(Update: anatomy of a disaster) What can happen when your USB cable is bad

by: John DyeFebruary 3, 2016
1.5K

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Update, February 3: Benson Leung followed up on his Type C horror story with a more detailed explanation of what happened. Let it forever be a warning to those tempted by off-brand accessories.

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Original post, January 2: What’s the worst that can happen if you get a bad cable? You might be thinking about crummy data transfer speeds or your battery charging at a crawl. That’s about what we thought before today, but product reviewer Benson Leung had a far worse experience than this. He lost three devices to a bad cable, prompting him to give the product a one-star review on Amazon. In his words: “DANGER. PELIGRO. BAD CABLE. PLEASE DO NOT BUY THIS.”

The product is Surtech’s 3M USB A-to-C cable, and Leung’s initially run-of-the-mill review of the cable wound up slaughtering his 2015 Chromebook Pixel and two USB PD analyzers. His very first interaction with this cable saw him connecting his Pixel to a 12W wall charger with power delivery sniffers buffering each connection for reviewing purposes.

Galaxy-Note-4-Wireless-Charging-Accessories-13See also: 10 reasons why your Android battery is charging slowly and how to fix them55

As soon as he plugged in the cable, the sniffers failed immediately in what he describes as permanent damage. Even attempts to reflash the firmware were worthless. The sadder story here is the Pixel. Leung’s damage report and analysis reads thus:

On my Pixel, both USB Type-C ports stopped responding immediately. Neither would charge or act as a host when I plugged in a USB device such as an ethernet adapter. Upon rebooting my Pixel, the system came up in recovery mode because it could not verify the Embedded Controller on the system. No amount of software recovery could revive the EC. Upon closer analysis, serious damage has been done to components related to charging and managing the USB Type-C port’s capabilities.
I directly analyzed the Surjtech cable using a Type-C breakout board and a multimeter, and it appears that they completely miswired the cable. The GND pin on the Type-A plug is tied to the Vbus pins on the Type-C plug. The Vbus pin on the Type-A plug is tied to GND on the Type-C plug.

Just goes to show the importance of making sure that your electronic appliances and products are up to code before using them on your devices. Special thanks to reviewers like Leung who put their hardware on the line to get us the best information possible.

What are your thoughts on this news? As of the time of posting, the product is still up for sale, and Leung’s review has received almost 1,000 positive responses. Let us know what you’re thinking in the comments below!

Next: Google bans 13 apps that secretly download other apps

  • Virtual Anomaly

    Well,now I hope he uses a cheaper device to review this stuff lol

    • JT_Royale

      Sniffers are expensive as heck! Most products using type c are new products and bound to be expensive too

  • Formhault

    How expensive was that Surtech’s cable? Just curious, as their Amazon listing has been deleted.

    Anyway, the conclusion is : you need to be cautious about USB Type C cables from now on. No wonder the good ones are expensive af…

    • John William Dye

      It was $9.99 at the time of writing, marked down from $19.99.

      • Formhault

        Jesus Christ. That IS expensive, if you ask me. If a cable so expensive was this bad, what’s safe and what isn’t? :

        Still. I’m using an old 2-meters cable from the LG G2. And Tronsmart cables. Hope this Nexus 6 has some fuses inside it…

        • Akira Tabuchi Yagui

          I have a faulty tronsmart cable… :(

          • Formhault

            Faulty, in what way?

          • Akira Tabuchi Yagui

            It worked for like 3 months… now I have to move around until it connect and the don’t move it or I lose connection… one of the cables inside must be broken or something…

            Anyway, I got it for “free” with the Tronsmart QC2.0 5 port usb charger so I don’t really care about it… but it’s always good to have an extra cable…

            In the other hand, I have a nillkin cable for over a year and working like new… a little bit dirty, but working.

          • Formhault

            Get one of those Tronsmart 3-cable packs for like $10. They’re cool. I thought you’re gonna say it caught fire or something.

      • Jak Crow

        Which again begs the question: what’s “off-brand”?

    • T.J.

      It’s really only the legacy type c cable that you need to worry about.

      • Formhault

        Yeah, I know USB A and B are fine. The standard has been out long enough for manufacturers to get it right. No matter how crappy they are. The worse case scenario a bad microUSB (type A or B? which one is it? this one we had up until Type C came around) cable could yield is… current too weak, lol.

        • T.J.

          It was type A to micro usb. But it’s only the type A to type C cables that are screwed up. The type C to type C are usually fine.

          • Formhault

            So the USB we had up until now was Type A? And the microUSB was type A, as well? I was thinking it was Type B… Up until Type C showed up, these naming schemes were not a problem lol.

          • its the type of connection. Type A is the flat standard one we all plug into computers, Type B are the square ones we plug into most devices, then there is Mini A, and Micro A which was the standard on most cellphones.

          • Lawstorant

            Not quite. Phones do have a micro USB B port. A is for Master, B is for Slave.

          • You are correct.

          • Formhault

            So… Type A is the “father” plug that plugs into the USB port of a computer, so to say. The good old ones. Not thes Type C ones. Ah, then there’s Type C and micro Type C… Fuck this shit, I don’t have time to deal with this right now, I’m sticking with my Nexus 6 anyway.

          • johnh

            “USC C, I am your father!” Sorry I had to. I had the Nexus 6 first also. The Nexus 6P is well worth the switch! It is like night and day, seriously!

          • Formhault

            No, it’s not. It’s narrower. On top of that… 25% better speakers and camera… NOT WORTH $600+ !

  • Armand Bernard

    He should sue them. Get them to pay for his Pixel C.

  • That’s some heavy bullshit seriously amazon needs to crack down on these sellers that sell d grade products. I have countless vga to HDMI cords that fail after a couple sessions.

    • Formhault

      It goes down to D? I thought it only goes down to B… which may have a very small issue or two.

      • I exaggerated a bit but saying b grade is almost a compliment. It’s just my case my items from these sketchy sellers were beyond trash and waste of $$$

  • Formhault

    Surjtech. SURGE TECH. Lol.

  • Jonathan Johnson

    Here I am sitting pretty with LEGO phone dock as well as a USB type A to type C from Google themselves.

  • scoupdogg

    would be better if pixel installed a digital circuit breaker in USB port, i have a mac, sometime ago i had a faulty usb (shorted), it immediately showed error message, device is using more than normal amount of current so has been cut off to prevent damage.

    • Akira Tabuchi Yagui

      It was not about the current… was about the Vbus and GND plugs missplaced…

      • Formhault

        Which basically drive the current through the wrong way, essentially frying the device. It’s like reversing the ground and live on a washing machine… if you get where this is going.

      • scoupdogg

        ok, let me explain like you are 5, Misplacing plugs don’t do any harM UNLESS there is excess current passing through them, in this case, the voltage and ground got connected causing a sort of “SHORT”, which caused these problems.
        it not like ‘oh no plugs misplaced opps’, current has to pass through them to cause damage.

        • Akira Tabuchi Yagui

          any kind of current going to the wrong end will damage the phone. When you talk a current problem is when it provide over current like the OPO cables that have the wrong resistor. In this case, was a plug missplaced, not a current problem. Yep, there is current involved, but that’s not the “problem” itself so you can’t call that it’s a current problem.

          If in you house any cable short and that cause a fire, it’s the current fault or the short? Yes… there was current going through the cable, but the problem was that the cable was damaged or something.

          it’s as if your house is flooded and you blame the water and not the broken pipe. Same example.

  • Adam Bennett

    I own a couple of these cables – I had 3 shipped from China. Two measured fine using the tests that Benson described (as well as CheckR), one failed. The two that passed I’ve been using for a couple of months without issues.

    Seems to me that they’ve just got impossibly poor quality control. Regardless, I’ve thrown all of them away and ordered some Anker cables, just to be sure.

  • Rohit Raja

    Damn, USB C seams like bad news if cheap-n-china made it crappy….

  • Fabian Taveras

    #china

  • Amin Armani

    Think China

  • Jak Crow

    I’m sorry, but what is an “off-brand” product these days? You can’t just say that when there isn’t even a real list of quality “brand name” cables that everyone agrees on.

  • 3223

    Maybe now he can review the ease of repair for the pixel. Or is that not possible coz of his conflict of interest? :p

    Seriously this is so scary. Makes me extra scared for my devices, even those using Micro USB. The damage done can be quite severe..

  • OMGWTFZPMBBQ

    Can probably be fixed as long as the fried chip isn’t integrated into the main BGA

  • Sakis

    Any suggestions for what to buy for my nexus 6p?