What Is a DIP Switch?

DIP Switch Definition

Picture of a TOOGOO(R) slide-style dip switch
TOOGOO(R) Slide-Style Dip Switch. © TOOGOO(R)

Similar to jumpers, a DIP switch is a very small switch or group of switches that are attached to many older sound cards, motherboards, printers, modems, and other computer and electronic devices.

DIP switches were very common on older ISA expansion cards and were often used to select the IRQ and to configure the other system resources for the card. When plugged into the circuit board, the device's firmware can read the DIP switch for further instructions on how the device should behave.

In other words, a DIP switch is what allows some older computer hardware devices to be used in particular way, whereas newer ones are set up with software commands and programmable chips, like the automatic setup supported by plug and play devices (e.g. USB printers).

For example, an arcade game might use a physical switch to configure the difficulty of the game, while newer ones can be controlled through the attached software by picking a setting from a screen.

Note: DIP switch stands for dual in-line package switch but is normally referred to by its abbreviation.

DIP Switch Physical Description

In one sense, all DIP switches look the same in that they have a switching mechanism on the top to toggle its settings, and pins on the underside to attach them to the circuit board.

However, when it comes to the top, some are like the image here (called a slide DIP switch) where you flip the toggle up or down for an on or off position, but others work differently.

The rocker DIP switch is very similar in that it's customized by rocking the switches in one direction.

The third kind of DIP switch is the rotary switch which has values lined up around the middle toggle, and the switch is turned to face whichever value is needed for that particular configuration (much like a clock face).

A screw driver is often enough to turn these but others are even larger and easier to use.

Devices That Use DIP Switches

DIP switches are definitely not as widespread as they used to be, but many devices still use them because it's inexpensive to implement and allows the settings of the device to be verified without turning it on.

One example of a DIP switch used in today's electronics is the garage door opener. The switches provide the security code that corresponds with the garage door. When both are set correctly, the two can communicate with one another on the same frequency without the need for any external software programs to do the configurations.

Other examples include ceiling fans, radio transmitters, and home automation systems.