Dodgy USB Type-C cable fries vigilante engineer’s $1,000 laptop

“Benson Leung’s good intentions have finally caught up with him. The Google engineer who launched a crusade against bad USB-C cables in late 2015 just uncovered another sub-standard USB-C cable–and this time it’s cost him a $1,000 laptop.

The Google engineer recently tested Surjtech’s 3M USB 3.1 Type-C to standard Type-A USB 3.0 adapter cable, but those tests didn’t get very far at all. Leung said that as soon as he connected the cable to his Chromebook Pixel, via a small USB power delivery (PD) analyzer, both the PD and his laptop ceased working properly.”

I recently wrote about Leung and his reviews. What I wonder, reading the above, is what the company’s liability is. Clearly if the cable caused the demise of a computer, Leung should be able to get the value of his laptop from them.

But this leads to an even broader question. If the USB-C specification is such that a bad cable can fry a computer, it seems that this is not a cable that should be used. This worries me, since I own a 12″ MacBook. I bought two Apple adapters, but if, in a pinch, I needed another cable to charge my MacBook, I’d be very worried that I might not be able to find one that meets the specifications. I have never had any computer or electronic device where it was possible that a cable sold as being the right type might actually cause damage to it.

Source: Dodgy USB Type-C cable fries vigilante engineer’s $1,000 laptop | Macworld

6 thoughts on “Dodgy USB Type-C cable fries vigilante engineer’s $1,000 laptop

  1. Anything that connects to even low power can fry something if any part along the way is badly enough designed, poor enough quality, or damaged. It doesn’t take much power to disable a chip. Firewire 400 ports can get fried even with good cables, because the shape is poor, letting people put just enough of the cable in upside down, and even with care, they can wear out oddly. Up to 45 watts doesn’t help…

    You should be fine if you buy from reliable manufacturers. Vendor is irrelevant, though beware of counterfeits. Apple does better than average quality control, though they are expensive. We’ve never had trouble with Monoprice.com stuff, and we buy a fair bit of it in our department (academic chemistry, which means a lot of electronics). Places like Griffin Tech, OWC, major retail stores, etc should be fine. There are others, though it can be time consuming to research them adequately. For travel, carrying a spare or two is probably the best bet, though it’s a hassle.

    The big mistake is to go for no-name lowest bidders at ‘market places’ like amazon or ebay–especially if batteries are involved. A few weeks ago, Imaging Resources had a good article on counterfeit camera batteries, and it includes a link to a pdf about trying to source custom batteries from China, and how the ‘system’ works. Scary stuff (though parts are funny, as long as you only have to read about it). I’ve always bought third party camera batteries because cheaper, but I think I’m going to stop doing that.

    http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2015/10/28/counterfeit-battery-fakes-with-risks

    • I don’t ever recall hearing this sort of story with FireWire cables back in the day; and certainly not with USB 2 cables, which are a dime a dozen.

      • Video cameras were especially hard hit, because FW isn’t hot swappable unless you use an isolator that doesn’t connect the power pins, and people ignore or are confused about that–partly because some camera companies blocked power so they could be hot swapped, and some didn’t. Miswired cables could easily short things, though I haven’t personally run into that. I’ve definitely seen the careless plugging in / worn connector issue (3 or 4 in our department), as did mac repair friends of mine. Not to mention reports of kids shorting it out with a paperclip. The FW 800 connector was a huge improvement, even though it’s a little fussy to plug in at all.

        USB 1/2 may have had fewer problems because they carry so little power and are intrinsically cheaper to make, so there’s less reason to cut corners. I still wouldn’t buy one from the lowest bidder, though, when they can be had cheaply enough from reliable sources. USB-C can potentially carry enough power to charge a big laptop battery, so proper design to meet specs and quality control is quite important and that costs, making it profitable to skimp if you don’t care about the user, and don’t care about that particular company name going out of business; after all, company names are easily changed.

  2. Anything that connects to even low power can fry something if any part along the way is badly enough designed, poor enough quality, or damaged. It doesn’t take much power to disable a chip. Firewire 400 ports can get fried even with good cables, because the shape is poor, letting people put just enough of the cable in upside down, and even with care, they can wear out oddly. Up to 45 watts doesn’t help…

    You should be fine if you buy from reliable manufacturers. Vendor is irrelevant, though beware of counterfeits. Apple does better than average quality control, though they are expensive. We’ve never had trouble with Monoprice.com stuff, and we buy a fair bit of it in our department (academic chemistry, which means a lot of electronics). Places like Griffin Tech, OWC, major retail stores, etc should be fine. There are others, though it can be time consuming to research them adequately. For travel, carrying a spare or two is probably the best bet, though it’s a hassle.

    The big mistake is to go for no-name lowest bidders at ‘market places’ like amazon or ebay–especially if batteries are involved. A few weeks ago, Imaging Resources had a good article on counterfeit camera batteries, and it includes a link to a pdf about trying to source custom batteries from China, and how the ‘system’ works. Scary stuff (though parts are funny, as long as you only have to read about it). I’ve always bought third party camera batteries because cheaper, but I think I’m going to stop doing that.

    http://www.imaging-resource.com/news/2015/10/28/counterfeit-battery-fakes-with-risks

    • I don’t ever recall hearing this sort of story with FireWire cables back in the day; and certainly not with USB 2 cables, which are a dime a dozen.

      • Video cameras were especially hard hit, because FW isn’t hot swappable unless you use an isolator that doesn’t connect the power pins, and people ignore or are confused about that–partly because some camera companies blocked power so they could be hot swapped, and some didn’t. Miswired cables could easily short things, though I haven’t personally run into that. I’ve definitely seen the careless plugging in / worn connector issue (3 or 4 in our department), as did mac repair friends of mine. Not to mention reports of kids shorting it out with a paperclip. The FW 800 connector was a huge improvement, even though it’s a little fussy to plug in at all.

        USB 1/2 may have had fewer problems because they carry so little power and are intrinsically cheaper to make, so there’s less reason to cut corners. I still wouldn’t buy one from the lowest bidder, though, when they can be had cheaply enough from reliable sources. USB-C can potentially carry enough power to charge a big laptop battery, so proper design to meet specs and quality control is quite important and that costs, making it profitable to skimp if you don’t care about the user, and don’t care about that particular company name going out of business; after all, company names are easily changed.

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