PSA: If you don't want to fry your new MacBook, pay attention to the quality of your USB cables

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware
Apple's decision to include a single, all-new USB-C port on the reinvented MacBook has sent buyers of the ultraportable scrambling for adapters and conversion cables to connect legacy devices -- but be mindful of what you plug in.




For decades, Hi-Fi enthusiasts have been fighting a holy war over speaker wires. Half of the community swears that their gold-plated jacks and oxygen-free cable sheaths just make things sound better; the other half plugs in lamp cord from Home Depot and says they can't tell the difference.

As we move further into the digital age, a similar battle is being waged by computer nerds over USB cables. The cables themselves are passive -- save a resistor here and there -- and aside from the quality of the plastic, there's very little to differentiate a cheap one from an expensive one.

It's true, for instance, that Apple's $19 Lightning cable doesn't perform $13 better than the $6 version available from Monoprice -- by the by an excellent vendor -- but it's still important to consider the source before going for cut-rate cables.

Google Pixel team member Benson Leung has been reviewing USB-C cables on Amazon for a few months, mostly to determine whether they comply with the USB-C spec. He wants to make sure that consumers who buy a cable to use with a Pixel -- or any other USB-C compliant device -- will get what they think they're paying for.
Your MacBook cost more than $1,000. Don't cheap out on cables that could kill it.
Everything went swimmingly for more than a hundred reviews, until Leung found a cable that was totally miswired from the factory: in addition to having the wrong resistor, the company had hooked the ground pin on one end to the power pin on the other. The net result was a dead Chromebook Pixel and two fried USB power delivery analyzers.

Several of the cables Leung tested and verified as good actually cost less than the $9.98 SurjTech model that ended his Pixel's life, so this isn't a lesson about cost. Rather, it's one about common sense.

It's fine to look for options which are less expensive than those from the original manufacturer -- even we at AppleInsider use some third-party Lightning cables -- but make sure to stick with brands that are tried and tested.

Remember, your iPhone likely cost you upwards of $600 or your MacBook more than $1,000; don't blush over a $10 cable that could end their lives.

NOTE: Of those Leung tested, Anker's products consistently rated well. You can find USB-C cables and adapters, along with many more Anker power products, at the company's Amazon store.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 35
    stompystompy Posts: 338member
    Several of the cables Leung tested and verified as good actually cost less than the $9.98 SurjTech model that ended his Pixel's life, so this isn't a lesson about cost. Rather, it's one about common sense.
    AI, you missed your chance to charge up this story with a little humor ... sb 'than the appropriately named SurjTech, a $9.98 model....'
    thebmtanton zuykovargonautredgeminipa
  • Reply 2 of 35
    Taking care of your cables is a good start, as is buying reputable brands from reputable sources.
    Mr_Greyargonauttallest skil
  • Reply 3 of 35
    NOTE: Of those Leung tested, Anker's products consistently rated well. You can find USB-C cables and adapters, along with many more Anker power products, at the company's Amazon store.
    Semi off topic (apologies) but on this note I've got a couple of Anker's 6ft braided lightning cables and have to say I'm very impressed so far with them - much cheaper than the Apple official and fully MFi certified.
    argonaut
  • Reply 4 of 35
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,924member
    Been happy with the Amazon Basics Lightning cables. I've ordered them from 4" to 6' and they work just fine and are inexepensive.
  • Reply 5 of 35
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,700member
    With all the reports of people's electronics getting fried from cheapo cables and charges, I just shake my head in disbelief that people want to take a chance and save a few bucks to use questionable hardware from sketchy chinese companies to charge their pricey iPhone or Macbook.  For me, the peace of mind far outweighs the headaches I'll have if I fry something.  
    kingofsomewherehot
  • Reply 6 of 35
    Mr_GreyMr_Grey Posts: 118member
    Where I live, even an entry level 16GB iPhone costs just over a thousand dollars, so my feeling has always been that if you're going to buy that, you are stupid to try to save twenty bucks on a cable when it can put your whole device at risk.  

    I don't feel sorry or sympathetic to people who's only concern is price.  Money grubbing is a distasteful thing.  If you're truly poor then you wouldn't be buying Apple devices in the first place.  If you can afford Apple products then you can afford their cables and buying some no-name cable from China or India is rather literally a "fools errand."  
  • Reply 7 of 35
    Mr_GreyMr_Grey Posts: 118member

    mike1 said:
    Been happy with the Amazon Basics Lightning cables. I've ordered them from 4" to 6' and they work just fine and are inexepensive.
    This just tells me that you missed pretty much the entire point of the article.  You're buying cables primarily because they are "inexpensive," and you know nothing about their specs or who made them.  They "work fine" (so far) and that's good enough for you.  

    This is the exact attitude and behaviour the article warns against.  
  • Reply 8 of 35
    elijahgelijahg Posts: 1,006member
    Apple's Macbooks are protected against reverse polarity and Vcc to D+, D- or GND shorts. Not sure about the iPhone, but it likely is. Cheap Chromebooks aren't because they'd have to spend a couple of cents on a few resistors and diodes. I find cheapo cables tend to fall apart, though none as bad as Apple's Greenpeace compliant ones.
    argonautwonkothesane
  • Reply 9 of 35
    mac_128mac_128 Posts: 3,449member
    All the more reason why there should not be only one port for such an important connection. 

    If the rumors of Lightning audio and the removal of the 3.5mm jack come true, then I fully expect the MacBook revised soon thereafter with a multi-function Lightning port in place of the single function 3.5mm, which will not only allow for high speed data transfers, but perhaps even charging. A little redundancy in computer equipment is not a bad thing. 
  • Reply 10 of 35
    False info here: "The cables themselves are passive — save a resistor here and there — and aside from the quality of the plastic, there's very little to differentiate a cheap one from an expensive one. It's true, for instance, that Apple's $19 Lightning cable ..." Lightning cables have few chips in them. Thats why it took a good while before the knock-offs and official competitors to show up. I for one am wary of any 3rd party lightning cables - but maybe they have been cracked and will keep working, I admit I haven't tried. http://appleinsider.com/articles/12/10/16/lightning-cables-authentication-chip-found-to-offer-just-enough-security The apple lightning hdmi adapter even has an ARM processor! http://www.theverge.com/2013/3/1/4055758/why-does-apples-lightning-to-hdmi-adapter-have-an-arm-computer-inside
    mac fanshamino
  • Reply 11 of 35
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,865member
    sflocal said:
    With all the reports of people's electronics getting fried from cheapo cables and charges, I just shake my head in disbelief that people want to take a chance and save a few bucks to use questionable hardware from sketchy chinese companies to charge their pricey iPhone or Macbook.  For me, the peace of mind far outweighs the headaches I'll have if I fry something.  
    I actually if the Pixel,got fried demto a cable it isn't the cables fault.   Any well designed port should be able to withstand a direct short either by blowing a fuse or tripping a breaker.   This indicated to me that Googles Pixels is poorly designed.  
    tenlywonkothesaneHabi_tweet
  • Reply 12 of 35
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,865member

    elijahg said:
    Apple's Macbooks are protected against reverse polarity and Vcc to D+, D- or GND shorts. Not sure about the iPhone, but it likely is. Cheap Chromebooks aren't because they'd have to spend a couple of cents on a few resistors and diodes. I find cheapo cables tend to fall apart, though none as bad as Apple's Greenpeace compliant ones.
    This is the thing that gets me, Apples cables aren't very high quality at all.   You can get higher quality at a lower cost via third party sources.  

    Beyond that hat you are right a cable should never fry a bit of electrics if the USB port is properly designed.  This article says more about a crappy laptop than it does about the cable.   Here is the reality: no matter whom makes your cables eventually you will have one fail.  It might fail open but it can easily fail shorted.  Either way that failure shouldn't harm the port northern laptop in general.  
    argonauttenlyelijahgHabi_tweet
  • Reply 13 of 35
    After a lot searching, even testing multiple devices, I finially found the Satechi USB C Hub. It's an absolute must have for anyone who owns a MacBook 12. Not only is it cheaper than Apple's mediocre hub but contains absolute everything you could possibly need. Here is the link for it, trust me, you will want it. 

    http://www.satechi.net/index.php/catalog/product/view/id/466/s/type-c-pass-through-usb-hub-space-gray/category/98/
    edited February 2016
  • Reply 14 of 35

    After a lot searching, even testing multiple devices, I finially found the Satechi USB C Hub. It's an absolute must have for anyone who owns a MacBook 12. Not only is it cheaper than Apple's mediocre hub but constrains absolute everything you could possibly need. Here is the link and a photo of it.



  • Reply 15 of 35
    ...so this isn't a lesson about cost. Rather, it's one about common sense.

    I didn't quite follow what what the common sense lesson is here. Can someone explain it?
    mac fan
  • Reply 16 of 35
    elijahg said:
    Apple's Macbooks are protected against reverse polarity and Vcc to D+, D- or GND shorts. Not sure about the iPhone, but it likely is. Cheap Chromebooks aren't because they'd have to spend a couple of cents on a few resistors and diodes. I find cheapo cables tend to fall apart, though none as bad as Apple's Greenpeace compliant ones.

    The Pixel sells for $1,000 and is quite well engineered. Go ahead and grab a USB-C cable, wire the Vbus pin on one end to Gnd on the other, then use it to charge your MacBook and let us know it goes. 
    mac fan
  • Reply 17 of 35
    tenlytenly Posts: 707member
    Mr_Grey said:

    mike1 said:
    Been happy with the Amazon Basics Lightning cables. I've ordered them from 4" to 6' and they work just fine and are inexepensive.
    This just tells me that you missed pretty much the entire point of the article.  You're buying cables primarily because they are "inexpensive," and you know nothing about their specs or who made them.  They "work fine" (so far) and that's good enough for you.  

    This is the exact attitude and behaviour the article warns against.  
    You also missed the point.  The cables that failed in the article were not the least expensive - there were several less expensive cables that performed properly.

    The point of the article was to make sure customers looked at more than just the price.  What I learned from the article was that some cables that are being sold may not work, but others do.  This is just a warning to educate yourself and to be careful.  Find a product that has been reviewed or independently tested and you'll be fine.

    The smartest consumers dont blindly buy the cheapest OR the most expensive.  They find a quality product at a good price.  If you've got more money than brains, go ahead and buy that Monster cable.  Pick up an extended warranty while you're at it...  The rest of us will take a few minutes to read the reviews and select the best value product that meets our needs - and we'll take the money we've saved and put that towards more toys.  I don't mind paying for quality - but I despise paying for a "name".  And with digital communications there is a threshold that you hit - above which improvements in quality are wasted.     

    I buy Apple Care for my iPhones and iPads - but I have never bought an "extended warranty" or as my friends like to call it "an idiot tax".  There has never been a time when a device I owned has failed outside of the manufacturers warranty period and inside the extended warranty.  Without exception, the failures I've experienced have occurred within the main warranty period or well after the extended period would have ended.  If - by some random fluke - in the future, I experience a failure in that extended warranty zone, I can happily go ahead and pay for it myself knowing that I have saved more than 20 times the cost of the repair/replacement by just saying "no" across the board.
  • Reply 18 of 35
    Exactly what advice are we to take away from this article? The author says to be careful when buying cheap cables, but then goes on to say that a more expensive cable failed while a less expensive one tested good. And he tested more than 100 cables and only one failed. Seems like bad cables really aren't too much of a concern.
  • Reply 19 of 35
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,229moderator
    Mr_Grey said:

    I don't feel sorry or sympathetic to people who's only concern is price.  Money grubbing is a distasteful thing.  If you're truly poor then you wouldn't be buying Apple devices in the first place.  If you can afford Apple products then you can afford their cables and buying some no-name cable from China or India is rather literally a "fools errand."  
    There's also the fact that companies like Monster have made people feel stupid paying a lot for cables though. Nobody wants to be seen to be a fool who will pay excessive amounts for basic accessories, which can add up to a lot of money if you have to buy a few and could just be rebranded cheap cables. The issue isn't really to do with the price itself but the reputation of the seller or manufacturer.

    While the big companies are easier to rely on, there's no way to know if you can even trust a premium accessory maker. You certainly couldn't judge this while you are in a physical retail store and see some generic looking cable.

    I think the situation is worse with Apple products because the products themselves are expensive so you are more likely to want to save on the accessories and 3rd party manufacturers have been trying to make everything in white plastic so they look the same as the Apple ones.

    There must be a standards agency that can regulate dangerous equipment. Even if manufacturers can sell the products without approval, if you could look for a mark on the cable that says it was tested and approved to meet the spec, that would be enough to sort the problem because there would be some accountability.
  • Reply 20 of 35
    tenlytenly Posts: 707member
    mackymoto said:
    Exactly what advice are we to take away from this article? The author says to be careful when buying cheap cables, but then goes on to say that a more expensive cable failed while a less expensive one tested good. And he tested more than 100 cables and only one failed. Seems like bad cables really aren't too much of a concern.
    Advice is to be careful.  Translates into read reviews and make sure the cable you're buying works.

    What's not clear is whether or not the defective cable he purchased was 1 bad unit out of a batch of 10,000 - which points to possible quality control issues - or if it was a bad design and ALL of that particular model cable was bad.  If the former - there's really nothing we can do to protect ourselves since a 1-off defect can happen to any manufacturer.  The only safe approach in that case would be to purchase or borrow a cable tester and test any and all cables before connecting them to your expensive equipment.  Not really a feasible approach for most people...but as someone else correctly pointed out - most quality products have built in protection to prevent a bad cable from causing damage.
    edited February 2016
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