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article image'Fundamentally flawed' USB Type-C cable killed a $1,000 laptop

By James Walker     Feb 3, 2016 in Technology
A fatally flawed USB Type-C cable, listed on Amazon up until very recently, can cause critical damage to devices it is connected to, one engineer has found. The cheap cable instantly killed a USB voltage tester and $1,000 laptop.
Google engineer Benson Leung has experimented with USB Type-C cables in the past. After discovering that OnePlus' popular $7 cables lacked a critical component, Leung began to search through Amazon listings to find other products that fail to adhere to the stringent guidelines. After a few months of testing, he has hit the headlines again, having finally met his match against one particularly poorly constructed cable.
Writing on Google+, Leung explained how he probably won't be reviewing any more cables for a while because one he recently purchased from Amazon completely killed his laptop within seconds of plugging it in. The offending cable is the Surjtech 3M USB A-to-C cable, a product that Leung says should not be bought "under any circumstances" because it "completely violates" the USB Type-C specification.
In his scathing Amazon review, Leung explains that he plugged the cable into his Google Chromebook Pixel and a pair of USB sniffing devices that analyse voltage and current flowing along USB cables. Usually, the components would let Leung identify if something was wrong with the cable, but this time it was evident things weren't going well right from the start.
The sniffers "failed immediately" and sustained "permanent damage." Attempts to reset and reflash the firmware failed, indicating that physical damage was experienced. Even more seriously, the USB Type-C ports on Leung's $1,000 laptop immediately stopped responding and lost all functionality.
Because ChromeOS verifies all hardware at startup, the laptop now boots into recovery mode every time it starts and "no amount of software recovery" will revive it. It has also taken permanent damage and is now effectively dead.
After some analysis, Leung discovered Surjech "completely miswired the cable," connecting pins in a manner that caused an instant discharge of electricity into the host devices. Leung said he will be contacting Surjech in an attempt to find an explanation, warning other Amazon shoppers that the cable is "fundamentally dangerous" and completely unfit for use.
Leung's supporters came to his aid in the comments on Google+. Some even offered to donate to help him replace his laptop and keep reviewing dodgy cables. Leung refused the assistance, saying "I just want to get the word out about this issue."
The engineer's research has uncovered a worrying number of cheap and attractive USB Type-C cables that could cause critical damage to very valuable devices. Although the technology is yet to go truly mainstream, it will become a lot more popular in the next year and it is inevitable consumers will begin to kill their hard-owned gadgets if flawed cables remain on sale.
Leung has contacted Surjech and the company has agreed to remove all its Type-C cables from Amazon pending a review. It is unclear whether it will reimburse Leung to cover the costs of buying a new laptop due to the "fundamental" problems with its product.
More about Usb, usb typec, Hazard, Gadget, Devices
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