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Should You Fear Your USB Cable? (3)
Jun 15, 2018

I did find two distinct instances of people reporting melted USB ports on their phones, which is definitely worrying, and some fear that the cables get too warm. But most of the other 1-star Amazon reviews I've seen merely complain that their phone doesn't charge or charges slowly. That's the same issue that led Apple to recall the USB-C cables that came with its 12-inch MacBook, but we haven't heard of those melting down. Apple didn't respond to a request for comment.

It's also important to know that a resistor wasn't responsible for Leung's own fried laptop. According to the Google engineer, that cable was completely miswired.

The cutoff switch

Here's where the experts disagree. Aren't laptops designed to protect against damage like this?

Dell says their laptops are. Jason Lee, the company's lead engineer on XPS notebooks, says that not only are Dell's USB ports protected against voltage drops and short circuits, but they will also automatically restart themselves as soon as they cool down. No need to restart your computer.

And HP's Atkinson says such protections aren't just limited to Dell; they're standard practice for the computer industry. "With everything I've ever seen -- and we've been shipping USB-A since 1997 -- if there's a short circuit, the port just shuts off. That's existed forever." Atkinson points out that even with previous versions of USB, a cable could get damaged, and the industry adopted overcurrent and overvoltage protection circuits to keep the computers safe.

Today, "If you threw molten metal into the connector itself, it'd essentially just shut down," he says.

I did find two distinct instances of people reporting melted USB ports on their phones, which is definitely worrying, and some fear that the cables get too warm. But most of the other 1-star Amazon reviews I've seen merely complain that their phone doesn't charge or charges slowly. That's the same issue that led Apple to recall the USB-C cables that came with its 12-inch MacBook, but we haven't heard of those melting down. Apple didn't respond to a request for comment.

It's also important to know that a resistor wasn't responsible for Leung's own fried laptop. According to the Google engineer, that cable was completely miswired.


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