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Hardware

Google Engineer Warns Against Perils of Buying Cheap, Third-Party USB-C Cables (hothardware.com) 206

MojoKid writes: A USB-C cable is just a cable. Or is it? Google engineer Benson Leung noted today that it's definitely not the case. Leung and his teammates at Google work inside of the Chromebook ecosystem, and as such, they've had lots of hands-on experience with USB-C cables. The Chromebook Pixel remains one of the very few notebooks on the market that directly supports USB-C. Nonetheless, in his experience, not all cables are built alike, and in some cases, cheap out-of-spec cables could potentially cause damage to your device. It's such a big problem, in fact, that Leung began buying cables off of Amazon and leaving his feedback on each one. Ultimately, what the problem boils down to is that some of the specifications in a cable may be not well controlled. He notes that in some bad cables, resistor values are incorrect, throwing off power specs wildly — 3A vs 2A in one example.
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Google Engineer Warns Against Perils of Buying Cheap, Third-Party USB-C Cables

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  • by known_coward_69 ( 4151743 ) on Thursday November 05, 2015 @04:09PM (#50872753)
    which is why i only buy Gold plated, oxygen free, twisted pair, sheathed Monster cables for $99.99 each. I can see the difference
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 05, 2015 @04:16PM (#50872793)

      There is too much Ether in the cheap cables.

    • The oxygen slows down the bits.

    • Yes yes yes we all know how rediculous the 'audiophile' types are. Many of us also know that when it comes right down to it, 'wire is wire'. What many don't know is that three big factors in the overall quality of a cable assembly, are:
      • Bare cabling specifications (things like twists per foot, type of shielding, etc)
      • Connector quality
      • Overall quality of the complete assembly/quality control

      If any of these three things are lacking, you'll end up with a crappy cable assembly that will fail you in one way or ano

    • by grub ( 11606 )
      The music I play from my memory sticks does sound a bit warmer when I use the Monster USB 3.0 cables.
    • by sribe ( 304414 )

      which is why i only buy Gold plated, oxygen free, twisted pair, sheathed Monster cables for $99.99 each. I can see the difference

      On a serious note, I have personal experience with Monster USB *2* cables (they were the only 10-foot ones I could find on short notice) being absolutely horrible. Data errors all over the damn place (I write some USB drivers, so I can get a better look at what's actually happening than most). Actually worse than a $2 off-brand obviously-too-thin conductors mail-order piece of junk (which didn't work either, but...) So it's not only that they're not "better" in some esoteric sense, they're actually much wor

  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Thursday November 05, 2015 @04:10PM (#50872757) Homepage Journal

    I bought a few packs of USB-C male and female connectors from China (to use for a non-USB application) and they were really junk. Looked like USB-C but the tolerances were terrible. Too soon for competitive quality forces to have kicked in, I suppose, but they didn't just make these bad connectors to annoy me - they must be out there in the wild too.

    • Yep typical progression for China and why *all* USB 2.0 micro plugs are crap. Looks like USB-C is another casualty of the typical death-by-cheap process:

      1. Manufacturer cranks out millions of out-of-tolerance parts
      2. Manufacturer dumps them on the market for cheap to get rid of them
      3. Designers can't resist the shiny cheapness, design the faulty part in to their assembly
      4. Manufacturer gets order shock and starts cranking out parts again without any leeway to retool
      5. We have to replace our USB 2.0 m
    • I bought a few packs of USB-C male and female connectors from China (to use for a non-USB application) and they were really junk.

      NO WAY?!?!?!?! You bought cheap Chinese knockoffs and they were shit?!?!?! how can that be?! Thats never happened before ... EVER?!?!?!?!

      Turn in your geek card and 4 digit UID Bill, you just lost your creds.

  • Given how cheap it is to rent a manufacturing facility in China, it would be trivial for a malware vendor/hacker to create an USB charger or an USB cable with malware chip built in. So why have we they not done that yet?

    How am I sure they have not done that yet?

    OMG, how am I sure the they != us, I mean us by proxy, the NSA ??

  • The Chromebook Pixel remains one of the very few notebooks on the market that directly supports USB-C.

    Much like how RC Cola remains one of the very few brand-name colas on the market...

    • Nope. If you're going to go third-party soda, go Cheerwine.

      • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 )

        Nope. If you're going to go third-party soda, go Cheerwine.

        Good luck getting Cheerwine outside of the Carolinas.

        And if you want to go even more obscure with soda you should go with Dr Enuf.

        • It has a pretty large following in north-central IL. I remember being able to get it there. Never been to the Carolinas, but I've had Cheerwine more than a few times. Given that there's no bottler in IL or any north-neighboring state, I have no idea where it came from.

        • You can buy Cheerwine at grocery stores in Texas, but it's the glass bottled, boutique six-packs, just like the Dr. Pepper made with real sugar (AKA "Dublin Dr. Pepper"). You can also find the same six-packs at most, if not all, Cracker Barrel restaurants.

      • That's not a cola.

  • Whenever a USB cable is used for charging, it's very easy to see why cheap cables are cheap.

    A quest for a cable that can support full 1.2A charging, not to mention current generation fast-charging, can be a long and frustrating one. I prefer my chargers to have 1.8m cables instead of manufacturer-standard 1m, and it took a lot of tries to find one that doesn't suck.

  • by ilsaloving ( 1534307 ) on Thursday November 05, 2015 @04:42PM (#50872979)

    USB-C could have been such an awesome standard. But when I read about all the possible feature variations (http://www.kitguru.net/desktop-pc/anton-shilov/not-all-usb-type-c-ports-are-equal-nine-implementations-of-usb-c-incoming/), I can only shake my head. While it's very cool, especially with integrated thunderbolt support, the idea of splitting it into different versions is just gonna cause nightmares.

    We're going to enter an age where people tear their hair out because everyone has the same port, but one person can do one thing with it but another person cannot. The whole HDMI versions confusion is gonna look tame compared to the confusion USB C will cause.

    • That's why I'll keep using old-school serial and parallel ports forever!

      Wait... I mean old-school, 19200 bps DB-9 serial ports and full-duplex centronics parallel ports... I guess things weren't simple back then either.

      Fight for your bitcoins! [coinbrawl.com]

      • True... things were messy in the past, but at least you knew that, "Different connector, therefore different thing". A perfect example of what happens when that failed, was the whole 25-pin parallel vs SCSI connector. That was a lovely mess, up until IDE came about and wiped SCSI out of the consumer market.

        There is absolutely no reason why they had to repeat the confusion with USB-C & 3.1. They should have just said "USB-C = USB 3.1", and that was it. Throw in some adapters for compatibility, and we

        • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

          There is absolutely no reason why they had to repeat the confusion with USB-C & 3.1. They should have just said "USB-C = USB 3.1", and that was it. Throw in some adapters for compatibility, and we'd be done. But no, now we have to worry about USB-C v2.0, v3.0, v3.1, USB-C Thunderbolt....

          Those only matter if you use the auxiliary pins. If you're just using it as a straight up USB cable, any cable will do.

          The confusion happens if you want to plug in a device that use the auxiliary pins, and even then, the

    • While it's very cool, especially with integrated thunderbolt support, the idea of splitting it into different versions is just gonna cause nightmares.

      How is that any different to what we have now? All of my laptop USB ports have funny little symbols next to them. Some of them are even quite non-standard with the ability to provide power while the device is off etc.

      The reality is going to be quite different. While you have all the different standards devices are likely to ship with one single type. Then it will not be a case of carefully investigating each individual port but rather thinking "does my laptop support displayport over USB or not?" A question

  • With their own cheap cables that are in spec. Cables should really not be that expensive. Google charges $20 for a USB-C cable. Come on!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I took a picture of my USB cable and showed it to an expert and he just said "I'll show you later". I don't get it.
  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Thursday November 05, 2015 @05:03PM (#50873099)

    Benson is a pretty fantastic engineer. He dots the i's and crosses the t's, which is somewhat rare these days.

    I hope Puneet (if Puneet is still his manager, as he was Benson's and mine, when I worked with Benson) is having Google pay for the cables he's buying, instead of Benson paying for them out of pocket.

    In any case, definitely take his Amazon reviews to heart: he knows what the hell he is doing, and he knows which end is the probe and which end goes in the meter. If he says a cable sucks, it sucks, and if he says it's good, it's good.

  • by Fly Swatter ( 30498 ) on Thursday November 05, 2015 @05:09PM (#50873127) Homepage

    Seems to me that it would be a faulty design that requires a 'cable' to need any electronics at all.

    Just like anything with a jack, you can't really trust anything that may get plugged into it.

    Wires, wrapping, and shielding, sure. Electronics (caps, resistors, etc.) should be in the devices themselves, and devices when encountering bad cables should always fail 'safe'.

    • by JediJorgie ( 700217 ) on Thursday November 05, 2015 @05:27PM (#50873243)

      yea, the problem is that they are not just cables, they are adapters. They adapt from USB-A to USB-C. As an adapter, they need the proper resister to tell the USB-C connected device how much power they can draw.

    • by ras ( 84108 )

      Seems to me that it would be a faulty design that requires a 'cable' to need any electronics at all.

      In that case USB 3.1 must be a terrible design. A full spec cable doesn't just require a resistor or two, it needs a PCB: http://cache-www.belkin.com/resources/img/overview/f2cu029/USB-C_CableExploded_v01-r01.png [belkin.com]. That cable is only rated for 3A. A full spec cable can carry 5A. I'm surprised they only cost $20.

      Mind you, I'm not complaining. $20 sounds like a cheap price to pay if I get to throw out the rats nest of cables I carry around now.

    • Because the devices at either end have capabilities that can exceed some cables. A method for identification of cables is then required.

      This is really no different than wiring in the house, except that in your house the electrician needs to read up a code book to determine how to protect the cable at the time of installation. How many people will dig out a compatibility book before plugging USB device into USB device with USB cable just to make sure the smoke doesn't come out?

      We asked for this. We wanted th

  • by divenpuke ( 2500824 ) on Thursday November 05, 2015 @05:20PM (#50873193)
    I worked on the first usb 3.0's for Apple. Same problem. We ended up buying nearly every different cable we could find and doing a tolerance study. Things varied so widely that the mouse i was using on my workstation was out of spec! The standards are CRAP. INTENTIONALLY. The mechanical tolerance standards read: for example the height of the internal spring contacts like 3mm max. no...minimum? pretty sure this thing ain't gonna work if the contacts don't...you know...touch anything. I had an internew w/ some asshat at Tyco - (they also make connectors) When i mentioned that the USB standards are crap, he said "oh yeah. we do that too. intentionally. We spend a lot of time developing the connectors to work properly and then because we HAVE to open source the standard, we'll obfuscate things such that we can gain a competitive advantage. Our cables and connectors work out of the box, or other companies are going to have to spend a couple months figuring things out w/ reliability testing before they can release a quality package. I about walked out of the interview at that point. Who signs their name to something that is intentionally a POS?? Speaking w/ the EE's at Apple, the signal integrity was written just as bad as the mechanical. Components of the signal integrity that would be controlled separately by the receptacle were lumped in with the cable. Just all junk. According to one guy Intel outsourced the design of the standard to india/china and just accepted the crap they gave them (because intel doesn't have like ... any mechanical engineers working there) J
    • I worked on the first usb 3.0's for Apple. Same problem. We ended up buying nearly every different cable we could find and doing a tolerance study. Things varied so widely that the mouse i was using on my workstation was out of spec!

      Where did you find a USB 3.0 mouse? Mine all use USB 1.something.

  • by Xicor ( 2738029 ) on Thursday November 05, 2015 @05:56PM (#50873449)

    well, we wouldnt have to buy third party cables if google actually gave us cables with the products we buy. i got myself a nexus 5x when it came out. it came with 1 3 ft usb-c to usb-c cable and no adapter to normal usb. i couldnt even plug the damned thing into my computer until the cables i ordered off amazon got here.

  • Here's his list (Score:5, Informative)

    by godel_56 ( 1287256 ) on Thursday November 05, 2015 @06:25PM (#50873611)

    Here's the list of cables that he tested, from the TFA. There are ten of them

    http://amzn.to/1MlG3g3

  • A decade or so ago the company I worked at had to repeatedly advise customers to use FTDI or Silicon Labs based USB-serial converters with our products. It got to the point that it was the first question on the tech support script. The cheaper converters based on Prolific chipsets were incredibly unreliable but customers kept buying them because on ebay one converter appears much the same as another.
    • A decade or so ago the company I worked at had to repeatedly advise customers to use FTDI or Silicon Labs based USB-serial converters with our products. It got to the point that it was the first question on the tech support script. The cheaper converters based on Prolific chipsets were incredibly unreliable but customers kept buying them because on ebay one converter appears much the same as another.

      There were a lot of counterfeit prolifics out there, so it isn't specifically a prolific problem. It's kind of like blaming Apple for the cheap fake iphone chargers.

      But yeah, if you can get a USB-Serial converter for 3 bucks, it might not be too good.

      I use FTDI mostly now, but have a few of the real prolifics setting around and in use. Including an ancient one that was used for a palm device, and still works in Linux even though Windows doesn't support it at all any more.

  • I've never had any problems with cheap USB A or B cables.

    On the other hand, I bought a cheap iphone cable on ebay that completely destroyed my iphone5. Not good.

    Moral of the story? It's probably best to stay away from cheap cables.

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