Author Topic: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!  (Read 11049 times)

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Offline JP

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Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« on: Mon, 08 October 2018, 17:02:38 »
So I recently bought a custom keyboard and needed a USB-C cable for it. I actually did not have any but I happen to spot a custom made cable on a certain marketplace that was braided and coiled with a rubber coating. It looked cool, fit the look of my keyboard and didn't want to wait to have a custom cable made. I buy it and of course end up paying way too much for it. I get the cable and plug it into my powered USB hub (USB 2.0 and outputs at 5v/3A). The keyboard works fine and I assume all is well.

Fast forward the next day I take my shiny new keyboard into the office and plug the keyboard into my Dell laptop which has USB 3.0. This time the experience turns into a nightmare and screws up my productivity for the morning. The first thing I notice is if I happen to bump the cable just right the keyboard disconnects  :( After reseating the cable I give up and resolve to not wiggle the cable around. I go to typing and all is well for a few minutes until suddenly I get a popup in Windows that shows the USB port as disabled due to a device using too much power.  :mad:

After trying different ports and getting the same problem I come up with a theory that this cable is shoddy or there is something with the keyboard trying to draw too much power. I run with the theory that the cable is junk since I can wiggle it and it easily disconnects and reconnects. I come to learn that USB-C cables that are not made to the proper specifications can actually destroy some devices. Yikes!

My research leads me to this article: https://www.laptopmag.com/articles/how-to-find-safe-usb-type-c-cables and I proceed to order a couple brands of cable from Amazon which have a 56K Ohm resistor built in and have excellent reviews. Today I try out my Aukey branded cable for starters under the same conditions and it happens to work flawlessly. Lesson learned, function over form and be very discerning when selecting any USB-C cable, especially custom made cables, doubly so if you do not know who made the cable.
« Last Edit: Mon, 08 October 2018, 17:08:29 by JP »
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Offline Leslieann

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #2 on: Tue, 09 October 2018, 00:24:34 »
Simplified...
USB Type A connectors can only handle 1.7 amps before they get hot enough to distort (they are designed for 1amp), while Type -C can handle up to 5 amps depending on the port. Because the cable was plugged into a hub that can handle 3amps (hubs are rarely power managed), and something (I assume the keyboard) tried to pull 3 amps and damaged the cable and possibly that port on the hub.

If the device being pluggged in is low amperage, or the power supply is low amperage, it's fine to use these cables because there isn't enough power to cause damage, but the cable manufacturers are not telling you and most people don't understand any of it anyhow so you have people plugging A to C cables into powered hubs to fast charge a phone and frying the ports. Phones are one of the few devices (for the moment) that can draw enough power to be an issue. I;m kind of surprised a keyboard did it, I'm guessing it has lots of LEDs in it.

The threat to laptops and desktops is exaggerated as most are power controlled by the OS, which is why windows shut down the port, however on some, manufacturers sometimes use hubs in order to reduce wiring or because they are too cheap to do it properly. Companies know not following spec is cheaper, and there is no one to punish them for not doing it.


While I like the Type-C connector and it's possibilities, it's a massive steaming pile of dog crap in terms of specs and compatibility, it's as bad or worse than all of the older USB specs combined and the USB consortium lets manufacturers get away with pretty much anything. This is why USB 1.1 was so bad, it was changed in order to confuse customers and sell older hardware. Here's just a few I've run into:
Can that port charge the laptop? Not all can, even on the same laptop.
Is it Thunderbolt? Some only include a single Thunderbolt but many Type C ports.
If it is Thunderrbolt, does it support EGPU
If it is TB, does it support Display Port?
If it is TB, d it support HDMI?
If it is TB, does it support 3 or 5 amps? Or did they short change it and only do 1amp.
Is it even USB 3.1 or is it a USB 2.0 or 3.0 connection in a type C form factor? Samsung shipped type C cables that were only 2.0.
If it really is a 3.1 port, is it 5gbps or 10gbps
If It is Thunderbolt, does it conform to spec, or is it fickle and only works with specific onboard chips. On Macbooks, HDMI adapters need to have a Texas Instruments chip in order to not flicker.

Some laptops are a mashup of all of these and only reading the technical specs manual will answer it.
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Offline StickyBlueJuice

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #3 on: Tue, 09 October 2018, 06:40:34 »
This isn't the first time I've read about this problem.
The spreadsheet in the article is very nice though. :D

Offline JP

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #4 on: Tue, 09 October 2018, 07:59:02 »
From what I can tell there was no damage to any of the USB ports or the cable.
This is the hub I am using which does provide some overcurrent protection: https://www.amazon.com/Plugable-7-Port-Speed-Power-Adapter/dp/B003Z4G3I6

I am thinking that crappy cable might work better with a USB Mini-B connector instead of the USB-C connector. The keyboard I am using is a CA66 which does have leds (which are not constantly on but flashing on and off in a colored pattern from top to bottom as I haven't had a chance to configure their behavior). I am thinking the keyboard when plugged into my Dell laptop is sometimes demanding slightly more power than the bus can actually provide or was configured to supply but this new USB cable keeps everything balanced out. It did work for a bit so it must have been right at the threshold of what the USB bus was able to provide. I haven't tested the bad cable into the USB port of a newer computer but there is no need at this point.
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Offline fer.real

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #5 on: Tue, 09 October 2018, 08:19:28 »
If you're willing to sacrifice the cable, it would be interesting to see how the USB-C connector was wired.

Offline JP

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #6 on: Tue, 09 October 2018, 08:48:17 »
If you're willing to sacrifice the cable, it would be interesting to see how the USB-C connector was wired.

No way I will get my money back out of it and it's not worth the hassle of reselling. Lets do it for science. I'll cut the end off later and share the findings.
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Offline Leslieann

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #7 on: Tue, 09 October 2018, 18:46:36 »
From what I can tell there was no damage to any of the USB ports or the cable.
This is the hub I am using which does provide some overcurrent protection:

You may not be able to see the damage, it can simply be a loss in spring tension on the fingers.

That's actually a really nice 2.0 hub, only a handful of 2.0 hubs support MTT (giving full speed to each port), but it's power management was designed around USB 2.0, not 3.0 or later, so it may not actually be protected in that way.
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Offline TacticalCoder

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #8 on: Thu, 15 November 2018, 18:52:36 »
While I like the Type-C connector and it's possibilities, it's a massive steaming pile of dog crap in terms of specs and compatibility, it's as bad or worse than all of the older USB specs combined and the USB consortium lets manufacturers get away with pretty much anything. This is why USB 1.1 was so bad, it was changed in order to confuse customers and sell older hardware. Here's just a few I've run into:
Can that port charge the laptop? Not all can, even on the same laptop.
Is it Thunderbolt? Some only include a single Thunderbolt but many Type C ports.
If it is Thunderrbolt, does it support EGPU
If it is TB, does it support Display Port?
If it is TB, d it support HDMI?
If it is TB, does it support 3 or 5 amps? Or did they short change it and only do 1amp.
Is it even USB 3.1 or is it a USB 2.0 or 3.0 connection in a type C form factor? Samsung shipped type C cables that were only 2.0.
If it really is a 3.1 port, is it 5gbps or 10gbps
If It is Thunderbolt, does it conform to spec, or is it fickle and only works with specific onboard chips. On Macbooks, HDMI adapters need to have a Texas Instruments chip in order to not flicker.

Some laptops are a mashup of all of these and only reading the technical specs manual will answer it.

Great post and these are not the only issues... There are semi hidden ones too: for example people thinking they'll get USB 3.0 speed with USB-C but being downgraded to USB 2.0 speeds because they're also using USB-C to do DisplayPort (or other) over USB-C. Or passthrough not working: my PC and monitor both have USB-C. I use the USB-C cable that came with the monitor and can then plug say a USB HDD/SDD in the monitor's hub (convenient). Works fine. So far so good. But then I've got other USB device for which the passthrough through the monitor's hub doesn't work.

I wish we could have single good connector easy to use but it seems like USB-C is not that yet.



And you mentioned several maddening case where we can have visually identical cables which are actually not capable of doing the same thing at all: this is just a crazy wild aspect of USB-C.
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Offline menuhin

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #9 on: Mon, 03 December 2018, 09:10:46 »
From what I can tell there was no damage to any of the USB ports or the cable.
This is the hub I am using which does provide some overcurrent protection: https://www.amazon.com/Plugable-7-Port-Speed-Power-Adapter/dp/B003Z4G3I6

I am thinking that crappy cable might work better with a USB Mini-B connector instead of the USB-C connector. The keyboard I am using is a CA66 which does have leds (which are not constantly on but flashing on and off in a colored pattern from top to bottom as I haven't had a chance to configure their behavior). I am thinking the keyboard when plugged into my Dell laptop is sometimes demanding slightly more power than the bus can actually provide or was configured to supply but this new USB cable keeps everything balanced out. It did work for a bit so it must have been right at the threshold of what the USB bus was able to provide. I haven't tested the bad cable into the USB port of a newer computer but there is no need at this point.

I just learnt about the problems of USB-C literally only a few hours ago, because so many new PCBs are using it - in the name of being able to plug-in either way (I would rather use my Mini-B cables)

Do you know some custom hand-made USB-C makers who are using "up to standard" USB-C parts when they craft their cables?
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Offline Leslieann

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #10 on: Mon, 03 December 2018, 18:30:51 »
Do you know some custom hand-made USB-C makers who are using "up to standard" USB-C parts when they craft their cables?
It's a complicated problem because like USB from the start, the standards are extremely loose (more like sh*tty).

At any rate, it's not the type C connector that is the problem, it's actually type A that has the problem so they handicap type C to keep it in spec.

Regardless...
If you are using type C to type C it isn't an issue.
If you are using a low power type A source to type C, it's not a problem.
If you use a device that doesn't draw more than 2.6 amps it won't matter even if the hub can push 10 amps, it will only draw what it needs.
It's only when you combine a type A hub capable of pushing higher amps (like a high powered hub) combined with a type C device capable of pulling more than 2.7 amps that you run into an issue. Currently only a few devices, usually cell phones that fast charge and USB type C powered laptops, that this is an issue.

If all you plan to connect to it is a keyboard, the cable is irrelevant as it will not draw more power than the type A connector can handle.
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Offline JP

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #11 on: Tue, 04 December 2018, 21:50:11 »
Do you know some custom hand-made USB-C makers who are using "up to standard" USB-C parts when they craft their cables?
It's a complicated problem because like USB from the start, the standards are extremely loose (more like sh*tty).

At any rate, it's not the type C connector that is the problem, it's actually type A that has the problem so they handicap type C to keep it in spec.

Regardless...
If you are using type C to type C it isn't an issue.
If you are using a low power type A source to type C, it's not a problem.
If you use a device that doesn't draw more than 2.6 amps it won't matter even if the hub can push 10 amps, it will only draw what it needs.
It's only when you combine a type A hub capable of pushing higher amps (like a high powered hub) combined with a type C device capable of pulling more than 2.7 amps that you run into an issue. Currently only a few devices, usually cell phones that fast charge and USB type C powered laptops, that this is an issue.

If all you plan to connect to it is a keyboard, the cable is irrelevant as it will not draw more power than the type A connector can handle.


*Most keyboards  ;)
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Offline Leslieann

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #12 on: Tue, 04 December 2018, 22:09:30 »

*Most keyboards  ;)
[/quote]
All those RGB led's can draw a lot, but I highly doubt any off the shelf keyboard exceeds 2.6 amps as it wouldn't even run though most USB ports.

More importantly, if they are using that much power for a keyboard, they're doing it wrong.
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Offline menuhin

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #13 on: Wed, 05 December 2018, 07:47:29 »

*Most keyboards  ;)
All those RGB led's can draw a lot, but I highly doubt any off the shelf keyboard exceeds 2.6 amps as it wouldn't even run though most USB ports.

More importantly, if they are using that much power for a keyboard, they're doing it wrong.

If most keyboards draw less than 2.6 amps, why all the PCB makers are in such a hurry to all switch to USB-C ?
Only to let people who have the latest Android phones to use their phone cables to connect their custom keyboard??

I don't see manufacturers making many nice USB-C cables neither, compared to micro and the custom-made mini-B.
I have quite a few nice mini-B cable lying around but I have not USB-C cable, and I have no device that really use that USB-C standard.
« Last Edit: Wed, 05 December 2018, 13:37:56 by menuhin »
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Offline JP

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #14 on: Wed, 05 December 2018, 13:32:28 »

*Most keyboards  ;)
All those RGB led's can draw a lot, but I highly doubt any off the shelf keyboard exceeds 2.6 amps as it wouldn't even run though most USB ports.

More importantly, if they are using that much power for a keyboard, they're doing it wrong.
[/quote]

Well the whole reason this thread started was from a custom keyboard I bought which was designed with USB-C. No measuring of power was performed from my testing to see how much power my keyboard was actually trying to draw.

https://play-keyboard.store/products/ca66-66-custom-keyboard-kit?variant=18680818499702
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Offline Leslieann

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #15 on: Wed, 05 December 2018, 18:09:55 »
If most keyboards draw less than 2.6 amps, why all the PCB makers are in such a hurry to all switch to USB-C ?
They are in a rush to Type C because it's a smaller connector, making it easier to make laptops and motherboards smaller. It's also a more durable connector that can carry more power and data and most importantly, a selling point (look, new!!!!)

Understand, type C is the connector shape, it can be USB 1.0 and still use a Type C connector, Samsung shipped a USB 2.0 cord with a  Type C connector on some of it's first type C smart phones. You can use a Type C connector with any USB standard, however only USB 3.1 can use all of type C's features and even then, very few support all of those features.

So why use it on a keyboard?
Durability and selling point.  I have yet to see a keyboard that actually needed more than USB 1.0 data rates (except when a hub was used to add a port), and none I know of exceed power draw for a 3.0 connector. None use 3.1 levels of power draw, which makes sense, I can't imagine why a keyboard would as much power as a laptop.


By the way,
You seem to not know just how many laptops on the market ONLY have Type C. It's not just Apple who has done this, but you can thank them for making it happen.
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Offline Wood_Cables

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #16 on: Wed, 06 February 2019, 10:51:01 »
I make custom cables for keyboards, including type C, for both the host end and device end. Luckily I didn't learn the hard way when it comes to this information as I was warned from the get go.

Offline TacticalCoder

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #17 on: Thu, 07 February 2019, 09:12:46 »
USB-C is sadly complicated. The "simplified" version explained here shows how messy things are. Then there's the semi-fake promise of speed... Because there are gotchas there too: the "USB 3.0 / 3.1 speed" of USB-C for data transfer silently downgrades to USB 2.0 speed if you happen to use, say, DisplayPort on your USB-C link. Ouch.

Then there are other SNAFUs: for example my monitor has USB-C and so does my PC... So I've got an USB-C cable between the two. I can then plug good old USB stuff in my monitor (say an external HDD): that is nice. What is less nice is that some device work hooked this way, others don't. So before plugging it in all I know is "it may or may not work and if it doesn't, I'll have to plug it directly in the PC". Meh. Pretty meh.

I like the form factor. It feels less clunky than older USB connectors. It can also be plugged easily as it's symmetrical: that's good too.

But I don't like the complexity: that bogus cables can destroy hardware is pretty rad. It's also crazy that two visually identical cables can have different protocols supported "because nobody thought about making it mandatory to display such info (which protocols are supported) on the cable".

Yeah overall looks like a good idea but that was rushed with quite a few things completely overlooked.

I guess us geeks can find our way within all this USB-C mess but grandma' and other non-techies!?


EDIT: you can buy little USB-C devices that are passthrough and that'll show the volt/amp drawn. But that basically people need to buy such devices just shows how complicated the whole USB-C state of affair is.
« Last Edit: Thu, 07 February 2019, 09:16:10 by TacticalCoder »
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Offline Leslieann

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #18 on: Thu, 07 February 2019, 18:56:06 »
USB-C is sadly complicated. The "simplified" version explained here shows how messy things are. Then there's the semi-fake promise of speed... Because there are gotchas there too: the "USB 3.0 / 3.1 speed" of USB-C for data transfer silently downgrades to USB 2.0 speed if you happen to use, say, DisplayPort on your USB-C link. Ouch.

{cut}

Displays in general use a TON of bandwidth on high def displays and would you prefer slower data transfer or slower screen refresh?  Don't use your display output for data transfers.
There is a reason we killed VGA, DVI and now HDMI is falling by the wayside. If you want speed, don't piggyback the hardest working cable plugged into your system.


None of this was rushed, this is USB.
I've said it before, USB is a crappy system due to VERY loose regulations. Data verification? Optional. Minimum speeds? Optional. Backwards compatibility? Minimal. The regulations are loose because manufacturers like it that way, it allows them to mislead the public and increase sales. USB has had problems almost since day one because of this. Your devices plugged into your monitor may not work because you don't have enough data, but it also could be a power issue or a poorly built internal hub. Hubs have been a problem with USB for a long time because of loose standards.

Data verification is a huge one that became obvious on 3d printers.
People would prep prints then save the file to the SD card, well, depending on how that data was sent, it may or may not have data verification. Windows File Explorer has data verification (at least on 7, 8 and 10), but if you send data from another program, it may or may not. It's optional and must be handled by the program controlling the device. Win10 may enforce it on all transfers, but 7 and 8 did not. That lack of verification causes lots of problems for people who experiment with Android or use 3d printers. People would be amazed how much data USB destroys.
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Offline JP

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #19 on: Tue, 07 May 2019, 11:53:03 »
Not a USB-C problem and not particularly surprising but goes to show high quality cables do make a difference (of course Digikey would love it if you would purchase some high quality cables from them).

https://www.digikey.com/en/blog/quick-test-proves-high-quality-usb-cables-make-a-big-difference
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Offline Sintpinty

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Re: Custom USB-C Cables Beware!
« Reply #20 on: Mon, 20 May 2019, 13:14:14 »
Got it!