-Z Hook Test probes , or a lower cost version
- You can change the test probes to suit the board, or make your own.
- The cables are more compact.
I really prefer labeled cables. You do not need a cheat sheet to identify the function of each wire. I bought several sets of Bus Pirate labels from Dangerous Prototypes, which only cost $1, and added the labels to my female cables so they look like this:
I even added labels to my cables that have test probes attached. Here is the results:
I cut the labels in half to make them shorter, added then to the tip of the probe, and applied a heat gun to shrink them. Ta-Daa!
But that’s my preference. If you want a cable with test probes, or male plugs, get them. But get the labels as well and add them to your cables. The cables aren’t very expensive, and getting multiple types won’t break the bank.