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Electrolytic and electroless Ni/Au are common pad surface finishes on area array (BGA or CSP) packages and printed wiring boards (PWB). The electroless nickel/immersion gold (ENIG) process often is implemented when there is insufficient space to allow bussing for the more common electrolytic Ni/Au plating. The ENIG process continues to be used despite evidence that it may cause catastrophic, brittle, interfacial solder joint fractures. In this investigation a plastic ball grid array (PBGA) test vehicle is used to compare quality and reliability of standard and experimentally modified ENIG surface finishes. The standard electrolytic Ni/Au surface finish is used as the control cell for the experiment. Ball shear tests and optical and scanning electron microscopy are performed on as-received and thermally preconditioned packages to evaluate package quality prior to assembly. Accelerated temperature cycling (0/+100°C and -40/+125°C) is used to evaluate solder joint attachment reliability. Detailed failure mode analysis is used to compare the fracture modes in the ball shear and thermal cycled samples in the electroless and electrolytic packages. The results are discussed in terms of the failure modes and the characteristics of the different Ni/Au surface finishes.